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11 September, 2010

DVD Review: BLACK CHRISTMAS (2006)

Title:  BLACK CHRISTMAS (2006)

Year of Release—Film:  2006

Year of Release—DVD:  2007

DVD Label:  Dimension Home Entertainment




Bob Clark, the director who was recently killed by a drunk driver, will forever be known for what must be the best Christmas movie I’ve ever seen, 1983’s A CHRISTMAS STORY.  The tale of young Ralphie Parker and his quest for an official Red Ryder, 200-shot, Range Model Air Rifle, (with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time…) the film is one of the most humorous and heart-warming I’ve ever seen, capturing perfectly experiences that are common to most children, regardless of era.  Clark also helmed another of my favorite comedies, released in 1980—PORKY’S.  This raunchy, risqué teen sex-comedy is one that I never seem to tire of watching.

However, before he became known for his comedies, Bob Clark was one of the new breed of independent Horror directors, a contemporary of Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, Curtis Harrington, and Larry Cohen, that burst on the scene in the early ‘70’s following the success of George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.  Without the constraints of a major studio production, these filmmakers were able to push the envelope in ways heretofore unexplored.  Most of their efforts were, quite frankly, less than successful; Clark’s own first feature, 1972’s CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS, was a thoroughly unmemorable, though mildly entertaining, rip-off of Romero’s NOTLD.  His next film however, DEATHDREAM, was much improved; and in 1974 he laid the foundation for the Slasher genre with BLACK CHRISTMAS.

Set in a sorority house over the Christmas break, as a lunatic hiding in the attic hunts those young ladies who didn’t go home for the holidays, this film laid down several of the conventions that would be developed further four years later with the masterpiece of the Slasher film, John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN.  Now, Glen Morgan has remade what is arguably Clark’s best Horror Film, with both Clark’s blessing and his imprimatur as Executive Producer.

This new version is faithful to the original, without being a shot-by-shot restaging of it.  It also answers many of the questions that were purposefully left unanswered in the 1974 version.  This has a mixed result; part of what the fans remember about the original film is the vagueness of the ending, and I think that leaving some secrets buried would have been a better choice.  But today’s horror fans seem to prefer their loose ends neatly tied together, and gathering the threads probably produced a more ‘commercial’ film.

The story of the killer, Billy, is told in a series of flashbacks to his childhood in the home that later became the Sorority House.  His abusive mother kills his loving father, setting the pattern for the young boy’s psychopathia.  As an adult, he eventually kills both her and her second husband, and is busy devouring her when the police arrive.  Committed to a mental institution, he escapes, heading back home… to what is now the Delta Kappa Alpha house.

The cast is good, though not spectacular, and the young women of the sorority are certainly beautiful.  Though most of the faces are familiar to viewers, there are no household names present, not that the material really requires much star power.  Morgan’s direction is competent; nothing inspired, but smooth and capable.
While remakes are difficult to pull off successfully, Morgan and co. do a very good job here.  Perhaps it has more to do with the lack of familiarity most fans have with the original, never a big commercial success, than with the changes inherent in this version.  Still, for whatever the reason, BLACK CHRISTMAS works, and works very well.

My disc is the special BlockBuster Video© Unrated Edition.  How this differentiates it from any other Unrated Edition escapes me, but no matter.  Dimension usually does a good job packaging their films, and this example is no different.  The audio and video quality was good, and the disc had a full selection of sound and subtitle options.

The release has several excellent features that should please viewers.  There is a very good behind-the-scenes documentary that includes comments from Bob Clark.  I would imagine these were among his last comments on his early horror films, as his death came not long after the DVD’s release.  Concerning his early films, he remarks that, in order to break into the business, you had to either “…make pornos, or make horrors.  And I didn’t want to make pornos.”  The documentary stands as a far more interesting look at this talented director than as a look at the making of BLACK CHRISTMAS.

Perhaps the best of the special features are the three Alternate endings; at least one of which would have been an improvement over the ending of the U.S. released version.  (The International release had one of these alternate conclusions…)  These are presented in sufficient depth and detail to allow a true comparison to be made, and each viewer to make their own choice.

In my “2006 in Review” column over at www.creaturescape.com, I discussed this film in conjunction with my look at the Remake of the Year, and stated that I had heard good things about this film but would reserve judgment until I had seen it myself.  Well, I’ve finally seen it, and must admit that I was very pleased.  It’s rare that I see a remake that I enjoy, and one that exceeds and expands upon the original is rarer still.  This one does just that, and does it with some flair and a dash of originality.  Not much, but enough to make a difference.

I got my copy from the four for $20 bargain bin at BlockBuster Video, (a definite recommendation, I might add…) but even at the list price it’s worth consideration.  I say give it a try… and have a scary Christmas.

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