Why You Should Watch: Black Christmas (1974) + Preliminary Thoughts about Black Christmas (2019)

From IMDb: During their Christmas break, a group of sorority girls are stalked by a stranger.

Image result for black christmas 1974

First and foremost, the original Black Christmas was directed by the same man who gave us A Christmas Story. That’s right – two of the most iconic Christmas movies from stark different genres were created by the same person.

Although revolutionary for its time, Black Christmas was not a success when it was originally released (something it has in common with The Thing and The Shining). It’s a leisurely paced thriller with slasher-like elements that predated Halloween by a few years. In fact, Bob Clark once told John Carpenter he wasn’t going to make a sequel to Black Christmas, but if he did “it would be the next year and the guy would have actually been caught, escape from a mental institution, go back to the house, and they would start all over again. And I would call it Halloween.”

Black Christmas boasts some great actors including Margot Kidder and Olivia Hussey as two of the sorority sisters. The mysterious calls the sisters keep receiving are genuinely disturbing. The police (well at least John Saxon’s character) are not completely incompetent which is interesting for a horror film. The film has a pretty tangential relationship to Christmas; its title implies a much stronger relationship but the film itself comes across as something that happens to be set during Christmas ala Die Hard.

Coming out less than two years after Roe v. Wade was decided, the film features a shockingly refreshing subplot featuring Olivia Hussey’s character telling her boyfriend she is pregnant, and that she is going to get an abortion. She comes across as a thoughtful, increasingly confident character throughout the film. This movie does a lot to show how strong and intelligent many of the young characters are. The sorority sisters in this film are given character depth that many modern slashers purposely lack, which makes it especially upsetting when they are attacked and killed.

Black Christmas is an excellent film to watch alone late on Christmas Eve after everyone else has fallen asleep.

Black Christmas 2019

Black Christmas was remade 32 years after the original with 2006’s Black Christmas. Now, 13 years after that reboot, it is being remade again 45 years after the original. Obviously I am one of the weirdos who enjoys 2006’s Black Christmas, and I do think that sequel is far, far more of a Christmas movie than the original. The 1974 movie relies on suggestion and ambiguity, giving us some slivers of a story about Billy and a baby named Agnes. The 2006 film relies on gore and a sadistic sense of dark humor, taking the disparate pieces of the killer’s calls from the original and creating an elaborate backstory about a killer named Billy who snapped and murdered his abusive family on Christmas. The 2006 remake came out during a rash of slasher remakes that mostly came across as soulless cash grabs. The 2006 film was no exception to this, but it did attempt to take threads of the original and do something a bit different. This brings us to the newest Black Christmas:

My preliminary thoughts on the 2019 remake are mixed. I’m really excited to see another version of this movie, and I like that they are doing something different with it. If this trailer is to be believed at face value, it gives a lot away. In particular, revealing that the sisters will band together to fight against their attackers makes the horror and suspense portions of the movie less effective. And mind you, I want the sisters to to band together! I’m excited for it, but revealing it in the trailer ruins that “twist” of the group coming together. I am also disappointed it has been given a PG-13 rating. Although there are certainly good PG-13 horror films, it is hard to imagine a slasher being truly effective as a PG-13 film.

I like that this film seems intent on empowering the female characters, but I think it is a mistake to showcase this so prominently in the marketing. By doing so, it seems to still be making a soulless cash grab of a reboot, but simply trading in one audience (what middle aged executives think slasher movie fans want: mindless sick gore) for another (what middle aged movie executives think progressive Gen Z moviegoers want: artificially diverse girl power). Although it’s frustrating as a horror fan to see our genre reduced to gore for the sake of gore, it is far more damaging to reduce progressive political stances down to a marketing tool. Can this film actually fulfill the heavily implied promise in the trailer that it offers something fresh and progressive while still successfully hitting enough genre tropes to satisfy horror fans? I hope so. I hope that this film offers a nuanced depiction of the complex issues of intersectional feminism it is attempting to take on, but that is a tall order for a major release banking off the success of the original film.

I plan to do a recap of my initial impressions of this film next week. Till then, give both original Black Christmases a shot and see how you fare.

3 thoughts on “Why You Should Watch: Black Christmas (1974) + Preliminary Thoughts about Black Christmas (2019)

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