Gory Christmas to all, and to all a good fright! ‘Tis the season for the holiday Beer And A Movie Crossover! Gabe brought over two great beers, and we decided to watch Black Christmas, both the 1974 original and the 2006 remake. I’m beginning suspect we may need to do more research before choosing these movies. It was definitely a… festive experience.
The original Black Christmas is considered a slasher “classic” in the same way that The Petrified Forest is considered a crime classic – it’s old as dirt and there are some recognizable names in it. The recognizable names in Black Christmas are Olivia Hussey (best known for pining after Romeo), Margot Kidder (best known for pining after Superman), and Andrea Martin (best known for fondling her niece’s fiance’s hair before offering to cook him some lamb). The story revolves around a group of pretty sorority girls – the slut, the nerd, the good girl, and the hero – who are picked off one by one by an unknown killer. After each crime, the killer calls the girls to say more and more disturbing things. Here’s the twist: the calls are coming from inside the house!
This cliche is conveyed with such earnestness that I think it may have been the now-tired punchline’s origin. What nobody seems to even consider – everyone in this film has a genre-consistent case of the Horror Hero Stupids – is that the killer is hiding in the attic. The killer’s constant unnoticed presence does lead to some great moments of tension in the film – his shadow flits through the background of many scenes as the girls obliviously hide in the “safety” of their home. In fact, in many ways the killer is the best part of the film: he’s mostly unseen, shown only as a POV camera shot or a quick shadow or as an eye in the door. Despite the fact that the audience knows where he is, we don’t know who he is, and we never find out. The movie ends with the reveal that the man accused of the murders is actually innocent, because the calls are still coming from inside the house!
Black Christmas is not quite as good as its contemporary calendar-related carnage-fest, Halloween. The problem is really a lack of consistent tension: too often the suspense is derailed by confusing character exposition or unnecessary melodrama. The last third of the movie is really a phone technician running through a warehouse trying to trace each call that comes into the sorority. Still, it was interesting as a piece of history, both horror-and-telephone-related.
As for the 2006 Black Christmas, all I can really say is I have lost my faith in horror remakes. Like My Bloody Valentine before it, the remake of Black Christmas seems to think the only way to improve a classic horror movie is to make it as gory as possible. And it’s not just gory, it’s gross. The core idea remains the same – killer attacks sorority girls – but around it swirls an endless arc of appalling exposition. Far from being unknown, the killers are actually revealed early on to be a yellow-skinned psychopath named Billy and his one-eyed sister/daughter Agnes. Their backstory is told in gleefully lurid flashback and includes pedophilia, cannibal cookies, and perversion. In fact, the heroes of the story aren’t the sorority sisters at all; more time and care is given to explaining Billy and Agnes than to any of the girls they murder. The girls are really just fodder for their misplaced twisted justice.
The differences between the killers in the two versions of Black Christmas actually shows audiences’ long and growing fascination with murder. In the original Black Christmas, the POV shots from the killer’s perspective spoke somewhat to the audience affiliation with the man with the knife, but ultimately he remained anonymous. However, as the mountain of exposition in the remake shows, we’re increasingly drawn to a Cult of Bloodstained Personality. Hannibal, Dexter, the Saw films, and the enduring legacies of Michael, Jason, and Freddy show that Killers carry a franchise, not Survivors. Exceptions do exist – Evil Dead springs to mind (Groovy!). But overall, audiences prefer their body counts higher and their killers more extreme. I have neither a qualitative judgement nor a philosophical point to make about this. But I will say that missteps on the path towards this gory goal lead to bad films like Black Christmas.
Gabe has more to say about Black Christmas and our two beers and our two movies, so check his blog out. If you have any suggestions for another holiday crossover, let us know in the comments or on Twitter! Happy Holidays!