The word “seminal” gets thrown around a lot. People spout nonsense like, “CHUD is a seminal work!” and “Found footage is a seminal turn in the modern canon!”. But to me, the real mark of a seminal work is longevity. The ability to become a staple in one’s rotation. A work that is just so deviously constructed that it inspires people and the canon itself, in big and little ways.
When I think of a seminal work, I think of Black Christmas. The classic that not only launched an entire subgenre of ghoulish holiday-based horror movies, but one that has spawned not one, but TWO remakes! The latest of which is set to unleash itself upon us this holiday season, putting a new women-centric take on the setup in front of and behind the camera.
But what the hell is it about Black Christmas that keeps us coming back to it every time the holidays roll around? Is it the sneeringly wry attitude it has toward the sacred holiday? It is the shockingly theatrical, yet reserved violence it delivers? Is it Margot Kidder? That’s what you, me, and Dis/Member EIC Insha Fitzpatrick (Insha: sup ya’ll) are going to try and find out here.
In honor of our Holiday Spectacular, Insha and I are going to have a discussion about all things Black Christmas and try to get to the bottom of why this one just flat works and why we keep going back to this particular bowl of eggnog. Join us, won’t you?
Justin Partridge: So, I guess I should start by asking. Do you even LIKE Black Christmas? Readers will see that I HATE it from the intro above, but I want to know your context with the movie(s). Do you dig on holiday horror?
Insha Fitzpatrick: Hahaha, stop that. I absolutely adore Black Christmas (1974). It was one of those movies that I refused to watch around the holiday season, but I’ve grown to love it a lot. Black Christmas (2006) I went to see in theaters and remember having a good time! It’s not the best movie, but still an okay remake against others.
The original Black Christmas is top-notch, though. It has excellent characters, a great story, some moments to groan at, but the film hits the beats that make it a classic holiday horror. It’s a movie that mixes two genres as well: the home invasion and the slasher.
I like holiday horror… to a point. My favorite holiday horror are films set around Midsommar or May Day, usually because they revolve around cults or something sinister happening in a remote village. Movies like Silent Night Deadly Night, Halloween, etc., I like, but I can’t fully get into them. They center themselves and have to make a point of the holiday attached to them if that makes sense.
What about you? What’s your connection with Black Christmas movies? Do you like holiday horror? And what about Black Christmas, to you, makes it seem so ‘seminal’ to other films after it?
Justin: Well, I will answer your second question first. I am fairly indifferent to holiday horror, for the most, part. There are certain broader ones I like occasionally. Stuff like Rare Exports or Krampus (which I actually am growing more and more fond off with each passing Christmas). But for the most part, I don’t reach out for holiday based features on the whole. Halloween, I even don’t count as a holiday-centric entry, but that’s a whole other piece.
That said, EVERY year, I make sure to reach for Black Christmas ‘74. Black Christmas ‘06 I am less precious about, mainly because I don’t recall it much. I’m re-familiarizing myself with it, but from what I remember I appreciated how mean it was, despite being kind of empty. One of the things I love about the original one and appreciate upon rewatching is that it’s a slasher movie that is happening AROUND a female-led college dramedy. It’s very weird and lurid in its construction, but sincere — both in the scares and the characters.
We’ve got pregnancies. Complex female friend dynamics, powerfully acted by the largely female cast. We’ve got a distant father trying so hard to reconnect with his (murdered) daughter. Oh, and also a pervert with an immensely pulpy, shadowy backstory has infested their home. What’s NOT to love?
It is a movie that I think a lot of people dismiss or maybe underestimate, but it has a lot of stuff going on beyond the surface level slasher elements (which are also, quite badass). That, to me, is what makes it seminal. Not counting the whole inspiring the gimmick of tacking horror onto a holiday, Black Christmas ‘74 feels like a real movie to me.
Is this me just projecting? Am I reading too much into it? It has happened before and will again, surely.
Insha: No! You’re right! I think that’s the thing that makes the original so much of a classic. This is going to sound backwards, but you understand how my mind works, (audience get ready), but Black Christmas puts me in the mindset of why The Craft is a classic, especially if we’re talking about characters.
Character studies or character analysis is always a go-to thing that I love when it comes to horror because there’s always so much going into it, and both Black Christmas and The Craft have that element of an ensemble just like Halloween, The Descent, etc.
It supplies us with this beautiful ensemble of a female cast who go through their own trials and tribulations. Each of them have backstories. They have struggles and have to figure out how to escape (if that be by the killer’s hands in BC or the good witchy power in TC). It feels very real, and you could potentially be friends with these girls. It contains a lot of elements that you listed, but just about witches, and it keeps that female led-high school dramedy.
Justin: NO, absolutely! It has a very lived-in, expressive quality that I just latch onto. The Craft is actually a wonderful comparison I had never even considered before. Both casts seem to have lives beyond the horror movie they have found themselves in. It is a rare personable story from the genre.
But let’s talk ‘06. I just….*sigh*, I will say I will always appreciate a movie that writes you a check and then spends the whole running time cashing on said account. This thing is mean, mean, mean. Almost to a gleeful degree.
I think this sort of works for and against it. On the one hand, you can kind of get on board with a movie as outwardly vile and insane as the remake. Should you want blood, you’ll get it. But on the other, it’s a hollow take on the original’s set up. One that thinks trying to top it makes it better or somehow more “hardcore.” That always makes it ring a little false to me despite this cast of ladies fully knowing what kind of movie they are in and acting accordingly.
But it is like you said. It’s fun, but there isn’t a ton there. Do you stand by this impression?
