About Christmas TV History

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Merry Halloween! Black Christmas

I'm continuing my countdown to Halloween covering scary, creepy and Halloween-appropriate Christmas entertainments. 

1974's Black Christmas stands out as a classic horror movie.  For one thing, it is an early film in the Christmas horror genre.  It is also noteworthy in that it is directed by Bob Clark, who directed the 1983 holiday classic A Christmas Story.  How come Black Christmas never airs in a 24-hour marathon each Christmas Eve?  I'm looking at you, Chiller Network!

Jess, the phone's for you!
Anyway, this film is a legend unto itself.  Though Black Christmas doesn’t feature a killer Santa Claus, this cult slasher flick takes place at Christmas in a college sorority house where most of the girls have already departed for the break.  Creepy obscene phone calls are received by the sorority girls, and one by one the girls begin disappearing.  The suspense builds as the remaining house mates and the police are slow to catch on that the danger is lurking inside the house while women’s bodies pile up in the attic.  The film ends before the killer is caught, leaving the story’s conclusion open-ended.  A disturbingly un-happy ending to this holiday movie!

Margot Kidder as the bitchy Barb and Olivia Hussey as Jess
The stellar cast includes: Margot Kidder as Barb; Olivia Hussey as Jess; Andrea Martin as Phyl; Keir Dullea as the boyfriend Peter; and, John Saxon as Lieutenant Fuller.  Cinephiles may recognize Kidder who went on to play Lois Lane in the 1978 movie Superman, opposite actor Christopher Reeve.  Hussey starred in Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet in 1968 and later, she played Mary in another Zeffirelli movie, the 1977 TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth.  Actor Keir Dullea who plays the boyfriend Peter, also appeared in the lead role in Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

But the thrill in watching Black Christmas today is in the rarely imitated, open ended conclusion of the story.  The film ends before the killer is caught!  This terrifying lack of completion also means viewers are left to speculate just who is this serial killer and why is he doing what he does--making the imagined far more scary than the usual tying up of loose story ends with a complete explanation provided in most other horror films.  There is speculation amongst this film’s fans concerning its legacy and the extent of influence this film has had on the slasher genre.  Many claim it as the inspiration for 1978’s better remembered Halloween  and its tremendous success. 

2006 re-make
The influence of Black Christmas was strong enough to inspire a 2006 remake though drastic changes were made to the original story.  This updated and bloodier version of the story removes the mystery behind the supposed killer, the no longer unseen Billy.  Here the character of the criminally insane Billy is expanded and explained, and he’s not working alone!  There’s also an update on the storyline with the obscene phone calls.  Cell phones now reveal the origin of the calls and ring tones sound off the location of the caller within the house!

Andrea Martin as Phyl in 1974

left: Martin as Ms. MacHenry in 2006
 Whimsically, actor/comedian Andrea Martin appears in this version as well.  No longer playing a sorority sister, Martin is recast as the more age appropriate house mother, Ms. MacHenry.  Of course, Martin went on after 1974's Black Christmas to distinguish herself in the cult Canadian comedy series, SCTV.

You better not pout, you better not cry....
 Other cast members include: Michelle Trachtenberg as Melissa; Lacey Chabert as Dana; Katie Cassidy as Kelli; and, Oliver Hudson as Kyle.  Trachtenberg started her career as a young actress appearing on the TV series The Adventures of Pete & Pete and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Chabert too was a child actress appearing on Party of Five and providing her voice on the Nickelodeon animated series The Wild Thornberrys.  Actress Katie Cassidy has more recently been seen on Gossip Girl among other projects.  She's also the real-life daughter of actor/singer David Cassidy.  And, actor Oliver Hudson can currently be seen on the TV sitcom The Rules of Engagement airing on CBS.  Hudson is the real-life son of comedic actress Goldie Hawn.

Which version of Black Christmas do you prefer?  And, would your family watch a 24-hour holiday marathon of Black Christmas airing on television?


  1. The original, without hesitation, is my favorite of the two. It is a great horror classic and HELL YEAH, I would watch it in a Christmas marathon! My family? Not so much, but I would be and I probably will watch it again in December, myself. Great film.

    And you got it right on what the remake got wrong. Same problem I have with Rob Zombie's Halloween. Leaving the motivation of the killer mysterious makes them so much scarier. Your own imagination can fill in the dark places just fine and usually much better than the film makers attempts to do so.

  2. All this got me in the mood to watch 'Halloween' again!

  3. Ugh on the remake. Horrid. HORRID.

    The original is fantastic and eternally scary...

  4. I watch the original all the time... Barely made it through the remake once...