Double Feature: Black Christmas
Watching both the 1974 original and the 2006 remake back to back is a bad idea.
Home alone on Christmas night? Why not celebrate the right way, with a holiday double feature? That was my intention this Christmas, and boy did that turn out…interesting.
I consider myself a horror nut, particularly of the slasher subgenre. That being said, I didn’t get to indulge in horror as much as a child, and so I’ve been playing catch up for a while. While I had seen bits and pieces of the remake of Black Christmas in high school at a friend’s house, it never made much of an impact on me. I never ended up watching the original because of this. That is, until Christmas 2018.
Damn. Bob Clark’s 1974 masterpiece, often overlooked in the United States in favor of John Carpenter’s Halloween, holds up ridiculously well. This film has often got the shaft when credit is given out for inventing the tropes and conventions of slasher films, and I didn’t realize it until watching it for the first time. Now, since I’ve seen my fair share of slashers good and bad, some of those tropes could have fallen short for me. Surprisingly, they did not.
Every twist, every turn, every death was shocking and beautifully shot. The camera work in this film is incredible. Clark does an exceptional job conveying different points of view in the film, from the voyeuristic view of the killer to the death scenes, which foreshadow to the audience exactly what’s going to happen while leaving his characters in the dark. This has been done in many films, but never quite so well as Clark does here.
The lighting and the set design lend to the tension as well. The sorority house is large and dimly lit, with lots of nooks and crannies for characters (both victim and killer) to hide out in. Oranges and browns dominate the color scheme, which makes things all the more striking when that bright red blood starts flowing. The original Black Christmas, much like Halloween, is low on gore, though there are some bloody moments.
One such bloody moment, brilliantly shot, is interwoven with a of a group of children singing a Christmas carol. The stark contrast between the two makes for a stomach turning death scene. Blood flows freely, and its arguably the most disturbing scene in the film.
Without diving into spoilers for those who haven’t seen it yet (you really should), the third act ratchets up the tension to almost unbearable levels, and ends up going in a direction I did not expect. I was actually shocked at some of the imagery and the twists in the last twenty minutes. The film ends on a rather terrifying note, letting the audience know that our final girl, despite her best efforts, is still in danger.
Throughout the course of this film, I made sure the door to my apartment was locked at least three times. Afterward, I literally looked in my closet and under my bed to make sure no one was lying in wait. The film, quite simply, is effective in the best ways. It preys on that paranoia; it thrives in it. Ask me a few days ago what my favorite slasher flick was, I would answer Carpenter’s Halloween without thinking twice. Ask me today? Bob Clark’s Black Christmas still has me thinking.
Unfortunately, after watching the masterful original, I decided to put in the 2006 remake. Full disclosure, I didn’t finish it. I simply couldn’t. The fact that Bob Clark was an executive producer on the 2006 film absolutely shocks me. The remake does absolutely nothing to warrant existing, and makes the same mistake as Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake: it gives the killer a backstory.
At least in Rob Zombie’s Halloween, the story was told in a coherent and cohesive way. In the Black Christmas remake, two storylines are interwoven with little clarity of what’s happening when. The editing is a mess. It doesn’t allow for any of the tension that the original boasted, and the script never finds anything interesting to do with its backstory.
The whole thing is just shock and awe. It’s offensive for the sake of being offensive, gross for the sake of being gross. Before I shut it off, I witnessed three people get plastic bags put over their heads before getting an eye gouged out. What’s with the eye-gouging? There is no necessity to it.
I am not a gore hound, that may be obvious, but I do appreciate gore when done right. The 2010 remake of My Bloody Valentine was a gory mess, and I loved every second of that one (despite its faults). The gore in that film was seasoning, not the main dish. My biggest problem in horror is when gore is splattered everywhere to compensate for a lack of tension or real scares. That is sadly the case with Black Christmas (2006).
I really wanted to like this remake. The cast is great, boasting Michelle Trachtenberg, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Lacey Chalbert, and Katie Cassidy, all of whom have been great in other projects. The problem is, the script gives them nothing to do. There is nothing to it but shock elements and gore. I shut it off right after the third eye gouging scene, and I don’t believe I will return to it anytime soon, if ever.
Maybe I would have enjoyed the remake more if I hadn’t just watched the original. I somehow doubt it, but I’m sure watching it in the light of Clark’s masterclass of suspense didn’t do it any favors. Hey, at least the whole night wasn’t a bust. Black Christmas (1974) will surely find its way into my yearly Christmas and Halloween rotations.