Insha: Re-watching it now, I absolutely agree with you. I still think there are still some “fun” parts to it but to a point. It’s strange because I remember the kills almost too perfectly because there seemed to be so many in that short amount of time. I don’t remember anything with the girls actually being friends (or that weird subplot of Kyle (Oliver Hudson). I didn’t remember the backstory of Billy Lenz or Agnus. But, I remember going into the theater just wanting to root for everyone.
I do agree with you when you say that it’s a hollow take on the original film. It feels almost too much of a “cash grab” and trying to be “edgy” for the sake of it. I read that the director wanted to give more to the original script that was “implied.” However, that’s the beauty of the original script. Even those elements that weren’t fleshed out completely were still clear to the audience, especially when it comes to Billy in the original. His backstory is there, but it’s not this big lingering thing, it’s just a thread that ties things together. The original Black Christmas leaves you wondering about Billy throughout the weird scattered calls but doesn’t smack you across the face with it.
It’s almost the same beauty of why Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) works so well. You get so little information about Freddy except that he was a child murderer, and it becomes a looming presence throughout the rest of the movie.
That brings me to the thing that didn’t sit well with me. The subplot for the killer, Billy Lutz, in the 06’ version. I absolutely understand that [Glen] Morgan wanted to do something different. (He has said that he took some inspiration from real-life serial killer Edmund Kemper for Billy’s role). I think it might just be me, but the killer doesn’t have to always have a backstory, especially one of this nature. It seems so off the beaten path of where this movie could have gone and felt so excessive to what the original was.
What did you think of the subplot with Billy and Agnus Lutz? Do you think it was good? Do you think they could have gone with something else? Did you understand the fucking skin condition?!
Justin: Ha…ha…yeah, I hate it.
EXPANDING ON THAT a touch, it just kinda seems like a hat on a hat on another hat that for some reason is also made out of human skin? I don’t know. It’s all so very extra and rewatching it again for this piece. It doesn’t add much to the overall enrichment of the movie.
It’s all emblematic of the “hardcore” approach I was talking about earlier. I think that sort of spirit was kind of sweeping the genre at this point in time. Everything had to be mean and super bloody. They take the kills to the utmost extreme it could in order to compete for audiences and, for me, it falls flat. There is certainly a time and place for that kind of approach, as well as a dozen movies we can point to where that kind of production and tone work, but I was really turned off by it here back when I first saw it and even more so now.
Especially when compared to how relatively low-fi BUT STILL EFFECTIVE the original is. It makes so much out of so little, while also delivering pretty rich characters and dynamics. That said, I absolutely have to applaud Lacey Chabert, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Andrea Martin, and Michelle Tractenberg absolutely BATHING in the River of Ham for this one. Had it been any other cast, or actresses less game for the work, I feel like it would have been a total loss of a watch.
I don’t know, am I just being grumpy? Did you get anything from it at all?
Insha: Yeah, especially when you think back on some of the movies of that decade, especially 2006 alone. It’s surprising how many films had the “hardcore” rework. For example, The Hills Have Eyes, The Omen, The Wicker Man, and When A Stranger Calls got VERY different remakes around this time. They all feel very much like Black Christmas ‘06 does. It feels over the top, weird stuff we want to see, but it ends up just faltering. Not because it’s a remake, but because it’s just trying to be over the top for the “hardcore-ness” of it all.
I also get what you mean when you talk about the actresses. They do a HELL of a job with so little to go off of. It’s almost surprising how much I wanted to root for them, but close the door and never be their friends again.
But, sadly, I didn’t. It just feels like a REMAKE. I always put “remakes” of films in two categories: straight-up remakes & revisions. For example, Suspiria (2018) is a revision to me. It’s not like the original at all. It’s bleak and cold but gives you The Three Mother’s trilogy in one. It breaks from the original but still keeps that labor of love. Black Christmas ’06 is a remake. One that tries to subvert expectations (but not in a good way) and tries to tell and now show.
Speaking of which, cause we’re gonna have to talk about it sooner or later, what do you think about the new Black Christmas that will be already out in theaters by the time this gets out? It looks like it has both the remake AND revision I was talking about. However, I want to see it if just for being a completionist for the “franchise.” On top of some really meh reviews, it currently sits at a low Rotten Tomato score.
Justin: I am honestly truly excited to see it. I really, really love that “remake/revision” distinction and am totally going to quote you until the day I die when it comes up in conversations from now one.
But I’m REALLY excited about it. I think it looks like a pretty novel takes on the original’s set up and really grounds the narrative in terms of a female perspective and presentation of said concept. Plus, it looks like it is adding a bit of “house under siege” spice to the overall product. I think could be a really fun way to twist through it.
I know people have been on it from the start just about the “political” nature of it (which is lunkheaded for about a million different reasons, the chief of which is HORROR IS AN INHERENTLY POLITICAL GENRE AND HAS BEEN FROM THE START. *ahem*) and the PG-13 rating, but to me, that’s just noise. Noise sounded by gatekeeping keyboard warriors that only want to see people they deem worthy to succeed.
I haven’t seen it JUST yet, but judging by my (admittedly carefully curated) Twitter feed, the people that are actually giving it a chance are finding it pretty fun, it seems. I will never turn down an Imogen Poots feature.
But I think that about wraps it up for us here at D/M HQ about Black Christmas, a movie we love with a remake we tolerate and with another remake that looks pretty good. (Or at least a solid, meh in Insha’s eyes.) Insha, do you have any final words for the good boy-mutants and girl-o-trons out there this Yuletide Season?
Insha: Watch a Black Christmas. You have three to choose from now and… Merry Christmas, ya filthy animals. *blows kiss*