Black Christmas (1974)

Rating 3½

Directed by Bob Clark

Written by Roy Moore

Starring Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin, Keir Dullea and John Saxon

I recently watched the 2006 remake of this cult 1974 Canadian horror film and it was strongly suggested to me that I should watch the original, which is exactly what I have now done.

‘Black Christmas’ is sometimes cited as the first slasher movie and a direct precursor to John Carpenter’s classic 1978 film ‘Halloween’. It was made on a budget of $620,000, which is the equivalent of approximately $2.5 million now, still a very small amount. Director and producer Bob Clark went on to make the first two ‘Porky’s’ films, neither of which I have seen. He died in a car accident on 4 April 2007.

This is very much a film of its time, something immediately apparent in the look of it, the acting and the dialogue. The early to mid 1970s was a period that saw a new kind of filmmaking and filmmaker in America, one with a very distinctive style.

The narrative is a slow burn; many of the scares are achieved through suggestion, making them more frightening because what we are capable of imagining is far more genuinely shocking than a hundred buckets of offal and fake blood.

The first thing I thought when I started to watch the film was how much Margot Kidder looks like the one person minor crime-wave that is Debbie Dingle in ‘Emmerdale’, which was somewhat distracting for a time. I was then reminded how extraordinarily beautiful the Argentinean actress Olivia Hussey is, someone I had not seen in a very long time. It also took me back in time to see Keir Dullea again, an actor I will always associate with ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.

I didn’t like the character Mrs Mac, the sorority-house mother. I know the intention was primarily comic, but I just didn’t take to the alcoholic, borderline foul-mouth portrayal. Equally, I found it difficult to respond to Margot Kidder’s loud-mouthed alcoholic without some kind of explanation for her behaviour. Having said that, the “fellatio” joke was funny, and it’s never a hardship to watch the all too infrequently seen Kidder. It occurred to me that Cameron Richardson would have been a perfect choice to play Kidder’s character in the remake, a role that went to Crystal Lowe.

The juxtaposition between the celebration of Christmas and the horror unfolding in the sorority house is very well done, something that is noticeably absent in the remake. In terms of quality, there is little comparison between the two films, and I can understand the cult reputation this original has established over the years. In fact, I am surprised it is not more renowned.

For all that, in some ways I enjoyed watching the markedly inferior remake more.

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