Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Remakes: Redux, Or Ridiculous? -- Have a Merry, Scary Christmas

Olivia Hussey discovers there's a STRANGER IN THE HOUSE (US re-release title) in the original BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)


The first call of the evening (BLACK CHRISTMAS '74)

In 1974, Bob Clark, the purveyor of such diverse cult classics as PORKY'S (1982), A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983) and the box office disaster, RHINESTONE (1984) delivered one of the most frightening, nerve wracking horror movies of all time. That film was the aptly titled BLACK CHRISTMAS, about a sorority house that finds themselves harassed by increasingly volatile and perverse phone calls from an obviously unhinged psychopath. The police search desperately to locate the stranger as he is also suspected of the murder of a young child. As the night of terror progresses, numerous young girls are brutally butchered by the unseen maniac until one woman remains and must fend for herself during the suspenseful and shocking finale.

The killer paints a mural of murder in BLACK CHRISTMAS '74

At this time, the slasher conventions hadn't been set in stone just yet, but BLACK CHRISTMAS is definitely one of the forebears of the slasher film alongside some other early examples like BAY OF BLOOD and TOWER OF EVIL (both 1972). Clark brilliantly weaves a web of tension and horror even managing to pull off some low key comedic moments that never threaten to derail the picture, but instead hint to things to come in his career nearly a decade later. There are so many wonderful moments in this seminal horror classic, it's a shame that a remake was ever discussed in the first place. Producer, Glen Morgan takes the helm of the remake which, surprisingly, had original director, Bob Clark on board as Executive Producer.

One of the killers decorates her tree of Christmas carnage in BLACK CHRISTMAS '06

As much as I enjoyed the remake for its unabashed obscenities and its flagrant disregard for good taste, the remake of the 70's classic original pales terribly by comparison. Actually, THERE IS NO COMPARISON. Like Rob Zombie's ill conceived and perpetually stupid HALLOWEEN rehash, BLACK CHRISTMAS '06 fails to match the intensity of Clark's film by virtue of its insistence to give us all the gory details of Billy's past and how he came to be what he is (at least in the world of the remake). Just as much as it's hard to fathom Michael Myers coming from trailer park stock where everyone only speaks Rob Zombie's language, ie an alternate universe, it's equally difficult to swallow the details of Billy's sordid background fitting in at all in the original film.

The horrifying phone calls escalate in intensity from Bob Clark's 1974 classic

In the original, the details of Billy and exactly who he was and what he did are clouded in fragmented portions of escalating schizophrenia over the phone when the killer repeatedly calls overtly threatening death on the sorority girls. These phone calls, sounding as if multiple people are on the phone at once, are extremely unsettling; even more effective coupled with the nerve jangling piano score on the soundtrack.

One of many gore scenes from Glen Morgan's modern take on the Clark classic

The remake scuppers any attempt at fright or suspense and settles on showing the audience EVERYTHING and in the most disgusting and spectacular fashion imaginable. This time, the phone calls have none of the terrifying ambiance they did in the '74 classic. And even if they were better conceived, the suspense would be lost amidst a miasma of incest, cannibalism and extreme eyeball trauma.

One of the best shots in the remake that recalls similar shots in John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN. One of the killers sneaks up on one of their victims in BLACK CHRISTMAS '06

Despite having a good time based solely on the new films brazenly nasty atmosphere, I can't help but feel a bit annoyed that it bears relation to Clark's movie. Possibly calling it the 'Bastard child of Bob Clark's BLACK CHRISTMAS' would help? But then, Clark himself gave his blessing for the material. I guess one has to take into consideration as to whether or not a film on the level of the original would be somewhat successful in this day and age.

This is the most you ever see of "Dirty little Billy" from the original BLACK CHRISTMAS. Note the highlighted eye. The remake would contain a plethora of eyeball violence

It would seem most moviegoers today (I'm speaking mostly of the casual fan, and not the passionate or hard core horror hound) want to be shown everything with very little left to the imagination. It's also saddening that many of these same people would never give the original a chance proclaiming it's too old, or boring, or this classic response, "I don't recognize any of these people."

