Black Christmas: Unrated
April 10, 2007
Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974) was a clever little horror film that came out of Canada and spawned the slasher genre including, most notably John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). Unfortunately, Clark’s film isn’t as celebrated or nearly as widely known as Carpenter’s but they are both enjoying the remake treatment as of late with the creative team behind the Final Destination films reworking Black Christmas for a whole new generation.
In keeping with the slasher film tradition, the first victim is dispatched in the film’s first three minutes (killed with a fountain pen no less). Unaware of the girl’s demise, a group of sorority sisters, a day away from their Christmas vacation, are about to open presents from their secret Santa while a blizzard rages outside. Meanwhile, at the local sanitarium, Billy Lenz, a patient who killed his mother and step-father after they killed his real father, escapes. Now, Billy wants to reclaim his childhood home and rid it of the sorority sisters who now inhabit it, killing them off one-by-one.
Glen Morgan adopts a garish red colour scheme in keeping with the holidays and this includes using blinking Christmas lights for atmospheric lighting. He also effectively uses the setting – a howling snowstorm – to keep the girls confined to the house while also providing a contrasting colour scheme of cool blue and white to the warm red of the interiors. Like Final Destination (2000), this is a beautifully shot movie, even more so with the use of vibrant colours and creative camera angles. In a perverse twist, Morgan also uses a selection of holiday songs and classical Christmas music during some of the numerous murders in a tongue-in-cheek fashion but devoid of hip irony.
In keeping with the conventions of the genre, Black Christmas is populated with beautiful young girls, among them television veterans Lacey Chabert (Party of Five) and Michelle Trachtenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and proceeds to kill them off in all sorts of nasty, creative ways (sharpened candy cane, icicle, ice skate and so on) much like the elaborately stage deaths in Final Destination. If you’ve seen a slasher film from the 1980s then you pretty much know what’s going to happen next but that hardly ruins the experience. There is almost something comforting about how it stringently adheres to the formula.
Black Christmas is a refreshing, old school slasher film that doesn’t resort to the same kind of oh-so clever, self-reflexivity of the Scream films and instead remains faithful to the tried and true conventions of the genre including the seemingly indestructible killer motivated by a disturbing family past, and the last girl who must confront him. This is a great looking film that isn’t overly ambitious but is very entertaining and a fitting tribute to the original cult classic.
There are four deleted scenes, an extended scene and two alternate scenes. The excised footage establishes more atmosphere and shows more give-and-take between the girls as they try to figure out why their sisters have gone missing. There are also a couple of alternate death scenes for two of the characters.
Also included are three alternate endings with one that leaves the fate of the surviving characters on a much more ambiguous note; another spells things out a little more while providing a red herring; and the last one leaves things much more open-ended.
“What Have They Done?: The Remaking of Black Christmas” takes a look at how this film was made. Bob Clark talks about his film and how it was intended to be a psychological horror. The filmmakers of the remake weren’t interested in making a film for 13-year-olds and went for a hard R rating. This excellent featurette takes us through the production design and has each of the principal actors talk about their characters. There is actually some detail and information instead of the usual extended trailer vibe.
“May All Your Christmases Be Black: A Filmmaker’s Journey” is a candid look at the key crew members. Morgan had just come off a remake of Willard (2003) and was approached to do this remake. However, he wanted to do something different with the slasher film and flesh out the Lenz family backstory. He speaks frankly about how the commercial failure of Willard affected him and how he feared that he wouldn’t be allowed to direct another film. Several crew members talk about working on this film and how they have worked on Morgan’s previous efforts.