"I'll just get my gear."

Black Christmas (second remake)

BLACK CHRISTMAS (2019) is another loose remake of BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974). Like the original and the 2006 remake it’s about a group of sorority sisters who stay on campus during winter break and then start getting stalked and murdered. The creepy phone calls have been updated to creepy texts, and the identity and mythology behind the killings is completely different from either of the previous versions. Which I support. No reason to do this otherwise.

The opening feels like the serious, scary parts of SCREAM. A student named Lindsay (Lucy Currey) is walking home one snowy night, getting weird texts, thinking a dude is following her. He’s not, but suddenly she crashes into a different man wearing a mask and black robe who chases her around a heavily Christmas-decorated house where no one responds to her cries for help. But the horrifying/beautiful overhead shot of Lindsay making a snow angel as she dies and is dragged away sets a bar that’s never met in the subsequent off rhythm and ineffective cat and mouse scenes. I didn’t realize until afterwards that it’s a PG-13 movie, which might explain some of that, but doesn’t really justify that the mask isn’t particularly cool or creepy. That shit is important in a masked slasher movie.

But maybe not as important as a good protagonist, and in that department BLACK CHRISTMAS definitely delivers. The story centers on Riley (Imogen Poots, 28 WEEKS LATER, FRIGHT NIGHT, GREEN ROOM), who is helping the sisters prepare for some sort of Christmas performance at a frat party, but doesn’t plan to participate. Even though she’s in a sorority, her long coat and Doc Martens signal a tinge of cool non-conformist status that Poots somehow makes credible.

Everybody seems to be pretty good friends, which I like. It’s common for slasher movies to have everybody fighting all the time, but I prefer the ones with cameradery. Everyone’s trying to be sensitive and supportive about something Riley is dealing with, and one conversation about a planned “orphan dinner” for the friends not going home for Christmas seemed to imply that her parents were dead. We’ve seen variations of that backstory in SCREAM, HAPPY DEATH DAY, THE FINAL GIRLS, SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT, FREDDY VS. JASON, surely others, but here it turns out the past trauma is something I’m not sure I’ve seen addressed in a horror movie before: she was raped. Her rapist was the president of a fraternity, she was called a liar, and people still harass her about it like she did something wrong. The rapist was never held accountable – based on the time frame mentioned, he remained fraternity president a year after it happened! – and now word is he’s coming to the party.

Young people not being able to convince the authorities that they’re in danger is also a common horror movie trope – I think of it as the A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET tradition, but it goes back to at least THE BLOB. It’s interesting how much more vital it feels when it’s explicitly about rape victims having difficulty being believed and not just a parallel to it.

So far I’ve managed to miss it if the “keep your self expression out of my entertainment” people are self-incriminatingly pissed that a horror movie is about this stuff. The original, of course, dealt with abortion and a controlling boyfriend in a way that was pretty frank for its time, but when you do that these days you risk the wrath of the people who get more angry about the alleged overreach of “p.c.” and “s.j.w.” and “wokeness” than about the undeniable injustices they’re reaching for. It might be tempting to not make movies about stuff anymore just to avoid these tedious god damn discussions, but why self censor? Give the p.c. police police something to do, I guess. Keep ’em off the streets.

Admittedly the politics here are not subtle. It’s not really subtext – it’s explicit. But I think it’s all very organic to the central BLACK CHRISTMAS subject of college women being attacked by scorned men. It’s contemporary in that the villains are a bunch of future Brett Kavanaughs – arrogant preppies who assault women, then belittle and threaten them about it, and feel they’re entitled to powerful positions in society – but it’s timeless in that this shit has been going on forever.

Which is also one of the themes. Riley’s friend Kris (Aleyse Shannon, new version of Charmed) is a political activist who previously got a bust of the school’s woman-hating, slave-owning founder Caleb Hawthorne removed from public display, and now has a campaign against cartoonishly awful Professor Gelson (Cary Elwes, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE, SAW), who trollishly quotes Camille Paglia to “prove” that writing doesn’t have a gender and therefore it’s only coincidental that only white male authors are included in what he considers “the classics” worth teaching.

