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In late October 1978 John Carpenter’s breakthrough horror Halloween would become a surprise success at the box office and in the years that followed would inadvertently lay the foundation for what would ultimately become known as the slasher film. Produced on a budget of just $300,000, the movie was met with unanimous praise from the critics and would introduce mainstream audience to the concept of a teenage girl being terrorised by a maniac lurking in the shadows. While Friday the 13th, released two years later, would become the catalyst for the subsequent boom, Halloween would be cited as the one that started it all.
But four years earlier a similar picture was produced in Canada by American filmmaker Bob Clark whose recent effort, a tongue-in-cheek horror called Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, had served as his calling card. Filmed in Toronto with a cast of up-and-coming talent that included Margot Kidder and Olivia Hussey, along with B-movie veteran John Saxon, Black Christmas told of a young woman in a sorority house who is plagued by sinister phone calls, a concept that would be revisited half a decade later with Fred Walton’s cult favourite When a Stranger Calls.
Utilising the tried-and-tested ‘whodunnit’ format that was perfected with the mystery thrillers of Agatha Christie, whose And Then There Were None would share many similarities with the slasher film, Black Christmas would incorporate several red herrings in order to mislead the audience away from the killer’s true identity, with heroin Jess’s boyfriend Peter being the most likely suspect. Surrounded by a group of girls that include the party-obsessed drunk Barbara, all of the clichés that would become to define the horror genre in the 1980s were could be found in Clark’s seminal classic.
‘Unlike the slashers which would follow, Black Christmas‘ killer is never exposed, nor is his motivation ever explained,’ stated author Adam Rockoff in his book Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978-1986. ‘The most we see of him is a fleeting glimpse of his eyeball as he hides behind a door, waiting for attack Jess. There is never any attempt to rationalise or justify his madness. He is simply insane. A few books, including the usually accurate Encyclopedia of Horror Movies, mistakenly points out that the killer is Peter, when in fact it is fairly obvious that his identity remains a mystery.’
One of the most important elements of the slasher film was the final girl, the resourceful heroine who eludes the killer and survives until the end of story. While Halloween‘s Laurie Strode is considered the defining female hero, with A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Nancy also providing a fan favourite, Jess would prove to be a strong and level-headed protagonist who becomes the target of the killer’s obsession. Hussey, who had already gained considerable acclaim for her role in Romeo and Juliet a few years earlier, would create the template that Laurie and all those who followed would owe a debt to.
With a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre having become a surprise hit at the box office in 2003, Hollywood soon began purchasing the rights to as many slasher films as possible, from those that spawned franchises to others whose legacy has slowly built over the decades. In 2006, over thirty years after the release of Black Christmas, a modern retelling of Clark’s original masterpiece was unleashed upon an indifferent world, with Variety dismissing it as a ‘lazily plotted and conspicuously suspense-free thriller.’
‘I knew that nobody would remake Black Christmas and improve on Bob Clark’s version,’ admitted Hussey to Love-It-Loud when looking back on the original movie in 2011. ‘He was a wonderful director, had a vision and knew how to put it on film. There are not too many of those talents around!’ But now, a little over a decade after Black Christmas received the obligatory remake it has been revealed that the movie is once again set to be revisited for a new generation of horror fans. The movie, which will see actress Imogen Poots returning to the genre after having made her splatter debut in 2007 with 28 Weeks Later.
The latest adaptation of Black Christmas, which will be produced by Blumhouse after last year’s successful Halloween reboot, will be distributed through Universal on 13 December. The new screenplay was written by April Wolfe, who made her filmmaking debut six years ago with a short film entitled Widower and will be produced by Jason Blum, Ben Cosgrove and Adam Hendricks, the latter two under the banner of Divide/Conquer. The supporting cast will include relative newcomers Aleyse Shannon, Brittany O’Grady, Lily Donoghue and Caleb Eberhardt.