ICFH 2022 Advent Calendar- Day 1
Don't you like getting presents? Gifts, surprises, they're awesome! It's all good stuff until some joker gives you a wrapped X Box One box filled with socks. Or an iPhone 14 Max box with a rock inside.
Our Day 1 movie is sort of like that gag gift for a lot of people, especially if you are someone who tends to hate remakes.
Warning: Spoiler Alert! If you haven't seen it and want to see it, stop reading and go watch it, then come back. I'm not kidding. I spoil everything.
ICFH 2022 Advent Calendar December 1- Black Christmas (2019)
I already hear a lot of you moaning. I get it. You expected something closer to Bob Clark's classic 1974 slasher Black Christmas and instead, after you bought your ticket, you got a pair of socks.
I was just like you. Upon it's DVD release in 2020 I wrote in Videoscope that the movie should not have been made as a remake of Black Christmas. It should have been a straight rip-off and called something else. Under a different title,, maybe we would be having a different conversation about the flick. I thought Sophia Takal (director and co-writer) and April Wolfe (co-writer) were a team to watch, but this wasn't the best use of their talents.
I haven't watched it again but I decided to give it another watch. Tis the season. The flick starts out like a balls-to-the-wall slasher. Five minutes in we get the great "snow angel" death scene. Love it!
Sixteen minutes in and the tidal wave of "woke culture" reared its ugly head. I started getting antsy on the couch. This is what I didn't like.
Twenty minutes in we have a marble bust of the college's founder, Calvin Hawthorne, leaking Satanic black marmalade out its eyes. The boneheaded brothers of the evil fraternity are playing in the goo and turning into emotionless automatons bent on exterminating any "uppity" female that comments on or questions their masculinity.
It's exactly what you think it is, feminism vs. toxic masculinity for the woke generation by way of a social justice warrior who does everything possible to right every wrong on the Hawthorne campus.
Our hero is Riley (Imogen Poots), a senior who survived a sexual attack years earlier by greasy frat president Brian Huntley (Ryan McIntyre). The fraternity is hosting a Christmas talent show and some of Riley's sisters have come up with a song and dance condemning Brian for the assault and of course, the performance is recorded and goes viral quickly.
A silent assassin continues to murder various female students around the campus. Once her friends start disappearing, Riley goes to the cops for help but since they don't believe her accusations against Mr. All American Brian from years earlier, they are of little help.
Then it seems like the movie might be going off the tracks when Riley witnesses the bust of Calvin Hawthorne leaking septic spooge and the frat dweebs (all looking like interchangeable jock robots) rubbing the gunk on various pledges' foreheads.
At an hour and five minutes in, a pack of fraternity zombies are slaughtering every 'uppity" sorority sister on campus.
At an hour and eight minutes in, Riley tells her friend Kris that whatever is going on is definitely supernatural.
Guys who haven't been turned into killing machines hear a high pitched ringing that doubles them over in pain. Pompous Professor Gelson (a perfectly slimy Cary Elwes) explains that, "That's just the founder drawing out your true alpha."
It ends in a climactic boys vs. girl Battle Royale that sees Kris leading a pack of pissed off ladies into the Frat House from Hell to stab, slash and burn the shit out of every male in the domicile. Riley smashes the bust and breaks the curse. Maybe. Probably, since that's how it always works. Who knows for sure since the guys seem to snap out of their trance but Riley and Kris lock them in the burning house to die horribly.
Frustrating, I know. And again, when I first saw it, I was like, "What the hell is this?" It is so over the top and in your face. You try to disconnect it from the original Black Christmas, as well as the first remake from 2006 (sometimes referred to as Black X-Mas) as best you can so you don't lose your mind. What is going on here?