Long dead assholes still have a hold on our lives. Riley catches fraternity pledges worshiping the bust of Hawthorne in some kind of occult ritual. The threatening text messages are made under Hawthorne’s name. The interchangeable pretty boy Aryan-ness of the frat is too on-the-nose for me, but I suppose it helps illustrate this idea of the same elitist, chauvinistic bullshit being passed on through inheritances, legacies, secret societies. People like Kris try to stand up to it and people get tired of it and want her to just acquiesce – even her friends, like Riley. And now somebody’s straight up murdering the women who threaten the patriarchy. SPOILER THAT IS IN THE TRAILER: Basically, 1974’s obscene-phone-calling misogynist murderer in the attic has been traded out for an elite institution that goes back hundreds of years. Which makes a whole lot of sense.

There are two males who hang out with the women and help them. One is nice nerd Landon (Caleb Eberhardt, “Lounge Patron,” ROXANNE ROXANNE), who awkwardly shows interest in Riley at the coffee shop where she works, and I spent the movie afraid he’d turn into an asshole. The other one is a boyfriend (Simon Mead, Power Rangers Dino Charge) who supports the sisters in playing a very confrontational prank on the fraternity (kind of equivalent to playing “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” for the nazi punks in GREEN ROOM) but later gets defensive and rants against feminism, actually using the phrase “not all men.” And it seems like shit that guy would really say. It’s not as forced as it might sound.

I was a little surprised by the serious tone. I could use more humor between the sisters, but it’s nice to see them trying to replicate some of the approach of the original. I respect that.

That said, I much prefer the rowdier 2006 version, which was not a comedy but was full of crass gore and holiday-themed gimmicks. It was arguably as scary as this and definitely way more fun. Being the first holiday slasher movie, Bob Clark’s original can be forgiven for not having that much holiday content outside of Christmas lights, but I think this one could go further. It has lots of snow, an icicle stabbing, a mention of a Secret Santa, some sexy Santa-themed dresses (homage to MEAN GIRLS?). I suppose there’s some merriment there, but it gives me even more appreciation for the 2006 version’s dedication to working in as many Christmas tree ornaments and glasses of eggnog and shit as possible. The killer bakes pieces of skin cut into cookie shapes – it’s a classic! This version would never dream of doing something like that. In retrospect, there are no severed body parts. Is there even blood? I’m honestly not sure.

SPOILER FOR FANS OF THE ORIGINAL: There is no Billy this time, no mysterious person living in the attic, but it does have the famous image of the dead body found strung with Christmas lights on a chair. It seems strange that they leave out the disturbing touch of the plastic bag over her head, but later Riley attempts to suffocate the killer with a plastic bag. Nice switch up (though, like many things in the movie, it goes by quick and kind of clumsy instead of playing like a big moment).

The scares are pretty far apart and often not very impactful, but I was with this movie most of the way. The cast (particularly Poots) are very compelling, and it feels fresh in the issues it chooses to address and in the way it seems pitched specifically at women. (For example, I had to Google “diva cup” afterwards to verify it was what I thought it was.)

But it lost me at the climax. SPOILERS AHEAD. I didn’t really care for the late-arriving supernatural element, but what killed it for me was the abrupt arrival of Kris and the gang posing with weapons, saying one-liners, and pairing off with the evil frat boys for action duels. I mean, I’m a guy that loves that kind of shit. But here it seems out of nowhere and completely at odds with the tone of the rest of the movie, like adding some ARMY OF DARKNESS shit to the end of CANDYMAN. It could be that they put the thematic cart ahead of the narrative horse, but it feels to me like they replaced some other ending so they could market it as a fun girl power movie.

Oh well. I’m glad Blumhouse are trying to make movies that say something, even in remakes. Director Sophia Takal (ALWAYS SHINE) wrote the script with April Wolfe, former LA Weekly critic and host of the podcast Switchblade Sisters. I feel good about some younger horror fans growing up with movies exploring these topics. I hope this speaks to them.

This entry was posted on Monday, December 16th, 2019 at 12:02 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

25 Responses to “Black Christmas (second remake)”

  1. I do want to see it, but I don’t want to look at Poots’ jacked up hairdo for an hour and a half though.

  2. +1 for the previous BLACK CHRISTMAS, remake, which was a blast. I thought this second remake looked pretty good from the trailer, other than what seemed like a lot of unnecessary spoilage. I picked up a used DVD of the original a year or so ago but haven’t gotten around to watching it.

