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Better: Black Christmas (1974) or Black Christmas (2006)?

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Black Christmas Vs.

What is the greatest slasher ever made? That is an unanswerable question. We’ve all got our favorites. Without doubt, Black Christmas ranks as a mandatory view for many genre followers. In many ways it’s the original slasher. Prior to 1974 there weren’t too many lunatics targeting, stalking and slashing teenage girls to pieces. But Bob Clark made a major bid to change that, and thanks to a gorgeous seasonal horror film, it happened.

Black Christmas left a significant impression on John Carpenter as well, who would officially kickstart the subgenre four years later with another seasonal offering, Halloween. Since 1978 countless filmmakers have tried their hand at the hack and slash formula. Some have worked quite well (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Scream rank amongst the best) and others have failed. Regardless, they all owe a little tip of the hat to Clark and his Canadian classic.

Black Christmas Vs.

You’re not reading anything you don’t already know. If you’re hanging out on Dread Central, chances are you’re very familiar with the aforementioned pictures, especially Black Christmas. But it’s important to hammer home the bearing of an original piece of art when directly comparing it to a contemporary reimagining. And that’s exactly what we’ve set out to do with this piece. Get down to the nitty gritty and compare, thoroughly, Bob Clark’s film and Glen Morgan’s 2006 rendition of the same story.

  • Original

The story focuses on a sorority house and those living within it during the Christmas holiday. An assorted group of personalities, each young lady brings something unique to the table. Standing center stage within the narrative, Jess (Olivia Hussey) is the strong-willed thinker of the group. If she ever had her head in the sand, it was yanked free long before the events of Black Christmas. Barb (Margot Kidder) is an abrasive alcoholic, Phyl (Andrea Martin) is the loveable nerdy lass and Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman) is also a colorful boozehound who carries a different load on her shoulders, as she stands in as the sorority house mother. And then there are a handful of other characters to closely examine, like Lt. Ken Fuller (John Saxon), Seargant Nash (Doug McGrath) and Mr. Harrison (James Edmond), all paramount players in the picture.

Everyone’s lives are turned upside down when the phone rings in the sorority house, and what sounds like more than a single lunatic begins spewing offensive remarks. The phone call ends with a simple but staggering statement: “I’m going to kill you.” And those words ring true, as one by one, beginning with the innocent and unassuming Clare Harrison, they’re savagely murdered in the single place they should feel safe, their own home.

Lt. Fuller finds himself in the middle of a massacre (as does Peter, played by the already firmly established Keir Dullea, Jess’ boyfriend and obvious red herring). There isn’t much he can do about obscene phone calls, and given the fact that Billy, the madman who’s making the calls and killing the women, has been hiding their bodies in the house, he takes limited physical action, initially. As far as the surviving ladies are concerned, the girls who aren’t accounted for have simply gone missing, and the situation hasn’t reached dire straights. But that changes in the final act, when a trace produces a shocking revelation: The calls are coming from inside the house, and the girls aren’t just missing.

From this point forward it’s a whirlwind of craziness. The film winds down with a surprise, and Clark leaves viewers completely baffled by the fact that Billy is not brought to justice. Hell, Billy isn’t even ejected from the home. He’s still in the attic, still prepared to continue fulfilling his murderous desires in the future.

  • Standout Scenes

There are a number of memorable scenes in the film. These eight rank as the most memorable, some being downright iconic.

Intro POV Invasion

The film opens with a somewhat mysterious first person point of view. An unknown man scales the sorority house and enters the attic, from there he makes his way into the inner recesses of the home. In a petrifying moment we see (through Billy’s eyes) him standing, watching, just feet from Barb. Within killing distance, no doubt, though that moment will not come for some time. It’s a terribly creepy sequence of events.

The First Call

Moments after breaching the residence Billy makes his first phone call, it begins as a strange affair, but quickly progresses, venturing into perverted territory before ending on a jaw-dropping note. “I’m going to kill you,” he utters in a calm, collected voice. And we know the fate of these young women isn’t promising.

The First Kill

12 minutes into the film Clare is asphyxiated by Billy, who hides in her closet, hidden by plastic clothing covers. It’s a captivating and frightening scene due in most part to its subtlety. It also manages to set a very unforgiving tone, and triggers a recurring visual theme of the film. Clare, with a plastic bag wrapped around her head – her mouth gaping open – is shown numerous times throughout the picture. This is one of the finest death scenes of the film, despite the simplicity.

