Hello people, welcome to the holiday season! Hanukkah is on its third light, I believe. Kwanzaa still has a few days before it kicks off. Diwali…well, has been over for a while (sorry). And, it’s Christmas Eve (for the next hour). I’ve unwrapped my gift, finally.

Booze, booze, and more booze!

That’s right. I’ve finally made it to the original, the first-born, Bob Clark’s 1974 Black Christmas. The chain-smoking, binge-drinking, constantly-swearing older sister that the other remakes watched in glazed envy and adoration at family gatherings.

She don’t give a wut

Let’s get right into this because Santa brought me just what I wanted – a horror classic.

Godspeed, unicorn…you’ll be in our hearts

The Plot:

As with the remakes, we have a sorority house getting ready for their holiday break. Without their knowledge, someone slips into their attic and begins stalking them from within. They begin getting obscene phone calls, which they first take as a sick prank.

After one of the women goes missing, her father and the other sorority sisters try to find her and who could be behind her disappearance. Tensions rise as one of the sisters drinks and pushes the crisis, while another one of the women is at a crossroads in her life and dealing with an emotionally unstable boyfriend.

While they try to uncover the truth, will they realize that they are not alone before it’s too late?

The Good:

The lighting is exceptional, especially when used emphasized certain aspects (the features of the house, the women, and the décor) and hide others (namely the killer). The use of shadow and light were so cleverly crafted; it shows the time and effort that went into the shots and their planning.

The music and, maybe more importantly, the absence of music were also spot on. There were times that it would have been easy to put in cheap music to superficially heighten the effect of the scene, but not having it made it more memorable and suspenseful (especially the scene when Jess and Phyl were downstairs talking alone).  

And the most important thing – the characters had character. I could tell you about Jess, Barb, Phyl, Clare, and Mrs. Mac because they had something to tell. Barb may have been difficult to personally like, but she has clear motives and actions. You might not agree with Jess, but you understand her. So, when we got to the last girls, it was difficult to watch because we established a connection.

The Bad:

Maybe I’ve watched too many video nasties and splatter films, but I was surprised at how tame the death scenes were. Not that that’s intrinsically bad. I guess I was just was expecting more.

Brain Roll Juice:

That was also a bold choice

There’s a good amount of juice to roll that brain around in. Many reviewers have discussed at length about Jess and her firm decision to have an abortion as a very powerful statement, which it certainly is. It’s also super rare to find in a horror movie, especially a slasher movie. Women having agency over their bodies in an art-form where they often don’t is surprising. The sad note is that this is before the boom of the slasher genre in which the art-form (horror) created the tropes that this film didn’t participate in.  It seems like Bob Clark was trying to give women a voice, even in horror, before it was muddled into the annals of, well….

I watch it for the articles

But actually, I want to talk about character for one more second, or at least identity. Again, as this was fresh and free from the land of some of tropes that would come to be, it was refreshing to see that each girl was not just a Spice Girl-type representative. They had depth. They had character. Even the girl that was murdered first was still part of the story, the main story. She wasn’t just forgotten, not by the characters and not by the viewer.

Comparison and Bottom-Line:

It’s hard not to compare all three films, but I’m only human (mostly). Creating a remake is difficult because you often lose what made the first one so good. Sometimes even with the most precise planning and plotting, you just can’t create what was and replicate why it struck a nerve with people.

And however it happened, be it everything just falling into place and creating a Festivus miracle, the first movie worked and still works. The screams of Jess on the landing are just as heartbreaking. The fumbling of an old man trying to find his glasses just knocked off from a snowball, while waiting for a daughter who will never arrive, is still unnerving. Just as the ending is still effective and haunting.

These are the moments that will stay with us long after it’s over, not the incomprehensible snarky mess of 2006, and not the well-meaning but detached addition to the legacy in 2019. Real moments, real human emotions and empathy, felt between us.

And isn’t that what the holidays are supposed to be about?  

Probably.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)
Also props for having a competent detective
About the Author

When not howling Tina Turner classics with Glorious Spouse under a Detroit moon, J.M. Brannyk (a.k.a. Boxhuman) reviews mostly supernatural and slasher films from the 70's-90's and is dubiously HauntedMTL's Voice of Reason. Aside from writing, Brannyk dips into the podcasts, and is the composer of many of HauntedMTL's podcast themes.

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