  3. Noting wrong with making a pg13 horror movies for women

  4. I just googled diva cup so now I know too.

  5. It’s a shame to hear it drops the ball by the end. I was actually looking forward to seeing it.

  6. Guys, the Divas cup is the WWE’s women’s division championship? What’s so hard to understand?

    I first heard about this remake from an NPR story (

    Sophia Takal’s “Black Christmas,” and the Producer Jason Blum on Horror with a Message | The New Yorker: Politics and More | WNYC

    Blumhouse Productions is spearheading a new crop of horror films with political and social import, like Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.”

    ) and wonder if maybe the lack of cohesion and thought-out kills might be due to the fact that the film had to be out on December 13th and they only approached the director about filming it in late spring. Knowing that, it still sounds pretty impressive. I’ll definitely watch it when it comes on my friend’s Plex server.

  7. While people who think personal expression and political views don’t belong in movies can go fuck themselves (I don’t hear any of them complaining about Clint Eastwood deciding that what the world really needs right now is a movie about the ONE TIME law enforcement decided to profile a middle-aged white guy instead of the nearest available black man) but I also think it’s bad storytelling to come up with the message you want to impart and THEN try to jury rig a plot to support it. That’s some cart before the horse shit. If the story works, those themes will address themselves organically, and if it doesn’t, no amount of thematic window dressing will save it. It is my firm belief that a story must work literally before it can work metaphorically.

    So while I love Yuletide horror, slasher movies, movies named BLACK CHRISTMAS (the original might be my favorite horror movie), I’m on the fence here. The marketing really dropped the ball, I think. It’s no accident that the trailer made it seem like this is one of those Jordan Peele-produced joints we keep hearing about, so I assumed it was going to be the movie the marketers of the original feared it would be mistaken as: a blaxploitation Christmas slasher. Which is something I would be extremely down with. So imagine my surprise when I read this review and found out that it actually stars potentially the whitest actress in the world, who gets the Beyonce slot on the poster while her moderately duskier co-stars get relegated to flanking positions like the forgotten members of Destiny’s Child. It seems like this confusion about what exactly the fuck kind of movie this is supposed to be extended to the film itself. But I tend to appreciate a movie that throws it all at the wall and lets God sort it out or whatever so maybe I’ll like it. I mean, it’s a Christmas slasher. I’m sure I’ve seen worse.

  8. I’ve read a few women talk about the film and how it was cethartic for them and how they are coming to terms with their past issues of abuse and how the film helps them talk about it and it might help them. For that, I’m glad the movie exists. It’s a movie not for me and that’s totally cool.

  9. So the movie treats teaching an all-male syllabus as being on par with rape and murder? Jesus…

  10. So the movie treats teaching an all-male syllabus as being on par with rape and murder? Jesus…

  11. I’m sure the movie posits these two things as 100% the same and you are totally acting in good faith when making that assumption.

  12. “I’ve read a few women talk about the film and how it was cethartic for them”

    It may be for some, but I can also assume it isn’t for others. The lead is pressured by her friends into being openly transparent about her trauma, and the movie never really considers that she might choose not to be.

  13. Mr. Majestyk: “I’m sure the movie posits these two things as 100% the same and you are totally acting in good faith when making that assumption.”

    LOL

  14. Inspector Hammer Boudreaux

    December 18th, 2019 at 8:59 am

    Since nobody commenting seems to have watched the movie, I’ll give everyone my two cents. Don’t want em? It’s concept currency, a 50th of an idea dollar. Take it, pal:

    Verne’s thoughts on the ending really do work for the film as a whole: thematic cart before the narrative horse. I liked the messages and all, but it’s mediocre as horror goes. But as Sternshein said, there’s nothing wrong with PG13 horror films for teen girls. I predict the average Outlaw Vern reader will watch it and say, “that wasn’t bad. I’m glad I checked it out.”

  15. Shit sounds dope. Though, I must admit I’m surprised to hear that Vern liked Back Christmas (2006), I remember being wildly disappointed. Good icicle kill, iirc, but not much else. A big step down for the director and co-writer of Final Destination.

    As for the “think of a story first” brigade… no. You have to have integrity within the narrative, absolutely. But it’s totally valid to sit down and start writing with a thought of, “what am I trying to say.” Great storytelling can and does come from that, so long as you don’t shortchange the story in favor of the message. They must work in unison, but either one can come first.

