It’s a cold and snowy Christmas Day when a young man walks into a graveyard and towards a specific headstone. He then does something rather unthinkable by opening up his trousers and urinating all over it. This has the effect of removing the snow and frost from the headstone, and we can then see the writing on it. It says “Jacob Marley.” We are then underground in a coffin where we see a dead man with coins on his eyes. He begins to squirm and removes the coins. From there, he complains quite loudly about not being able to properly Rest In Peace. After pleading loudly that he would take any penance just so that he can finally rest, he finds his coffin crashing into what he thinks is hell; only it isn’t. A large man is working by a fire and is fashioning chains for Marley to wear. After being fitted with them, he is sent “upside” in a field of what looks like the standard Christmas Tree. He meets an eccentric fellow who looks almost like a demented Saint Nicholas, only he’s no saint. This is the Ghost of Christmas Past. Marley is being given an opportunity to finally rest.
Ebenezer Scrooge is a very successful businessman but represents the worst in humanity imaginable. Even as Christmas rolls around his clerk, Bob Cratchit, finishes his work early (and perfectly as Scrooge observes) but isn’t allowed to go home just a couple of hours early to be with his family. Instead, he is given even more work, and Scrooge expects it to be just as perfect as his earlier assignment. Once Cratchit is allowed to leave, he departs for his home to his wife, Mary, and their one child Tim. Later, Scrooge receives his unearthly visit from Marley, who warns him of his one chance to escape his fate. What follows is an experience with images that can only give nightmares to anyone in Scrooge’s position.
Years ago, I felt that A Christmas Carol would be easily suited if done as a proper horror film. Someone must have heard me because this BBC production was easily the darkest and possibly even the blackest representation of the classic Dickens story. Written by Steven Knight and directed by BAFTA-winning director Nick Murphy, this movie does take some unusual liberties with the source material, but never to the detriment of its spirit. The movie goes into further detail as to some of the business dealings that Scrooge & Marley were engaged in, including a coal mine where an accident brought about the death of many workers during a mine collapse. It is one of those workers who miraculously survived that makes the annual trip to Marley’s gravesite and leaves his watery Christmas message. There are also two scenes during Scrooge’s visit with the Ghost of Christmas Past that is literally horrifying. First, when we are shown Scrooge’s time in the boarding school, it is revealed that the school’s headmaster is nothing more than a child predator, and he very much enjoys “spending time” with young Ebenezer, which would account for much of Scrooge’s darkness. Later, when Mary Cratchit secretly approaches Scrooge for a loan to help pay for an urgent surgical procedure for Tiny Tim, Scrooge asks her to return later and for her to do whatever he asks of her. After she willingly humiliates herself by agreeing to allow him to sleep with her, he dismisses her and tells her that his curiosity has been satisfied. He merely wanted to know how far she would go to save her child. What we see here is a man who has not one shred of decency and views people as mere resources to be exploited.
Other liberties include a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Present, only this time it is the ghost of his dead sister Lottie, and when we finally meet the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, it is a cadaverous man who has his lips sewn closed. There is also one change in the story that was probably the most disturbing image, and that is the death of Tiny Tim. It is a deliberate alteration of the source material as originally, Tiny Tim died of illness. Here it is through a tragic accident that Scrooge is forced to witness.
As powerful as this story is told, the acting is just as equally strong, especially from Scrooge and Ghost of Christmas Past. Here we are given the enormous pleasure of watching Guy Pearce and Andy Serkis working opposite each other. These two actors are chameleons and to see them together on the screen is, at times, chilling. Pearce always could play any kind of character imaginable, but never before have I seen him play someone who truly personified evil. There is no question that in this version, Scrooge is very much an evil man. Then there is Serkis. His portrayal of Christmas Past defies description except to say that it is positively mesmerizing.
As I’ve said earlier, I have always felt that A Christmas Carol would do well to be told as a horror, and through brilliant acting and muted cinematography, we have a movie that is so bleak that I felt I needed to take an anti-depressant after the credits had finished rolling. While the era and setting are more accurate than the gut-punch movie An American Christmas Carol, the horror gives it a resonance that affected me on a psychological level that left me feeling disturbed for days after having watched it.
This chilling horror movie can be viewed on Hulu.