A few years ago I noticed one of my ad-free movie channels began playing the 1974 ‘Black Christmas’ at 12:01am on December 25, and played it on repeat until 11:59pm. Inspired, no? Last year I was actually alone on Christmas and must have watched it 10 times in a row, having it on in the background all day and night. It became weirdly comforting, with its soundtrack of Christmas carols counterpointing the gruesome violence. The characters became more like family and friends. With each viewing their deaths somehow increasing in impact.
One of the most extraordinary things about the original ‘Black Christmas’ is how ahead of its time it was, and continues to be as reproductive rights have gone backward in the USA. Jess (Olivia Hussey) is pregnant, and is open about her plans to have an abortion. She has goals and dreams, and not even her pushy boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea) can bully her into keeping it. We also have some early bisexual representation in pottymouthed Barb (Margot Kidder), who openly admires naked women in a porn magazine while talking about her unsatisfying sex life with men. These two women are such badasses in such different ways and I love them both.
The original ‘Black Christmas’ is also a deeply unsettling film, as the creepy caller (Nick Mancuso) punctuates rageful murders with over-the-phone re-enactments of the Saga of Billy and Agnes, presumably people who lived in the sorority house previously, Agnes of whom was killed under strange circumstances. But before the killer caller torments the gals at Pi Kappa Sigma, he murdered a little girl and dumped her body on the frozen lake. Watching ‘Black Christmas’ this year, I noticed that one of the voices during the stalker’s calls might have actually been that little girl, recorded before she was killed. Any film you can watch dozens of times and still notice something new is art, and the original ‘Black Christmas’ is a masterpiece. I will never, ever not be horrified by the reveal that the call IS COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE. Shudder It gets me every time, since I was a kid.
In 2006, Glen Morgan’s remake attempts to flesh out some of the killer caller’s backstory, making him an escaped psychopath from a nearby asylum who used to live in the sorority house before murdering his family. Billy’s (Cainan Weibe/Robert Mann) history tracks with what we hear in the 1974 phone calls, and is extremely disturbing to see play out on screen. However, this remake is super flashy, uber Hollywood, commercialized girl power — the opposite aesthetic to the muted and indie feel of the original that’s more like a play than a movie. But ‘Black Christmas’ 2006 is filled with fantastic homage to the 1974 version, including the original Phyl (Andrea Martin) as the new house mother Mrs Mac. If you stop the movie marathon with just these two films, it’s a really fun Christmas horror romp.
But where things start going off the rails from the original is the 2019 remake, that’s related pretty much only in name. Sophia Takal’s version tries to be a feminist treatise on patriarchal violence, but clobbers you over the head constantly with social justice speak that doesn’t arise organically — it’s forced and heavy handed. The sole stalker caller figure has been replaced by text messages on the sorority sisters’ phones from multiple attackers, erasing a huge point of tension in the narrative with the house phone ringing, so insistent and so threatening. Gone also is the terrifying reveal that the calls are coming from inside the house, leaving this version no compelling surprises or twist ending.
But, for horror completists, this trilogy is a fun and disturbing alternative to traditional Christmas movie fare.
✨Unicorn figurine/5 stars. Highly recommend the original most of all.✨
Zuzu Zombie’s #Horrorthon365 project is a collection of eclectic genre watchlists with accompanying microreviews to suit the changing seasons. Horrorthon365 was sparked by a gnarly hand injury and carpal tunnel surgery gone awry, hence the flash-style reviews. After a wicked fall at home and brutal elbow fracture that required surgery, posts will be sporadic until I’m healed. In the meantime, browse the entire collection here.