Kirk Hazen and Black Christmas

Black Christmas V Halloween - I just do not get this argument at all. Let me summarise it for you, JC is a sheister who ripped off Bob Clark's earlier slasher movie. Now Clark claims that he planted the seed for Halloween in JCs head with this movie. It's hard to argue with that given that we do not know what JCs inspiration was, but even Clark stops short of claims of plagiarism. So both films use POV for the serial killer, so what? Both involve teens (yeah, like Margot Kidder is really a teen in Black Christmas!) and both use a holiday to stage the 'event' (Christmas and Halloween respectively). They sound similar when listed like but they are extremely different in terms of style, substance and critical/commercial success. Black Christmas is a bit of a dissapointment after all the hype it gets as a bit of a 'lost classic'; it treads too closely to melodrama with the unreal exchanges between the teenagers involved. Part of Halloween's success is its spot on depiction of teenage school years. However, the fundamental difference, and the key to Halloween's success, is in the serial killer himself, Micheal Myers. I don't want to spoil Black Christmas for those who havn't seen it but it does have a sort of coventional 'whodunnit' structure that quickly becomes labored. In Halloween we know straight off who Myers is because of that wonderful pre-credits sequence. This is evil, pure and simple with no intention to keep us guessing at identities and motives (which is why I think the Halloween sequels pretty much sucked, but that is another rant).. Ditch the extra TV scenes and the exposition outlined in the novelisation and all we know about Myers is that he wants to kill people. This turns him into a pure force, leaving us to gape in horror as this relentless machine terrorises this town, all within the space of the blackest night (this unity of time is also another strong point of Halloween). So I want to stop hearing about JC ripping off Clark, it did not happen. Halloween is a milestone in cinema, Black Christmas is a mildly enjoyable movie that outstays its welcome after the first half hour.

Kirk Hazen comes back with an eloquent comparison of the two films. Now you should know that name, as Kirk is responsible for some great fan fiction involving characters from JCs films. Look for Patrick Kerr's webiste in my links section and check out Kirk's stories.

--------- Halloween/ Black Christmas editorial (spoilers ahead for those of you who haven't seen either film) -------------------