  16. Shit sounds dope. Though, I must admit I’m surprised to hear that Vern liked Back Christmas (2006), I remember being wildly disappointed. Good icicle kill, iirc, but not much else. A big step down for the director and co-writer of Final Destination.

    As for the “think of a story first” brigade… no. You have to have integrity within the narrative, absolutely. But it’s totally valid to sit down and start writing with a thought of, “what am I trying to say.” Great storytelling can and does come from that, so long as you don’t shortchange the story in favor of the message. They must work in unison, but either one can come first.

  17. Kaplan

    In addition to making what I’m sure is a good faith argument, I’m certain Kaplan knows exactly who Camille Paglia is off the dome and can explain why citing her is relevant to the overall discussion.

  18. “A big step down for the director and co-writer of Final Destination.”

    I will never understand what happened to Glen Morgan and James Wong. 20 years ago I was sure they would end up being the next big thing in fantasy and horror. Then they weren’t.

  19. CJ Holden,

    I know! They were awesome on x-files and Final Destination and even The One. And then… they both fell apart. I think their creative partnership ended. And then… jeez. I think Wong did fuckin Dragon Ball Z:Evolution. Ewww

  20. Actually… they have had an amazing career. They never became marquee names or ‘famous’ to the public at large, but they have worked consistently for over THIRTY YEARS. And most of that has been in A-list conditions.

  21. Yeah, nothing against them or their career as a whole. I saw their names seperately pop up on some pretty good or at least popular TV shows recently, so it’s nice that they still get high profile work.

  22. *SPOILERS* “It’s like a Bong Joon-Ho movie if Bong Joon-Ho was terrible” was the first thing out of my mouth after this was over and I stand by it. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it! After Charlie’s Angels ’19 delivered a mediocre action movie that stopped every once in a while to deliver clumsy girl-power platititudes, this movie aggressively front-loads all its feminist sentiments front and center, makes it the text instead of subtext, and has almost zero care in the world about delivering a horror movie. There’s exactly ONE clever scare sequence that sticks out like a sore thumb because it’s so different from the rest of the movie and turns out to be a rip off of the big scene from Exorcist III. (And yes, it’s weird that the movie specifically complains about all-white, all-male syllabuses and then delivers it’s one scare by ripping off a movie written and directed by an old white guy).

    This isn’t really a script, it’s “The Jezebel Comments Section: The Movie”, with every theme either said out loud in dialogue or done in such an on-the-nose metaphor that it feels like self-parody. Charlie’s Angels ’19 is like the SNL skit that starts mildly amusing but gets too repetitive and goes on too long and becomes excruciating. By doubling down and piling on the social commentary to the breaking point, Black Christmas ’19 is the already-excruciating SNL skit that revels in its excessiveness so much it comes back around to being funny again. Yes, there’s something kind of charming about making a movie this unsubtle; a movie that cares deeply about its message but not how to deliver it; a movie that seems confident it’s delivering big cheer FUCK YEAH moments to *checks box office gross* literally non-existent audiences. It’s the On Deadly Ground of feminism, even though that movie actually worked as an action movie and this one would have benefitted from a 10 minute presentation by Imogen Poots at the end. Btw – I know Majestyk complained about Poots being cast in this but I’ll go ahead and say it – she single-handedly carries this movie and I think it might be unwatchable without her. Much in the way the Charlie’s Angels not named Kristen Steweart manage to leave no impression at all, Poots’ sorority sisters all seem to have escaped from the bowels of Canadian TV and all range from terrible to forgettable.

    So yeah, this movie’s not very good and seems to have been created solely as a response to that one day when the internet was mad at Blumhouse because someone got bored and noticed they didn’t have any female directors. I wonder if that person saw this movie? I guess I’m kinda glad I did?

  23. I wasn’t complaining about Poots’ casting. I like Poots. I especially like saying her name. She’s like a Willy Wonka character come to life. I was just surprised to see she was in the movie because, as far as I could tell, she was deemphasized in the trailer (also because it’s a sorority movie and she’s 30 years old and I didn’t think we were doing that anymore).

  24. Poots is always awesome, and insanely hot when she wants to be (Which isn’t even nearly always). But the film sounds kinda dull.

  25. More people should have seen this.

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