I am not about to say this is a good movie. It’s not. But the horror genre, for better or for worse, is often associated with its trash more than its good. If you ask a horror film fan, the trash is delightful. If you ask someone who hates horror films, all horror films are trash. In the case of the Black Christmas remake, I think this is exemplary horror film trash. A guilty pleasure I keep coming back to year after year (notably because I always watch it while I wrap Christmas presents).
Let’s just get this out of the way: the original Black Christmas is a slasher classic that got overshadowed by Halloween even though it used a lot of similar techniques (e.g. a killer’s POV; a group of young women getting picked off one by one; a holiday as part of the setting). You should absolutely watch the original if choosing between it and this remake. This remake came out after the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) but before the series of “big three” remakes: Halloween (2007), Friday the 13th (2009), and A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010). I wish I could say something brilliant about this remake i.e. “it was overlooked in its time but actually pretty forward thinking much like its original!” But that wouldn’t be true. What I can say is I like some aspects of this remake very much, and can overlook the aspects I don’t care for as a result.
I love how invested in Christmas this film is. There are a number of horror films with Christmas themes, but I think this film most successfully pulls it off. The soundtrack and mise en scène are infused with Christmas music, decorations, lighting, and overall ambiance. Even the passive aggressive exchanges between the sorority sisters while they sit under string lights and drink red wine recall a holiday fraught with tradition and tension. Similar to My Bloody Valentine, this is a film that derives a sick, almost campy pleasure from lampooning the titular holiday.
The sordid story of the killer who once lived in their sorority house is revealed over a series of flashbacks. The flashbacks are prompted by present day moments when characters feel compelled to share his story. In this way, these flashbacks serve as the proverbial ghost stories over an open flame roasting chestnuts – but in this case each reveal is more depraved and upsetting than the last. They also include one of my favorite blink and miss it moments when Billy’s horrifically abusive mother informs him Santa will not be coming because “the Russians shot his sleigh down.”
The music in this film is brilliant. It starts with a the brassy opening of “The Man with the Bag” with such apt lyrics as:
He’ll make this December, the one you’ll remember
The best and the merriest you ever did have
Everybody’s waitin’ for the man with the bag
Christmas is here again
Aside from the best and merriest, these are pretty appropriate lyrics for a killer whose most memorable kills involve suffocating his victims with plastic garbage bags.
In another scene Billy sends a note to a guard at his asylum stating “I’ll be home for Christmas” – to which the guard replies “In your dreams Billy. In your dreams” – a nod to the lyrics of the classic “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”
The deaths in this film are grotesque and brutal. They involve a sharpened candy cane and a wayward icicle which caused a debate among me and my friends during the film – could you REALLY kill somebody by licking a candy cane down to a very sharp point? This movie’s sheer ridiculousness can lend itself to many hours of debate and lively conversation!
Rather than casting a group of unknown actresses, the filmmakers purposely cast actresses people would recognize but not necessarily think there was a standout from in order to try and make it more difficult to determine who the final girl would actually be. Notably, this film includes Michelle Trachtenberg (Dawn from Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Lacey Chabert (Gretchen from Mean Girls), and underappreciated modern scream queen Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who once again puts in a standout horror film performance. Just like the Sorority Row remake, this film feels like Mean Girls as a slasher, and I am one of the people who is here for these sorts of mashups. And if you’ve ever yelled, “JUST LEAVE!” at horror film characters, you will love one of the characters in this film.
This video is spoiler heavy, but one of my favorite Youtube channels Good Bad Flicks did an excellent exploration of this film you can watch here:
Notably, studio interference played a huge part in the excess icky that went into the remake. In the video above, you can see moments when writer & director Glen Morgan looks visibly dejected at what his vision became at the hands of the studio.
This is a movie you should watch while drinking with friends. It will get icky in some parts, but it is still best served with adult beverages and lulz.
Between it and the original, you should undoubtedly watch the original 1974 classic. But when you are looking for something that’s trashy and entertaining check this one out. It’s not that its unfairly maligned – it’s fairly maligned – but it’s just damn fun in an absolutely twisted way.