Olivia Hussey encounters Billy during the frightening conclusion from the 1974 film

Another high point in the original movie is the double shocker ending (which I won't spoil here just in case someone reading hasn't seen it, by chance; but you may want to skip the third paragraph from the bottom as I kind of spoil it there). It catches you completely by surprise and leaves you hanging as to the true fate of one of the cast members. Clark himself has stated his dislike of the ending saying it's too depressing and his wish to go back and change it. I wouldn't want it any other way, however.

One of the killers moves about the house via the inside of the walls in the remake

On the flipside, the remake aborts any preconception of a shock ending on the level of the original instead giving you a bizarre SCREAM styled plot twist wherein it's discovered (I'm gonna spoil this one! Well...partly, anyways) there are in fact two killers. Not only that, but whereas the '74 version kept Billy's identity and face clouded in mystery save for the shot of one of his eyes, the remake never shys away from showing off the maniacs visage.

The girls in Glen Morgan's version aren't sure what to think of the recurring obscene phone calls

Outside of vastly different tones, there are scant few similarities. One is actress, Andrea Martin, who played one of the house girls in the original and plays the house mother in the new version. Another similarity is of course, the Christmas setting. That's one of the best aspects of BC 2006.

One of the best aspects of the remake is the look of the production and the attention to certain details in an effort to pay a degree of homage to the classic original

There is truly a sinister atmosphere surrounding the snow capped town and the image of Santa Claus. The original BLACK CHRISTMAS also captures a bleak atmosphere for the holiday season and succeeds in being a bit more unsettling than its '06 counterpart. The remake is so mean spirited and nauseating, it's difficult to take it seriously as little more than an exercise in bad taste.

Another homage: Above is the disturbing image of the dead girl in the attic. Note the insert pic for the updated version of the same scene

Morgan's movie also recreates some of the creepier aspects of the sorority house in Clark's film such as the look of the hallways and the attic. Also, the gruesome image of the dead girl with the bag over her head is recreated here, too. Some of the characters are ported over from the '74 picture as well. Despite being erratic, the film is far too outrageous as this both helps and hinders the movie. The violence and situations are totally over the top to the point it becomes like a cartoon.

BLACK CHRISTMAS 2006 is the epitome of ocular violence

The new film surely must hold a record for the most scenes of ocular destruction as well as being the most imaginative in terms of how said orbs are violated. These disgusting scenes recall those made most famous in Lucio Fulci's movies particularly ZOMBIE (1979) and THE BEYOND (1980).

Andrea Martin played Phyllis in the original film. She plays the house mother in the remake

It's obvious that by the participation of Clark as Executive Producer and the participation of one of the original cast members, there was a genuine attempt at doing something special with the material. The director, Glen Morgan, is undoubtedly a fan claiming he really wanted to do the film justice by presenting a new version that is respectful of the original, while at the same time, creating something different for a new audience to latch on to. Personally, I think it all blew up in their faces, but I do enjoy the remake for different reasons which I mentioned above. Thankfully, I did meet one person recently who wasn't aware there was an original film (imagine that?) and upon seeing it, said they enjoyed it much better.

The nail biting finale of BLACK CHRISTMAS 1974

Clark's film has been imitated several times over the years with the two most obvious being HALLOWEEN (1978) and WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979). When BC (1974) was a hit upon its original release, a sequel script was written in the hopes Clark would return as director. The script picked up where the original left off with the killer being captured and put away in an asylum. Years later he escapes and returns home to begin killing again. He didn't want to do the film and gave the script to a young John Carpenter. Carpenter took the script and changed some aspects of it and it eventually became the classic horror fans know today as HALLOWEEN. The famed shock towards the end when Olivia Hussey learns just where the calls are coming from was reused famously in WHEN A STRANGER CALLS from 1979.