New Acquaintances

Clare’s father’s meeting with Mrs. Mac is hilarious on too many levels to speak on. It also ignites a serious movement; the search for Clare is precisely what leads to Billy’s discovery. And for the record, the shot focused on the nude peace sign poster is one awesome sliver of cinematic history.

Fellatio

At the 28 minute mark Sargeant Nash becomes the butt of the film’s grandest joke when Barb convinces him ‘Fellatio’ is a part of her telephone number at the sorority house. It’s humor at its finest, and it stretches through a small series of memorable scenes. It’s a fun, uplifting theme that counters the visual theme presented by Clare’s corpse.

A Kidder is Killed

Barb’s death by crystal unicorn is savage. It also symbolizes the end of all female delivered comedic emphasis within the picture. The wise cracker of the bunch and the most prominant personality, is done away with. And her death is just about as astonishing as her personality. Make no mistake, Margot Kidder steals the show handily, and seeing her killed (we do realize it’s inevitable well before it occurs) makes an impact on the viewer.

Internal Call

79 minutes into the film it is learned that the calls are originating from inside the home. An urban legend that’s long haunted the fragile minded is realised on film, and it is truly sensational. It’s the beginning of the final, fast-paced sprint to the credits.

Evil Prevails

After Jess and Peter’s showdown, which results in Peter’s death, we’re briefly led to believe all has been resolved. But it hasn’t, and anyone paying attention has picked up on the fact that Billy and Peter are two entirely different individuals. Not only that but – believe it or not – Billy is still in the house.

Reception

Black Christmas managed to surpass expectations. Released in Canada on October 11, 1974, and landing stateside two months later on December 20, 1974, the movie gained immediate steam. The film took in over $4 million. Subsequent trips to big screens produced more impressive numbers and the movie, shot on a budget of $620,000, more than pleased Ambassador Film Distributors and Warner Brothers (the film’s two primary distributors for Canada and the United States). It was a modest hit with fans (who no doubt also saw terror in the feature’s inspiration, an actual serial killer case in Westmount, of Montreal, Quebec, Canada), but a mixed bag with critics. Some loved it, some hated it. But it was the beginning of something special, and it has gone on to be recognized as one of the greatest independent films ever shot.

  • Remake

Glen Morgan’s remake arrived Stateside on Christmas Day, 2006. Fans weren’t eager to visit cinemas for a new telling of an old Christmas story. It stands to reason that many felt as though they’d already seen the film once, and given the rash of recent disappointing remakes (When a Stranger Calls, The Amityville Horror, The Fog, The Omen and Pulse were all recently released), there was little drive to chance another potential dud. But what’s interesting about the movie is that it isn’t quite as bad as a few of those other remakes (here’s looking at you Pulse, When a Stranger Calls and The Fog) were, and furthermore, it attempted to expand on the original tale.

The crux remains the same. The viewers are once more dropped into a sorority house where the residents are targeted by a lunatic with an affinity for cruel phone calls and attic dwelling. But this time around, there’s a twist in the story and a very obvious attempt at giving Billy a backstory, thus making him more of a character than a symbol. A series of flashback sequences show us the agony the man endured as a boy. And his childhood was indeed agonizing to watch. Essentially disowned by his mother, Billy witnesses the murder of his father – the only bright light in his life – at an early age. He’s also locked away in the attic (an example of the holes being filled, as it explains why the man is so damn comfortable in such a confined space; he’s used to it), abused and severely neglected. It all culminates in the birth of a monster. A monster who, even after growing into a man, cannot shake the pent up rage he’s been forced to carry for the better portion of his life.

Agnes, who had no significance in the original, is another new addition to the story. Agnes is Billy’s little sister… and daughter. She was always favored by mommy dearest, and one day, after being overlooked for years, Billy makes her pay for the attention she’s garnered from their mother. What became of Agnes after Billy murdered their mother and stepfather goes unexplained for the majority of the feature. But the mystery is indeed solved in the fading moments of the film. It’s a major adjustment in narrative, and its success has been lauded and admonished in equal measure. The bulk of viewers hated the spin. But the spin does open a big enough door to make viewers ask themselves (at least it should): Should I judge this film as a remake, or should I judge this film on its own merits and unexpected bravery?

Because it is a brave film. Even if it isn’t a great film.

In a lot of ways, it’s quite similar to Rob Zombie’s initial remake of John Carpenter’s Halloween. Both films utilize the familiar, but they also attempt to humanize the focal villains and explain exactly what drove them to murder. They’re films that have left genre fans on the fence as well.

  • Standout Scenes

Morgan’s picture lacks the signature scenes that Clark’s totes in abundance. However, there are a few moments that are going to really please those with a love of the extreme. Because the picture sure as shit isn’t for the lighthearted.