Black Christmas has always been about strong women, whether we knew it or not. Even Lynne Griffin (Clare Harrison in the '74 original) told ICFH (Book 2) that she was surprised when women, young women, would come up to her after a screening and say how empowered they felt after watching the film. They were reacting to Olivia Hussey's character Jess, not for going toe to toe with the unknown killer, but for standing up to her weird boyfriend and insisting on making the decision on whether or not to have an abortion entirely on her own. That was a very empowered character that we did not see in every little low budget horror movie in the early 70's.
My favorite moment, the moment I feel real joy for the character Riley is when she participates in the talent show song and dance and confronts her attacker on stage. You feel her character gain strength and you see her grow. You feel a joy because she has been silenced for years and now she is finally speaking up, in public, and looking in her attacker's eyes while she does it. It is a powerful moment.
My first viewing, I felt Takal and Wolfe rubbed my face in the social issues of the characters too much. Yes, horror films can certainly tackle real life, heavy issues, but they have to be fun too. This Black Christmas doesn't seem fun because it broaches so many real life issues and it makes me feel bad and I don't want real life and it's making me uncomfortable and... Ooohhhh! I get it. Horror movies are supposed to make us feel uncomfortable. Just that this time it's not much fun.
Clark handled just as many heavy issues in his film, but in an understated manner. There was a lot of humor. Mr. Harrison (James Edmond) has one idea of the girl his daughter Clare is, but maybe the posters on the walls of her room reveal more about the woman she is becoming. Jess seems very serious, horribly serious in the way she's always running around with furrowed brow and beaming with concern for everyone, but isn't she wearing a sweater with two hands cupping her breasts? Sergeant Nash (Doug McGrath) is a complete dickhead, but don't the girls get one up on him and it's hilarious, even if they aren't there to revel in it?
Takal and Wolfe took a broader approach here. They wanted to fully assault their audience and rub their face in it. I think it backfired a bit, but I feel I better understand what they were trying to achieve. I think this film comments on something that needs to be commented on, but it seems that for most of the audience, it was more than they wanted in a Christmas slasher film. (A remake of the Grandfather of all Christmas slasher films, no less!)
As a remake, Takal and Wolfe are certainly fans of the original. As distracting as that river of black goo is, we still have another gorgeous sorority house decked out in festive lights, an orphan's dinner (for students with no where to go over the holiday break), a cameo obscene phone call, Helena attacked in her room while alone, Frannie is attacked near the attic window looking for Claudette the cat, Frannie's body is left in plain sight but never found, that old line about, "Missing girls are usually with a boyfriend," and the classic plastic dry cleaning bag over the head suffocation extermination, to name a few kickbacks to the original.
If the three Black Christmas movies can be seen as a trilogy, I would compare them to what I consider the only true Halloween trilogy, the '78 original, the '81 sequel, and the gonzo off the rails third one from '82. Lay the two trilogy's on top of each other and they line up pretty well.
No one can touch the power of the originals. Black Christmas and Halloween now stand as distinct moments from the era in which they were made. They are a part of our history and live to this day. Black X-Mas and Halloween II are near perfect slasher movies. They aren't anywhere nearly as scary as the originals, but for slice-and-dicers they are better than 85% of what the genre has to offer. Black Christmas '19 and Halloween III: Season of the Witch, well: goo, supernatural shenanigans, emotionless killing machines, maniacal old white men trying to change the world...both are simply off the rails!
I do wonder now if Black Christmas is a film that should be revisited every decade or so to see how women are surviving in the current social climates. (Invasion of the Body Snatchers works the same way. Every decade or so a new one comes out and explores the idea on a new modern society.)
If you saw it and hated it, or have just stayed away from it because it doesn't sound like something you would like, I get it. But I would urge you to give it a watch (or re-watch) and leave all your preconceived notions of what a Black Christmas remake should be under the tree. Hey, no one is ever going to create a scarier Black Christmas than Bob Clark's original. We can all agree on that. So maybe watch it and see what other tales can be told in a similar setting with a bunch of lethal ladies not willing to bow down to a Christmas slayer.