The bird is the word. Note the poster in the background

Clark also manages to infuse his terrifying tale with a shot of humor foreshadowing the type of comedy he would entertain audiences with nearly a decade later in PORKY'S (1982). As gloomy and chilling as the film is, these lighter moments early on lighten the tone momentarily just before Clark assaults your senses with the horror to come. Margot Kidder (Lois Lane from the SUPERMAN films) provides some of this humor playing the young lush, Barbara. Apparently, Kidder was much like her character in real life, a promiscuous and free spirited woman. The film did very good business in its native Canada, but reportedly didn't fare as well in America. In addition to the BLACK CHRISTMAS moniker, it was also released in America as SILENT NIGHT, EVIL NIGHT and again on cable as STRANGER IN THE HOUSE. Only now is the film highly regarded as the classic and milestone it truly is.


While the new version has some wildly grim themes and ideas to recommend it, I still say stick with the somber and goose bump inducing Bob Clark original. The history of the original will always keep it in the horror community's conscious long after fans have forgotten about the remake. If you must see both, it doesn't really matter which one you see first as both are diverse enough it wouldn't be like you were watching the same film over again. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) is truly a one of a kind Canadian horror film and deserves its spot alongside such classics as HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH and THE HOWLING among a catalog of many other distinguished horror movies.

Reel Bad Cinema: Black Shampoo (1976) review


John Daniels (Mr. Jonathan), Tanya Boyd (Brenda), Mr. Wilson (Joe Ortiz)

Directed by Greydon Clark

***WARNING! This review contains pics of nudity***

Dig that crazy penis statue with the head on top of it!

Mr. Jonathan runs a hair salon on Sunset Drive and enjoys a rich clientele of lovely ladies that likewise enjoy his private sessions. After hiring a new secretary named Brenda, her previous employer, a mobster named Wilson, comes looking for her. Refusing to relinquish his new hired hand, the mob boss has his goons send a message to Mr. Jonathan by trashing his salon and beating up his two homosexual stylists. Now an angry hairdresser with murder on his mind, Jonathan gets Brenda back and leads the slackest gangsters of all time out into the country for a last stand of guns versus chainsaws resulting in a gruesome finish inside Jonathan's cabin getaway.

Perennial hack, Greydon Clark directs this fitfully stupid, yet mesmerizingly entertaining trash non classic. I almost couldn't finish this mind numbingly ridiculous movie, but it kept getting more and more asinine as the picture progressed and I became more curious as to just how much more awful it could get. By the time the last 15 minutes rolls around, the film takes a complete turnaround and becomes deadly serious taking a bloody and violent turn into territory you would expect a blaxploitation movie to go.

This film came within inches of being relegated to 'The Dis List', but it has a charm all its own that keeps it in good stead with bad films like PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959) and MYRA BRECKINRIDGE (1970). BLACK SHAMPOO (1976) dives head first into bad movie hell and comes ever so close to being lost in purgatory.

What saves it from being a complete and total piece of shit are the incongruous and offensive situations. The plot itself is one of the more preposterous ever for a movie while the film borders on the pornographic. The title alone sounds like the name of a blue movie. The opening credits showing Daniels big black hands caressing and shampooing a woman's head is comparative to the act of sex. The client moans and gyrates as if the simple act of washing her hair is bringing her to orgasm. And let's not forget the shot of the hose washing out the shampoo. The bulk of the movie deals mostly with sex and nudity and seldom any action or violence which doesn't come (haha) till the end.

Another riotously distasteful sequence has Jonathan going to a mansion for a "private session" with one of his customers. The woman hasn't yet arrived, but her two libidinous and seemingly underage daughters decide to take advantage of the situation. Shortly thereafter, the mother appears and tosses her two girls into the pool and then begins riding Jonathan in front of them(!) reverse cowgirl style(!!) The two girls (who surely must have been 18) even tell their mom to show them how it's done(!!!). If ever there was a WTF? moment, it's this scene. But it doesn't stop there. BLACK SHAMPOO is riddled with moments of WTF?

