Black Christmas (1974) – Okay, let me start by saying that I’m a Halloween fan. Okay? Got that? There are two main groups of classic slasher fans, Halloween fans and Black Christmas fans. It’s like the old Beatles vs Stones question, you have to have a clear favourite.
Having said that, there’s no denying the influence and brilliance contained within this movie (directed by Bob Clark and written by Roy Moore). And of course I realise that without this film there may not have even been a Halloween.
The story is fairly simple, an unseen maniac terrorises and starts to pick off a sorority house full of girls. It all starts off with some highly disturbing phone calls (that remain unnerving, strong stuff to this day) but soon escalates.
With a cast including Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder and John Saxon, this is quite a treat for genre fans. It also has some absolutely superb POV camera-work that also still holds up really well. Throw in a wonderful, Christmas-tinged soundtrack and a couple of impressive death scenes and you could have a horror classic.
So why am I only giving it 7/10 here? Well, there are just too many moments here that annoy me for me to truly love the thing. Genre clichés are here in abundance and while it’s true that they weren’t always clichés here they seem to exemplify the worst in slasher flicks with people disappearing far too easily, a lead girl who acts pretty dumb in the finale just to create more tension and Margot Kidder being a bit of a pain in the ass. We also get a police officer who makes Deputy ‘Dewey’ from Scream look like a Mensa member.
Thankfully, John Saxon is fantastic and most of the other cast members do well enough in their roles to make a bit of an impact before becoming potential victims (gotta love Marian Waldman’s house mother). Then there is the technical aptitude to admire and those occasional moments that genuinely impress (including the first death scene that packs quite a wallop). Things build nicely and it’s also a major bonus that the filmmakers don’t feel the need to either show or even explain anything about the killer. Something the lame remake should have taken into consideration, but more on that in a paragraph or two.
Many horror fans love this movie and it deserves its following. It’s just not a favourite of mine.
Director: Bob Clark
Cast: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder
Runtime: 98 min
Black Christmas (2006) – So it’s obvious that I am not a huge fan of the original, as many others are. It’s been hailed as a slasher classic for many years but I always just preferred Halloween although the juxtaposition of Christmas cheer and a killing spree does provide some dark fun (and kudos to that fantastic camera-work, too). However, I can now say that my love for the original has grown.
There is a lot of bad stuff here, looked at in detail below, but I must say that a recent rewatch ended up with me upping my rating for this movie from a 3/10 to a 5/10 because it seemed to me that writer-director Glen Morgan was having a LOT of fun with the Christmas trappings and this time around his sense of humour proved to be infectious.
Whereas the original movie had the sense to leave the killer mysterious and unexplained, the remake gives us the background spread throughout the first half of the movie. Yes, the basic story remains the same (killer starts to pick off girls in a sorority house on the night before Christmas) but whenever there is a chance to make things worse and resort to the lowest genre failings . . . this film does it.
Whereas the original may have had a few cliché moments, the remake seems to revel in contrivance and sheer nonsense, veering perilously close to parody in more than one scene. The excuse for the police taking their time to get to the house is ridiculous as is the “let’s all just stick together” argument while everyone splits up. And the least said about the “I’m the killer so I’ll just wait right here while everyone screams at each other” scene the better. Yet, the movie works when actually intending its laughs.
The “straight” horror is just bad though and everything, I mean everything, is by the numbers teeny popcorn fare. A hint of nudity, an over explanation of everything, more kills, more gore and yet nothing half as effective as that seen in the original and a final reel that holds no surprises even though it seems to think it does. And that’s before . . . . . well, I’d better not ruin it for anyone still gullible enough to be waiting for something above average.
The cast is also a real mixed bag. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is great, as is Kristen Cloke, and Lacey Chabert is always likable (in my book, anyway) while Michelle Trachtenberg is as horribly horrible as ever and nobody else makes much of an impression.
Watch it, hate it, watch it again some time in the future and hate it a bit less. Best avoided if you’re averse to any major eye trauma though.
Director: Glen Morgan
Cast: Katie Cassidy, Michelle Trachtenberg, Kristen Cloke
Runtime: 84 min
Country: USA, Canada
The original, and for many it will always be the only, Black Christmas is released in the UK on 18/10/10 for no good reason that I can fathom. Perhaps it’s to give horror fans the time to stock up before the festive season gets in full swing. Anyway, the picture seems okay but with absolutely no extra features to speak of and an RRP of £15.99 I’d have to recommend to anyone interested in the background of the movie that they hunt around for either of the previous releases (from Anchor Bay and Tartan, if memory serves me right). The movie is a big bundle of gift goodness for many horror afficianados, the DVD released here is sadly the lump of coal at the bottom.