“Black Christmas” 1974 vs. 2006 vs. 2019

Hollywood’s penchant for remakes has reached the point that we’re now getting remakes of remakes, which shouldn’t be all that surprising anymore.  Nevertheless, it’s given us cases, such as this, where we now have three versions of the same film.

However, these three could not be any more different.  So in the spirit of Christmas cheer and holiday horror, we thought it would be fun to pit them against each other as “dueling Black Christmases” as quoted by Joe Bob Briggs.

Our recent review of the 2019 version judged the film on its own merits, completely ignoring the existence of the other two.  But here, we seek to do the opposite.  Each of them has points of strength and weakness, but by the end, one clear winner will emerge!

The criteria will be the following categories: Character Development, Story, Kills, Directing/Style, and of course Christmas Spirit!

Round 1. Character Development1974: When making the original film, director Bob Clark was adamant that he wanted to portray female college students as more astute, down to earth, and less ditzy, as was common in horror films at the time.

In doing so, the film gave us a memorable cast of characters with such talent as Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin, Marian Waldman, Keir Dullea, John Saxon, and many more.

Each of them feels distinct and unique enough, with their own baggage and motivations.  Part of what makes the horror so effective is that we actually know and care about these characters.

2006: Going in the exact opposite direction, the 2006 version decided to gives us characters that were completely unlikeable and really blend together.

The only thing that helps us tell the sorority sisters apart from each other is the fact that actresses like Michelle Trachenberg, Katie Cassidy, Lacey Chabert, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead were all famous enough in 2006 that we recognized them.  Other than that, these characters are just as forgettable and cliché as every other cast of characters in most trashy 2000’s horror.

2019: This version tries very hard to make its characters more representative of modern times, but ends up turning most of them into caricatures.

Imogen Poots is the most well rounded, and has something of a character arc as she struggles between past trauma, just wanting to live a “normal” college life, and devoting time and energy to her friend’s activism.

The character of Kris (Aleyse Shannon) is intended to be a strong female role model, but she ends up feeling more like a tool for an agenda than an actual well fleshed out character.

Round 1 Winner – 1974

Round 2. Kills
1974: Due to Bob Clark wanting to rely more on suspense, the kills in this film aren’t as gory or graphic as initially planned, which isn’t necessary a bad thing.  Despite this, the film still boasts some of the most memorable kills in horror history, particularly the plastic wrap suffocation and Margot Kidder’s arthouse stabbing scene.

2006: By far the goriest of the three, this initial remake was very much a product of the “torture porn” era that was the 2000’s.  Upping the ante from the original, the kills are quite bloody and contain an unusually high number of eye gouging.  Its brutality remains unmatched by either of the other iterations.

2019: Much like the original film, the 2019 remake definitely toned down the overt graphic violence, though this had more to do with its PG-13 rating.  That said, it made the best of this and experimented with fun ideas, such as the bow and arrow, snow angel death scene, and truly cringe-inducing kill involving a set of keys.

Round 2 Winner – 2006

Round 3. Story
1974: While simple and straightforward, this 70’s classic is incredibly effective in its storytelling.  An overarching sense of suspense and dread keep the narrative flowing, and it works very well as a murder mystery (which Bob Clark always considered it to be, rather than a slasher).  The only true controversy lies with the ending, which fans and critics seem divided over.

One of the staples of a classic murder mystery is when the killer is revealed to be one of the characters we’ve been following.  But this never happens.  Billy remains a mysterious figure to the end, and is never caught.  For some, this works brilliantly and adds an unsettling uncertainty, while others feel that it deprives the film of a much needed satisfaction.

2006: In keeping true with its absolutely brutal nature, this version held nothing back with the grotesque and grim back story they gave to Billy.  Between the forced incest and child abuse, it goes much further than the original in painting a bleak and desperate picture for why Billy turned out the way he did.

And while all of this could very well have still occurred to the Billy in the original, this one shows us everything.  The same was done in 2007 with Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween, and diehard fans revolted.

However, it seems less offensive here because unlike Michael Myers, Billy was never meant to the boogeyman or the shape of evil.  So giving him a back story helps the overall storyline.

2019: Unlike the previous remake, this version of Black Christmas goes in a completely different direction, really only sharing the title and slasher subgenre in common.  While it has numerous issues with promoting its PSA message at the expense of characters and plot, the changes it makes to the story aren’t all that bad.

Introducing the idea of a team of killers, as well as the supernatural angle does truly add something that wasn’t there before. And isn’t that the whole point of a remake?  It’s not enough to win it the round, but it is enough to give the 2019 a well-deserve honorable mention.

Round 3 Winner: 2006

Round 4. Directing/Style
1974: While it wasn’t the first horror film to use POV for the killer (see 1960’s Peeping Tom), it used this vantage point brilliantly to create suspense.  Between this and the brilliant arthouse murder (cut between children caroling) elevate this above the grindhouse feel, which was quite common in 70’s  horror.  Overall, it’s an incredibly stylized thriller that’s stood the test of time.

2006: Ironically, this version feels far more “grindhouse” than the 1974 original.  It has a style of its own, but suffers very much from “music video editing” (manic quick cuts), which was quite common in the 2000’s.  It’s tonally consistent throughout, and doesn’t necessarily do anything wrong, but its style just isn’t quite as good as the original.

2019: This version has some creative visuals, but its overall lack of subtlety and very obvious “twist” with who the villains are really hold it back.  When a film puts its message over story and style, this is very much the result.

Round 4 Winner: 1974

Round 5. Christmas Spirit
1974/2006/2019: Honestly, this is a short round because none of the three really embrace the Christmas spirit in the same way that other holiday horror does (Gremlins, Silent Night, Deadly Night, or Krampus).

This isn’t to say that they’re completely devoid of Christmas flair, as each one has a lot of yuletide visuals in the set and production design.  But if we have to award one of them, it has to be the original, simply because it brilliantly juxtaposes children singing carols with a brutal murder upstairs.

Round 5 (and overall) Winner: 1974

While there really was no doubt that the original would win in the end, it was still a lot of fun to take a look at these aspects of each one.  And while the original is clearly the best, it doesn’t mean that the others didn’t do new and creative things as well.

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