How the Ghosts Stole Christmas
|"How the Ghosts Stole Christmas"|
|The X-Files episode|
Mulder and Scully discover corpses underneath the floorboards. The origins of the episode stemmed from an idea Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz had featuring a haunted house.
|Directed by||Chris Carter|
|Written by||Chris Carter|
|Original air date||December 13, 1998|
|Running time||44 minutes|
"How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" is the sixth episode of the sixth season of the science fiction television series The X-Files. It premiered on the Fox network on December 13, 1998. It was written and directed by series creator Chris Carter, and featured guest appearances by Edward Asner and Lily Tomlin. The episode is a "Monster-of-the-Week" story, unconnected to the series' wider mythology. "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" earned a Nielsen household rating of 10.6, being watched by 17.3 million people in its initial broadcast. The episode received mostly positive reviews from critics, although some reviews criticized the episode for over-simplifying the characters.
The show centers on FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) who work on cases linked to the paranormal, called X-Files. Mulder is a believer in the paranormal, while the skeptical Scully has been assigned to debunk his work. In this Christmas-themed episode, Mulder and Scully stake out a reputed haunted house. The duo soon discover a pair of lovelorn spectres living inside the house who are determined to prove how lonely the holidays can be.
Carter based the episode around an idea he and fellow writer Frank Spotnitz had been working on, featuring a haunted house. Featuring the smallest cast of an X-Files episode—with only four actors—and a single set, "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" was the cheapest sixth season episode. The drastic reduction in the budget, however, put more strain on the main actors.
Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) reluctantly responds to Fox Mulder's (David Duchovny) call on Christmas Eve to investigate a haunted house in Maryland. He explains that during Christmas of 1917, a young couple living in the house agreed to a lovers' pact, one killing the other and the remaining one committing suicide. He explains that they could not stand the thought of being alone after the other died and during the afterlife; they wanted to spend all eternity together. Now, Mulder claims, they haunt the house every Christmas Eve.
Scully, who doesn't want to abandon her Christmas plans, follows Mulder into the house to retrieve her car keys from him, and the door to the mansion slams shut. Inside the house, the agents experience strange phenomena: creaks are heard in the ceiling from the upper floor, and the shadow in the form of an old woman in a nightgown is seen, among other occurrences. Mulder and Scully reluctantly decide to investigate the floor above them. There, they find a massive library storing two corpses that have the same clothes and hairstyles as the agents, along with two gunshot wounds. They decide to go search other rooms, only to find that every door they walk through is the same library room they first entered. They then decide to split up, hoping to find a way out of the room.
While separated, they meet the inhabitants of the mansion—Maurice (Ed Asner) and Lyda (Lily Tomlin). The ghosts soon turn the agents against each other. Scully is told that Mulder will kill her. Scully meets back up with Mulder, only for him to pull out a gun and shoot her. Scully, completely confused, loses consciousness, and the perspective shifts. It is revealed that Lyda is actually the one carrying out these actions and, through her ghostly ability to create apparitions, causes Scully to see Mulder instead. Meanwhile, Mulder comes upon a bleeding Scully lying on the floor. When he leans over her to try to help her, she shoots Mulder in the stomach. Again, the audience sees that it is Lyda pretending to be Scully, manipulating Mulder.
Both Mulder and Scully stumble down the stairs in hope of just getting outside to die. They meet up by the door, both crawling on the floor, covered in massive amounts of blood. Scully claims he shot her, while Mulder claims she shot him. Mulder realizes that that could not have happened and stands up. The illusion is broken, and the two leave the house. Maurice and Lyda sit by the fire, holding hands, saying that they almost had the two agents. Meanwhile, at Mulder's apartment, Mulder and Scully exchange gifts, even though they told each other they would not.
