It’s amazing how director Bob Clark managed to release some of my favorite movies in a variety of genres: The Porky’s films in the teen sexploitation 80s genre; the early gay-friendly zombie film Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things; the holiday classic A Christmas Story; and the holiday slasher Black Christmas.
Black Christmas (1974)
Black Christmas is often cited as the inspiration for Halloween. It has plenty of the same elements: eerie holiday atmosphere, creepy music score, killer POV, clueless young women being killed.
It seems more the inspiration for When a Stranger Calls, right down to the fact that it’s a long drawn out film with about 20 really awesome minutes that bookend a fairly uninteresting mystery.
The plot is simple: chicks in a sorority are receiving really FILTHY obscene phone calls (that sound like scraps from Regan’s demon dialogue in The Exorcist) from a killer who’s actually inside the house! Not a spoiler, you pretty much know from the start.
Margot Kidder plays a drunken sorority chick. Veteran actress Olivia Hussey plays a drunken housemother. John Saxon plays a detective (shocking). SCTV cast member Andrea Martin plays a sorority chick—then plays the housemother in the remake. Awesome.
There are a couple of creepy kills, but you can’t help wonder throughout the film how no one notices the dead body sitting in the attic window. While a slow burner, the movie creates a sense of dread using the Christmas theme and the POV of the killer in the house. The red herrings and mystery are kind of lame, but the final moments are incredibly suspenseful, as is the “eye” shot.
The ambiguous ending has left viewers scratching their heads for decades. You become pretty convinced that a particular person is the killer (even a shadowed shot of the killer bears a striking resemblance), but in the end you know that’s impossible.
People can speculate all they want, but we were never supposed to know who the killer was. If you watch the bonus features on the DVD, Bob Clark actually says he had a whole back story in his head of the killer—and references the (at-the-time) forthcoming remake that will go into it.
So basically, anyone who scoffs at the remake and its need to give the killer an identity can blame Bob Clark….
Black Christmas (2006)
So much hate for this remake. Personally I think it succeeds in taking the original premise and making an enjoyable if typical new millennium slasher. Not to mention, the Christmas atmosphere is off the charts! And Andrea Martin as the housemother looks exactly the same as she did 32 years before as a sorority chick.
The sexy horror alum cast also includes Michelle Trachtenberg of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Katie Cassidy of the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake, Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Death Proof, The Thing remake, Final Destination 3), Lacy Chabert (Ghost of Goodnight Lane, Scarecrow), Kristen Cloke (Final Destination), and Crystal Lowe (Wrong Turn 2, A Little Bit Zombie).
What’s so very cool about the remake is the in-depth flashbacks to the story of “Billy” and “Agnes,” the two names mentioned repeatedly during the obscene phone calls in the original. You get this gnarly little holiday tale of childhood deformities and incest with a little slasher flick as the cherry on top!
The girls spend most of the movie curled on chairs by the Christmas tree and fireplace telling stories of Billy, for whom they still leave a present every year as part of a ritual to keep him from coming back. See, Billy and Agnes used to live in the house! Awesome.
There are nods to the original, including the body in the attic and a unicorn statue. But the kills totally rock, at least if you watch the unrated version: candy cane kill; ornament kill; cookie cutter kill; ice skate kill, and tons more! It’s gore-tastic, with plenty of mainstream suspense and quite a bit of campy humor.
It is however missing the eerie killer POVs, and the phone calls are not as creepy or important to the plot. There’s a pointless subplot about a sex tape. And attempts to make us think one girl’s boyfriend might be the killer serve no purpose. The fact is, this is your run-of-the-mill killer escapes from mental institution slasher. Halloween clone!
The point at which it falls apart is when the survivors are sent off to the hospital at the end. 15 minute long Halloween 2 clone! And seriously, tell me that Agnes doesn’t look exactly like one of the Wayans Brothers in their White Chicks makeup….
Here’s my video of loads of Christmas horror flicks you can check out: