Scary Christmas!: Black Christmas ’74 and ’06 Reviewed

Black Christmas

I’m sitting here listening to the “Oriental Special,” the ninth of the amazing, ne – life changing, Girls in the Garage series from Romulan Records. What is it about teenage Asian girls mangling 60s pop songs, memorized phonetically that pushes my buttons? It really doesn’t get much more obscure than this. “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy,” “My Boy Lollipop,” TWO different interpretations of the “Hanky Panky,” and my favorite: “Love Potion #9.” They’re great covers and some really rock out. But I’d love to know what some of the Asian-language covers actually “translate” as. Because I’m pretty sure “choo-choo-choo-choo-choo-choo” doesn’t translate to “I held my nose – I closed my eyes –I took a drink.” I’d request you checking this whole series out but, damn, they’re hard to find these days.

What do you think of when I say Christmas? If you say “Margot Kidder being fatally stabbed with a crystal unicorn,” you get to be my BFF. Why Christmas now, you ask? Mostly because I just watched last year’s remake of Black Christmas and I felt like writing about it while it’s still fresh in my memory. Never heard of it? Well, that’s because it played for about five minutes and practically completed its run while it was still being edited. If you heard anything about it, it was probably that some stink was raised over that it was released on the holiest of holy days. The audacity! Silly Christians. The DVD that I picked up referred to itself as Black X-mas, which is kind of hilarious. Is this seriously the cultural climate of the year 2007? How many different ways can Christians piss on the things I’m into? Anyway—

BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) aka Silent Night, Evil Night aka A Stranger in the House
Truly one of the most terrifying films ever made by anyone’s standards and if you don’t believe it, seek it out now, turn out the lights, and crank up the volume (essential). A sorority house is emptying out for Christmas break and the few stragglers – Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder and Andrea Martin among them – begin receiving aggressive prank calls. The set up sounds standard until you realize that this is several years before Halloween or When A Stranger Calls. Bob Clark directed this before moving on to pseudo-classics like Porkys and another holiday-themed flick, A Christmas Story(!). Kidder’s performance as a boozy bitch of a sorority girl is the tops. John Saxon is the cop on the case looking and behaving exactly as he would over a decade later in A Nightmare on Elm Street. This was Hussey’s follow-up to Romeo and Juliet and she looks hot. Beautifully shot, acted and edited, its only weak spots are some unwelcome comic relief and an over-ambitious red herring. The film’s final moments make this one of the few horror movies with a really great ending. It’s a classic and should be hailed as such by anyone considering themselves a fan of horror. It’s influence precedes Carpenter’s Halloween as the true start of the 80s surge of thematic body-count slasher movies employing original techniques (like shooting from the killer’s POV) long before Michael Myers got behind the camera. How Halloween managed to eclipse Black Christmas’s influence is beyond me but both movies, for better or worse (mostly worse), managed to jumpstart a trend in horror that would be with us for a very long time.
***1/2 – Gill Man Highly Recommended

While barely registering as a successful remake, this update to1974’s Black Christmas offers joys all its own and despite the terrible reception it received, is far better than any of the slasher movies I’ve seen in years, which I admit isn’t really much of a recommendation. The conceit is the same: a group of sorority sisters that have yet to leave for Christmas break are terrorized when the crazy guy that once lived there comes home to “celebrate” Christmas. Early on he calls them to menace (and I have to give writers credit for finding reasonable ways to side-step the original’s “the-call-is-coming-from-inside-the-house” twist in the age of cell phones) but before long the unhinged creep makes good on his threats and bodies (heads, et al) start piling up. There’s plenty of great kills and cringe-inducing gore and the pacing is brisk. Last year’s BC also plays up the dark comedy, which seemed misplaced in the original, and works better here. From creative forces with a pedigree that includes The X Files and the Final Destination series, there’s a handful of smart moments but none of them add up to big scares. Andrea Martin (best known from SCTV) who played one of the terrorized coeds in the original, generously contributes to the cast as the sorority’s house mother. Also along are cute-as-a-button Michelle Trachtenberg, unconvincing as a bitchy sister and moderately-hot Lacy Chabert, quite convincing as same. Unfortunately, if not for these familiar faces, most of the female leads have very little to distinguish them from the others; a problem the original did NOT have. Here they’re all just cranky bitches. What’s most problematic is that too much time is spent embellishing the details of the original – the lack of which made its predecessor more sinister and mysterious. Billy, the evident killer in both films, clearly had a back story in 74 but it only surfaced in terrifying snippets via the outlandishly disturbing crank calls. He was connected to the sorority house that sheltered his intended victims but we didn’t know how exactly. Whatever was driving Billy was undoubtedly awful but just enough was held back that we’re never given enough to piece together a solid theory. To its credit, the back story last year’s BC developed is a real doozy that audaciously throws incest, child-abuse, cannibalism and inbreeding into the mix. You must also appreciate that this is probably the first time that jaundice from liver disease has ever been used as a movie slasher’s “creepy” identifying trait (take THAT, hockey mask!). Unfortunately, like so many other modern horror movies, BC reeeeally blows it in its last half hour where any legitimate horror is diffused by static chase scenes and a laughably clumsy “twist.” There’s a better chance for shocked giggles than nail-biting here, but that makes it a lot more appealing than over-baked self-conscious shit like The Ring. Minus points for lack of nudity (hel-loooo…co-eds…horror victims…shower scenes…but no boobs?!) in a movie that sadly, could’ve used the boost.
**1/2 – Gill Man Recommended with Reservations

It’s worth mentioning to dorks like me that Bob Clark, the director of the original BC died in a fatal head-on car collision just a few weeks ago. RIP, buddy. Incidentally, sharp-eyed viewers of last year’s BC should catch a cameo by the “leg lamp” made popular by that other Bob Clark Christmas movie. It’s practically a frickin’ local monument here in Cleveland.

Rollergirls, weird TV and more reviews.

~ by Number5ive on April 26, 2007.

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