Vengeful Spirits Make Bad Neighbors

        Modern art takes inspiration from older art. Nothing is as timeless as a good ghost story and generation after generation more works are added to this creepy genre. Henry James's 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, filmed in 1961 by Jack Clayton as The Innocents, is a timeless masterpiece and its influence can be seen in modern works. The 1990’s television show The X-Files is all about the paranormal--it is about things that go bump in the night. The show had a few episodes dedicated to otherworldly visitors, but only one can be paralleled to James’s story.

         The X-Files was an award winning television show that ran from September 1993 until May 2002. It aired on the FOX network and starred David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. During the sixth season of the show, production was moved from the dark, rainy Vancouver, British Columbia to sunny Los Angeles, California. The X-Files relied heavily on mysterious locations, which are scarce in California. However, set designers created perfect, ominous sets for certain episodes. One such episode was called “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas.” It obviously dealt with Christmas and was probably one of, if not the, most simplistic episode of the show. There were only six set changes and a grand total of four actors--the two stars and two guest stars (Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin). This episode parallels James’s The Turn of the Screw.

        I believe that the ghosts in The Turn of the Screw are real and not the imaginings of a schizophrenic governess. With that taken into consideration, The Turn of the Screw is about a governess who discovers that her young charges are being visited, and perhaps even possessed, by the ghosts of a former valet and the previous governess. These two ghosts were in love with one another and knew the brother and sister they now haunt. It can be assumed that the ghosts do not wish well for the siblings.

         The X-Files episode “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” is about the ghosts, Maurice (Asner) and Lyda (Tomlin), of two lovers who now haunt their old home and every Christmas Eve, try to trick any lovers who live in the house to make the same mistake that they did--commit a murder-suicide. Mulder and Scully (the two main characters) enter the house on Christmas Eve only to discover that the previous occupants are still there and that they do not have their best interests at heart.

        Not much is known about either set of ghosts other than that they were lovers and they are quite vengeful. In both stories, the ghost’s true motive is left ambiguous. Both stories deal with possession and misdirection. In The Turn of the Screw, as well as The Innocents, the ghosts, Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde) and Miss Jessel (Clytie Jessop), make the two children, Miles (Martin Stephens) and Flora (Pamela Franklin), behave badly and distract the governess, played as Miss Giddens by Deborah Kerr on the screen, so that one of the children can get away to meet with the ghost. In “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas,” Lyda appears to Scully as Mulder and tricks her into believing that Mulder has shot her. She does the same thing to Mulder.

        One final similarity is the unclear way in which each set of ghosts leave the story. In The Turn of the Screw, and The Innocents, Miles dies shortly after the ghost of Quint disappears. In “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas,” Lyda and Maurice disappear after they think they have truly tricked Mulder and Scully into dying. After the duo realizes their gunshot wounds are imaginary they are able to leave the house and live to fight another day. It can be assumed that after the governess made Flora leave the house, the girl will be scarred, but no worse for the wear. The governess was just too late to save Miles.

        Despite their similarities each of these stories brings something fresh to the ghost story genre. While “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas” certainly has a more comedic flair, it is still horrifying to watch the intrepid and beloved duo of Mulder and Scully apparently knocking on death’s door. It is just as horrifying to imagine poor Miles dying. The ghost story is timeless and the possibilities to bring terror into the world are endless. Henry James and the screenwriters of The X-Files are just two of the many authors to successfully try their hand at this eerie genre.

Ashley Williams

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