Christmas film at Cornerhouse: Have yourselves a very dark Christmas

Kevin Bourke

Forget the schmaltz and happy endings: Cornerhouse’s Christmas film season goes over to the dark side.

In amongst all the schmaltz, Christmas has undoubtedly inspired great films. But they’re not only about chestnuts roasting on an open fire or loveable in-store Santas. Even It’s A Wonderful Life (20-23 December) explores some pretty dark stuff before despairing businessman George Bailey is redeemed. So Christmas serves as an apt backdrop to more sinister things – as a special season of films at Cornerhouse this winter proves.

Take Robert Montgomery’s Lady In The Lake (14 December). Its Christmas setting only makes this 1947 Chandler chiller, told solely from gumshoe Philip Marlowe’s point of view, even more unsettling. Dreamily dark, The Curse of the Cat People (16 December) owes at least as much to the menacing atmosphere of European fairy tales as it does to 1942’s The Cat People, to which it is nominally a sequel. Only tenuously connected in terms of plot and characters, but linked by the dark vision of legendary producer Val Lewton, Curse of the Cat People was co-directed by the improbable team of Gunther von Fritsch (famous, if at all, for episodes of Flash Gordon) and Robert Wise (who, much later, made The Sound of Music).

It’s a film that tells the macabre story of an ancient countess and her dealings with the devil

Unfairly overlooked since its early 1990s release, Keith Gordon’s A Midnight Clear (19 December) is not only notable as a haunting anti-war film, but also for featuring a cast of young, up-and-coming actors, including Ethan Hawke, Gary Sinise, Peter Berg and Kevin Dillon. Speaking of haunting, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a ghost story, and Ealing Studio’s Dead of Night (21 December) has four. A couple of stories in the 1945 portmanteau film were directed by the venerable Charles Crichton and Basil Dearden, but it’s best remembered for the ventriloquist’s dummy episode starring Michael Redgrave. It’s introduced by Linnie Blake, head of the university’s Centre for Gothic Studies, who also leads a discussion of forgotten British classic The Queen Of Spades (15 & 18 December), which tells the macabre story of an ancient countess and her dealings with the devil.

If all these brooding films give you the jitters, Cornerhouse has got it covered. Head to the café, present your ticket and soothe frayed nerves with a glass of mulled wine (and a slice of Panforte di Siena – just £3.95). The perfect way to have yourselves a deliciously dark Christmas, no?

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