Conception and writing
Writer, director, and series creator Chris Carter based the episode around an idea he and fellow writer Frank Spotnitz had been working on, featuring a haunted house. The only scene that the two had completely planned out was the climax, which features Mulder and Scully pulling themselves across the floor, bleeding profusely. Carter wanted to keep all the action on one set, with the episode featuring only one location. To do this, production designer Corey Kaplan proposed that the episode be filmed in Scully's apartment, a set that the crew had not used for season six. Carter, however, wanting to keep the haunted house motif, asked Kaplan if she could design a mansion set. Kaplan was tasked with designing a set that was "bleak, but not too bleak [...] decrepit, but not too decrepit," and "deserted, but not too deserted."
Casting and filming
"How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" features the smallest cast in X-Files history, with only David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, and the two guest stars present in the episode. Lily Tomlin, who played the part of Lyda, had originally approached the casting agents for The X-Files several seasons prior to season six. Her agent expressed her interest in a part. Carter agreed to meet her and the two discussed possible ideas for futures episodes. After several years of thinking, Carter decided to write "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" as a vehicle for her. Originally, Carter wanted Bob Newhart to play the part of Maurice. However, Newhart was not interested. The crew, instead, approached veteran actor Ed Asner, who readily agreed to take part in the episode.
The episode was filmed without multiple sets, out-of-studio locations, or a large amount of extras. In addition, the budget for the episode was kept to a minimum. Because of this, "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" was the cheapest episode filmed for the sixth season. Carter readily admits that making the episode was a challenge. The drastic reduction in the budget put more strain on the main actors and several key individuals involved in the production. The outside scenes were filmed in front of the Piru Mansion in Piru, California, where the sixth season episode "The Rain King" was filmed. The day before filming was slated to begin, a brush fire ignited on the hill behind the mansion. Location manager Ilt Jones rushed to the scene in the middle of the inferno, but after an hour, the local firemen were able to bring the blaze under control by digging a fire break. The fire stopped a mere 300 feet from the house.
Effects and music
The gunshot wounds that Scully, and later Mulder, discover on Maurice and Lyda were created on a computer. Special effects editor Bill Millar was tasked with designing the "bloodless bullet holes" that were on Asner's head and Tomlin's stomach. To create this effect, Millar attached orange fluorescent cloth to the places that would become the bullet wounds. An ultraviolet light was then added to the set lighting so that the invisible reflected light would function as tracking data. The orange cloth was then excised during post-production and the computerized bullet wounds were inserted in their place. Millar admits that the technique was borrowed from the 1992 movie Death Becomes Her, although he sarcastically admitted that, "we did it better and with less money." Gillian Anderson was later critical of the fake blood used for the episode because the sheer quantity soon coagulated and formed a "gummy mess."
Mark Snow, the composer for the episode, admitted to "ripping off" Joseph Haydn's "Toy" Symphony to create the eerie Baroque-inspired harpsichord score. Snow also admits that another major influence for the episode was Johnny Mandel's "brilliant" score for the 1982 movie Deathtrap.
Broadcast and reception
"How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" first aired in the United States on December 13, 1998. This episode earned a Nielsen rating of 10.6, with a 16 share, meaning that roughly 10.6 percent of all television-equipped households, and 16 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. It was viewed by 17.30 million viewers. The episode aired in the United Kingdom and Ireland on Sky1 on April 11, 1999 and received 0.70 million viewers and was the fourth most watched episode that week. Fox promoted the episode with the tagline "This holiday season... share the gift of terror." Corey Kaplan later won an award of excellence from the Society of Motion Picture and Television Art Directors for his work on "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas."
The episode received mostly positive reviews from critics, with some detractors. Sight on Sound called the episode "one of the best Christmas episodes of any series." The review called “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas,” "an extremely creative, arguably bitter Holiday treat, perfect for [Christmas] with its blend of horror, comedy and hints of romance." Static Mass writer Patrick Samuel awarded the episode five stars and said, "As [Mulder and Scully] gleefully unwrap their presents at the end, this episode is something that really makes my own Christmases feel that little bit more complete." Den of Geek writer Juliette Harrisson, in a review of "Monday," said, "Season six included some more excellent episodes [and] classic comedy episodes including, "How The Ghosts Stole Christmas." DVD.net called "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" a "classic" standalone episode. SFX named the episode the sixth best "SF [Sci-Fi] & Fantasy Christmas Episodes" and noted that it was full of "classic lines, some neat tricks".