A Graphic Tone Set Early

While Clark’s big aesthetic theme emphasizes Clare’s plastic-wrapped face, Morgan’s visual morsel comes in the form of removed eyeballs. Megan is one of the film’s earliest victims, and guess what. She has an eye removed after discovering Clair’s (a direct nod to the original) body in the attic. It’s relevant for a few reasons. Not only does it establish the recurring imagery we can anticipate from the flick, it also informs the viewer of just how truly graphic this experience is going to be.

The Return of a Familiar Face

In another tribute to the original movie, Andrea Martin returns, but not to reprise her role as Phyl, but to stand in as the modern day house mother, Mrs. Mac. It’s great to see her back, and it’s nice to see that she’s aged quite well. Knowing her personality has undergone a very radical change is also an interesting point to contemplate.

The Flashback Sequences

While extreme, and even offensive at times, the flashback scenes make for scintillating cinema. Some of the things that Billy is subjected to, including a stunning moment of incestuous conduct, are magnetic in their severity. It’s hard to look away from some of this craziness. But the sequences do explain Billy’s eventual fate, and there’s an unexpected takeaway in those points of disclosure.

Flesh Cookies and Tree Toppers

36 minutes into the film a caged and deranged Billy breaks free of the attic and slaughters his mother and stepfather. He turns mommy’s skin into flesh cookies and calmly eats them, with a nice cold glass of milk. Later in the film, during the final act we see Eve’s severed head placed atop Billy’s own morbid Christmas tree. It’s one hell of a topper.

The End of Anything Classic

The only tangible link between films meets an interesting fate when Mrs. Mac makes an attempt to escape the sorority house and acquire the aid of local law enforcement. But after Heather is killed in the car they’re planning to use to leave, she walks right into¬†inadvertent death via icicle. How strangely appropriate!

All Twisted Up

71 minutes into the flick we learn that it’s not Billy that’s been running through the sorority sisters, it’s actually his sister/daughter, Agnes. Although Billy too shows up intent to shed some blood with his sibling. This is the most notable difference between films, and as odd as it may sound, it kind of works. At least it works in terms of creating something a little bit refreshing.

Reception

We touched down on the picture’s reception briefly already, but we’ll recap. Black Christmas 2006 was almost universally loathed. People absolutely hated it. Not only did the film miss debuting anywhere in the top 5 ranks at the box office, it didn’t even slide in within the top 10. It debuted at number 13 to a pathetic $3.7 million. It barely surpassed a total $20 million worldwide take in its entire theatrical run. The picture has a current score of 14% on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer. IMDb sees the picture carrying an average score of 4.5. These aren’t promising figures. But for all the unabashed hatred the pic has earned over the last eight years, it’s performed fairly well on discs. In fact, Morgan’s film has cleared a solid $10 million more with home video sales than theatrical. It seems, despite the consensus disdain, there are a lot of people out there interested in owning the feature.

  • The Ultimate Verdict

There is no question (at least not in this mind) that Clark’s original is significantly superior to Morgan’s remake. The tension is palpable, the cast is stellar and all the terror left to the imagination exclusively is fantastic. It’s the kind of movie that makes you think all the while wrapping you up in a believable web of dread. The dialogue is amazing, the characters are quite memorable and the grainy picture carries with it a wonderful sense of nostalgia. It feels like a classic picture, and it does indeed deliver on scares. Morgan’s film, in contrast, suffers from poor decision-making and conflicting character practice. No one is genuinely illuminated as a heroine either. For a reasonable portion of the film Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character, Heather, looks to be the final girl, until she bites the big one. Katie Cassidy isn’t a terrible performer by any stretch, but her character, Kelli, is forced to partake in some seriously illogical actions. There isn’t much that Cassidy can do about that, and that’s unfortunate, as it completely kills any hopes of her winning over viewers. It’s an awful character and exists in stark contrast to the very likeable and level-headed Jess of the original.

And yet for all of the qualities that the original boasts and the remake lacks, what Morgan’s film can accurately lay claim to is existing as a stronger visual film and a satiating morsel of a movie for those who love gore. It’s a vicious piece of work, but those beautiful, vibrant colors are stunning. It looks more like an actual Christmas movie than half of the Christmas movies out there, genre classification be damned. And on a brainless level, there’s fun to be had in Morgan’s movie. There really is. Close the critical eye and allow yourself to be pulled into the current of an animalistic tidal wave, and you could find yourself entertained. But you won’t forget which rendition of Black Christmas is the true winner.

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