To me, the key to a truly great “remake” of a pre-existing horror film is simple. Would the new update make a good double feature with the original movie? When it comes to programming a double bill, the goal is to find two movies with a similar theme that would complement each other. And there’s no better test to see if a remake works than by watching it back to back with its inspiration and seeing if it respects its source material and tells a similar enough story, yet does its own thing. Each week, we’re going to pair up two horror films – its original and its remake as a double feature and see if it makes for a great double bill. Welcome to Double Take!
Well, ‘tis the season, so with Christmas fast approaching, now is as good a time as any to start watching the holiday themed horror movies! And the best, scariest and most well celebrated has to be Bob Clark’s 1974 immortal classic BLACK CHRISTMAS. This week we’ll pair it up with the not-so-classic, yet in retrospect really sleazy and fun 2006 remake BLACK XMAS.
Now, first and foremost, if you’re on this website, I hope you’ve seen the original BLACK CHRISTMAS. If not? You need to stop reading this and go watch it immediately. It’s one of the top 5 horror films of all time! And one of the most influential ever as well. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. If you can’t find it locally, order it on Amazon, and come back in 3 days.
OK, good. All caught up? Excellent.
BLACK CHRISTMAS is the very simple and straight forward story of a small group of girls in their sorority house just as the Christmas break is about to begin. The father of one of the students shows up at the sorority when his daughter stands him up. We the audience already know that some creepy, crazy, wild eyed lunatic has snuck into the attic of the house and murdered her.
As they search, a series of disturbing and graphic phone calls keep coming into the sorority house. Margot Kidder, who plays Barb, is the feisty one that likes to instigate and antagonize the caller, but she’s pretty much loaded the entire movie and doesn’t take much of anything seriously. And then there are other strange things happening, like a little girl missing after a walk home from the park, and then the strained relationship between our lead, Jess (the gorgeous Olivia Hussey), and her boyfriend, Pete (Keir Dullea), whom she wants to break up with after finding out she’s pregnant.
While the kills are fast, frantic and disturbing, as are the phone calls from the killer, the movie isn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, the reason it works so well is because there’s a great underlining sense of humor to the piece, in particular in regards to Sergeant Nash (Doug McGrath) at the police station or with Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), the sorority den mother that’s constantly pulling out hidden bottles of booze all over the house. You give a damn, because you give a damn about all of these characters.
Also, you have to look at this movie in context. This is 4 years before John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN would redefine the modern horror movie and lead the onslaught of “slasher” movies throughout the 80’s. If PSYCHO is the granddaddy of the “slasher” movie, and HALLOWEEN is the leader of the bunch, BLACK CHRISTMAS is like the uncredited father.
The POV of the killer is something that later became standard in these types of films, as is the plot “twist” that “the killer is calling from inside the house!” This was also very early in the career of filmmaker Bob Clark who would go on to make such films as PORKY’S, MURDER BY DECREE and another holiday classic A CHRISTMAS STORY. He seemed to dabble in just about every single genre of film and mastered every one of them. BLACK CHRISTMAS is his horror masterpiece and is a perfect horror movie.
You can’t look at the 2006 movie as a remake of the original classic film. But if you look at it kind of as a sleazy stepchild very loosely based on all those movies that ripped off BLACK CHRISTMAS, then you’ll have a pretty fun time. I’m fascinated by “slashers” and horror films in general of the late 90’s and 2000’s. At this point, the FINAL DESTINATION style of film had worn itself out (at least outside of that franchise). But at the helm were the directors behind the original and 3rd FINAL DESTINATION movies, Glen Morgan and James Wong.
The basic concept is the same. There’s a sorority house. There’s a bunch of girls in it, but this time they’re trapped there because of a blizzard. And there’s an insane person calling and saying nasty things on the other line. But whereas the original version had unique, nuanced different types of characters, I literally cannot tell any of these girls apart. They all have black hair and all look identical. And there are good notable actresses here! Mary Elizabeth Winstead! Katie Cassidy! And the den mother this time is played by Andrea Martin, who played Phyl, which is the only proper nod to the original.
When it comes to “Billy,” the killer? Well… if you can imagine a conversation between two 12 year olds after seeing BLACK CHRISTMAS for the first time going on and on about their radical theories and ideas of who Billy is, that’s pretty much how this backstory was concocted. Oh, oh! He was in a mental institution! And um… what if he really did have a sister named Agnes? (And we had the creepiest looking guy ever play her?) And what if he had a disease that made him yellow? And, and, and what if he made Christmas cookies, but used a cookie cutter on human flesh! Oh and there’s a side plot about a cheating douchebag boyfriend, but who gives a crap about that. I mean, who the hell would cheat on Katie Cassidy?! It’s all kind of silly and bat-shit, but that’s exactly why I love it.
I’m going to say yes. Because it’s like being at a party and getting casually drunk. Sure, the first half you’re sensible and being respectful and exhibiting class. And then by the end of the night, you get wasted and just don’t give a damn. If you want to watch two Christmas themed horror movies, one that’s unarguably a classic and the follow it up with one that’s just fun, then yes, BLACK CHRISTMAS and BLACK XMAS will do the trick.
What do YOU think?