Then there's this totally bizarre and wacky barbecue sequence that, like so much of BLACK SHAMPOO, adds nothing of consequence to the film other than to pad the already short 84 minute running time with one increasingly nutty and absurd scene after another. The scene in question has Mr. Jonathan's fruity hairdressers try to get his mind off of the woman that spurned him by inviting him to a gay barbecue. This scene seems almost tacked on as if Greydon Clark (who was one of the writers) was intentionally coming up with the zaniest ideas to throw into the film.

In one of numerous questionable moments, the three gangster stooges return to Jonathan's salon and proceed to trash the place. Once the smooth shampoo operator returns and sees his entire shop in shambles, he decides to take a shower. Brenda, looking around at the joint in broken disarray, decides to strip off and join the big man in his bath. Later on, Brenda suddenly changes character and rejoins Mr. Big time gangster boss and hurts Jonathan's feelings. His pride hurt, he heads on over to the residence of one his clients he didn't have time for earlier and proceeds to give her the special treatment right there on her front stoop. It's at about this point the barrage of borderline porn (the film threatens to step over the line on a couple of occasions) ceases momentarily so the film can get serious as we get closer to the finish.

Jonathan takes off for the woods to a cabin to get his head straight. Meantime, Brenda snatches some important papers that can expose Mr. Wilson for the crook that he is (we never learn just what illegal activities he is into aside from Jonathan stating the IRS would love to get their hands on the papers). Wilson and his cronies go back to the salon and do a terrible number on the two fairy stylists even going so far as to ram a hot curling iron into one of their asses. This scene is pretty excruciating and probably the most seriously disturbing sequence in the whole thing. Learning where he is, the bad guys take off for the woods for the big, bloody finish.

This is where BLACK SHAMPOO truly comes (hahaha) alive and delivers some violent thrills fans of blaxploitation expect. If only some of the more serious tone had been spread more evenly throughout, BLACK SHAMPOO might have been a bit more successful. Just be prepared for a lot of hopelessly bad acting, plentiful sex scenes, nudity, gay stereotypes and disjointed nonsense till the last 15 minutes where the film turns into a violent and bloody action picture.

John Daniels as 'Mr. Jonathan' is utterly inert in his role as the sex hungry hair stylist. He seldom seems interested at what's going on around him whether it be his next prurient parlay in his back room, or doling out chainsaw mayhem on the loopiest thugs the genre has ever seen. He has a good look, but he rarely emotes beyond the same facial expression that looks for all the world like he smells something really bad, and it might be the stink emanating from the film. BLACK SHAMPOO does have a slightly irresistibly goofy charm that defies you to turn away.

I nearly shut it off about 20 minutes in, but decided to stick it out thinking it couldn't possibly get any worse. I was wrong. While it definitely is one big train wreck of a movie, Clark manages to turn this to the films advantage and Daniels manages the same with his sleep induced performance.

With all the cheesy and hopelessly hammy elements keeping this sinking shit afloat, one other item holds viewers interest....the vivacious frame of Tanya Boyd. One of the most lithe and finely toned beauties I've ever seen, she is one of the most mesmerizing actresses to appear in the blaxploitation movies and it's a shame she didn't go farther in her exploitation career. She can also be seen as one of the naked Nubian bodyguards to evil Ilsa in ILSA, HAREM KEEPER OF THE OIL SHEIKS (1976). Nonetheless she did have a prosperous career in television.

In spite of its overt sloppiness and half assed execution, BLACK SHAMPOO is the perfect recipe for grindhouse trash. It's just the film doesn't balance all this out very well. Even still, it will likely please fans of shit cinema as that is definitely what it is, pure garbage, but fun garbage that is giving me a headache trying to decide whether I really like it, or not.

This review is representative of the VCI Entertainment special edition.

Related Posts with Thumbnails


copyright 2013. All text is the property of and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.