Zack Handlen from The A.V. Club gave the episode a largely positive review and awarded it a grade of an A. He noted that the episode was written in a similar manner to the earlier, Carter-penned "The Post-Modern Prometheus". Handlen wrote that both entries "have a gleeful, everybody-gets-out-okay-in-the-end vibe". He, however, concluded that the "episode lives and dies on the strength of its two guest stars" before writing that "Asner and Tomlin are more than up to the task." Earl Cressey from DVD Talk called "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" one of the "highlights of season six." Robert Shearman and Lars Pearson, in their book Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium & The Lone Gunmen, rated the episode five stars out of five. Tom Kessenich, in his book Examination: An Unauthorized Look at Seasons 6–9 of the X-Files gave the episode more of a mixed to positive review, noting the lack of darkness in the episode. He wrote, "OK, I liked a lot of this episode. […] But while I've enjoyed the sheer entertainment value of the past three shows, I really am longing for something a bit sinister and darker."
Not all reviews were so positive. Paula Vitaris from Cinefantastique gave the episode a largely negative review and awarded it one-and-a-half stars out of four. Vitaris was unhappy with the way Maurice and Lyda were characterized, noting that their method of trying to get Mulder and Scully to kill each other resulted in "endless psychobabble dialogue". Michigan Daily writer Melissa Runstrom, in a review of the sixth season, described "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" as "hokey" and "over-the-top." She identified it as the weakest episode of the sixth season.
- Meisler, pp. 92–104
- Meisler, p. 104
- Meisler, p. 105
- The X-Files: The Complete Sixth Season (booklet). Kim Manners, et al. Fox.
- Meisler, p. 294
- "BARB's multichannel top 10 programmes". barb.co.uk. Retrieved 1 January 2012. Note: Information is in the section titled "w/e April 5–11, 1999", listed under Sky 1
- How the Ghosts Stole Christmas (Promotional Flyer). Los Angeles, California: Fox Broadcasting Company. 1998.
- "25 Days Of Christmas: The X-Files, "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas" as fresh and vital years later". Sight on Sound. 3 December 2011. Retrieved 27 December 2011.
- Samuel, Patrick (18 November 2011). "The X-Files: How The Ghosts Stole Christmas". Static Mass. Retrieved 27 December 2011.
- Harrisson, Juliette (6 September 2011). "A look back over The X-Files' finest stand-alone episodes". Den of Geek. Retrieved 27 December 2011.
- "The X-Files Season 6 Box Set". DVD.net. Retrieved 11 January 2012.
- "Top 35 SF & Fantasy Christmas Episodes – The X-Files". SFX. Future Publishing. 22 December 2010. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
- Handlen, Zack (14 July 2012). "'How the Ghosts Stole Christmas'/'Skull and Bones'". The A.V. Club. The Onion. Retrieved 18 July 2012.
- Cressey, Earl (5 November 2002). "X-Files: Season Six". DVD Talk. Internet Brands. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
- Shearman and Pearson, p. 173
- Kessenich, p. 25
- Vitaris, Paula (October 1999). "Sixth Season Episode Guide". Cinefantastique. 31 (8): 26–42.
- Runstrom, Melissa (27 November 2002). "'X-Files' DVD showcases highs, lows of season six". The Michigan Daily. University of Michigan. Retrieved 6 August 2009.
- Kessenich, Tom (2002). Examination: An Unauthorized Look at Seasons 6–9 of the X-Files. Trafford Publishing. ISBN 1-55369-812-6.
- Meisler, Andy (2000). The End and the Beginning: The Official Guide to the X-Files Volume 5. Harper Prism. ISBN 0-06-107595-7.
- Shearman, Robert; Pearson, Lars (2009). Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium & The Lone Gunmen. Mad Norwegian Press. ISBN 0-9759446-9-X.
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