It seemed inevitable that, along with the resurgence of the horror film and the overwhelming popularity and fanbase of HALLOWEEN, one of my favorite unsung suspense films, BLACK CHRISTMAS, would finally get itís due. Iíve been championing this little masterpiece for years (I saw it around the same time I saw HALLOWEEN back in 1981-í82, and both have had quite an impact on me) and have always placed it alongside HALLOWEEN as a benchmark in how to do horror and suspense right. But the recent buzz- and I have heard it quite a bit in the last year or two- about how John Carpenter ripped off BLACK CHRISTMAS is, quite simply, bullshit. Apparently Carpenter and Bob Clark did work on a script or scripts together back in the mid 70ís and Carpenter was an admirer of BLACK CHRISTMAS. When Clark had a sleeper hit with the film, there was some talk of a sequel, one that would take place on HALLOWEEN night. Now, if Iím not mistaken, didnít Irwin Yablans come up with the mad slasher element for HALLOWEEN first? And then Carpenter and Hill came in on the project? Well, I recall reading that Carpenter was aware that Clark was thinking of doing the Halloween BLACK CHRISTMAS sequel and Carpenter actually called him and asked if it would okay if the Halloween setting was used for their movie and Clark was fine with it. In the Fangoria retrospective on BLACK CHRISTMAS, Clark basically
says that the similarities are marginal and doesnít even hint at being ripped off or plagiarized. In the film business, there are quite a few films that have very similar set-ups and scenes, especially the Maniac on the loose sub-genre. Certainly, HALLOWEEN doesnít have near as many Ďliftedí elements as the later slasher films of the 1979-82 heyday, because it was the trendsetter. To use a baseball analogy, BLACK CHRISTMAS was a
line drive to center field and HALLOWEEN was a home run- and they were both in the same inning. BLACK CHRISTMAS is heavy on plot elements and red-herrings (fit together very well, mind you) whereas HALLOWEEN is more direct and lean in it's narrative structure. In a Cinefantastique interview from 1980 (highly recommended reading; one of JCís best early interviews), Carpenter was asked about HALLOWEEN having the ĎBob Clark/BLACK CHRISTMAS style cheatí ending to which he responded ĎBLACK CHRISTMAS was about who the killer was. In my movie his identity is irrelevant. Wait Ďtil next Halloween; heíll be back to getcha!í In my opinion, there are indeed similarities between the to films: 1. Atmospheric holiday setting- both films have this in spades; 2. POV of the Killer shots- HALLOWEEN uses this technique at the beginning, because Carpenter doesnít want you to know the killer is a child yet; after that, the Shapes location is often within the frame or kept ambiguous to set up a scare (EX. Bob in the kitchen/Laurie by the couch, with the knitting needle). In BLACK CHRISTMAS, Clark is forced to use the POV more because the Maniacs identity is being withheld; 3. The Ďheroine discovering the bodiesí scene- to me, one of the sharpest similarities between the two films. Both Laurie and Jess open a bedroom door and see the body/bodies of their friends, and then meet the killer. Both films do a smashing job at this; the Shape fading out of the dark doorway and attacking Laurie/the Maniacís bulging, insane eyeball in the doorway crack as he whispers psychotically to Jess. The main difference is that Jess knows there is a killer in the house before she opens the door, making her considerably gustier than Laurie, at least up until that point. And as far as merit, both scenes are absolutely shit-in-your-pants spine-chilling; 4. The phone as an instrument of terror- Both films utilize the phone as a connective device between the killer and the heroine, but BLACK CHRISTMAS does it much more, and in a way that ratchets up the psychological terror to a fever pitch. HALLOWEEN uses it sparingly and atjust the right moments, because, as we all know, the Shape isnít much of a talker. The BLACK CHRISTMAS killer is defined by the phone calls; his incredibly creepy and insane babbling voice(not to mention bulging eyeball) is as important as the ghostly white mask, butcher knife, and quirky tics of the Shape, who is the certainly the more laconic of the two killers; 5. The twist Ďheís still out there!í ending- letís face it- both films have done this better than any other in horror history. They leave you with a knot in your gut and goosebumps on your arms, the way a horror film should. The endings do have some similarities as well: in HALLOWEEN, we see all the locations of the attacks/murders, as the Shapes breathing dominates the soundtrack. Itís a direct twist ending, leaving nothing to doubt; the empty lawn and Loomisís face tell us that ĎHeís still out there!í. BLACK CHRISTMASís is slightly more ambiguous; the camera moves through the quiet house from Jessís room (as she sleeps soundly) to the other rooms/murder locations. As it nears the attic, we then hear the giggling, whispering maniac and cut to the interior of the attic for his signature ĎAgnes, itís meeee, Billyí line (as he sits amid the bodies that the police didnít yet find). Itís a bit more subtle than HALLOWEEN, but no less effective (especially since we know that Jess is lying asleep a few rooms down, unprotected!). Overall, I feel that Carpenter was obviously influenced, if even just slightly, by BLACK CHRISTMAS, but HALLOWEEN is still in itís own class- itís more straightforward and much more of a traditional horror film, drawing on the Ďboogey-maní mythology and the holiday itself. BLACK CHRISTMAS is, in itís own right, a suspense classic, and should rightly be viewed as the progenitor of the modern slasher (and itís lightyears ahead of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS, the other Ďphone/killerí movie). Both films should be acknowleged as two classics of the genre and let's put all the rip-off tripe to rest...unless you can give me video footage of John Carpenter paying Bob Clark off for his silence with a briefcase full of green in a empty parking lot as their heavily armed henchman look on with twitching eyes...Do that, and I'll buy you a sody-pop at the local five and dime.

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