Let’s get this out of the way: Comparing the 2006 reboot of Black Christmas to the 1974 original is a fool’s errand. To attempt to say the new version is in any way superior to its predecessor—which arguably birthed an entire generation of seasonal horror film—would be comparable to saying that Michael Bay’s Friday The 13th film is better than the numerous F13 slashers that preceded it. Reboots are a beast all their own, or at least they should be, so before you rush to the comments to say the original is better I want you to know that I agree. Everyone agrees. Okay? Okay.
Glen Morgan’s Black Christmas has the unfortunate luck of being billed as a re-imagining to a film most horror fans would agree is practically perfect as is. It is neither the first or last reboot no one in the target demographic was demanding to be made, but unlike many failed attempts at capturing lightning in a bottle twice with a similar premise and brand name Black Christmas actually manages to be pretty good. If you’re lucky enough to find a physical copy in the wild or your home video collection you’ll see that at least one critic agrees. According to large lettering printed on the cover, John Monaghan of The Detroit Free Press claimed the film was “one of the best horror movies of the year.”
In truth, if you look up the review in full you will discover he actually said, “For me, this was one of the best horror movies of the year, which sounds glowing until you consider the competition.” He gave the film a 2 out of 4, which is admittedly pretty good when you consider the film has a 14% on Rotten Tomatoes.
But forget the haters. As far as I’m concerned, If you haven’t seen this version of Black Christmas you have yet to discover how wonderful holiday-themed slashers can really be. Too often this corner of horror gets written off because it is considered too silly and/or just another lame excuse to see unsuspecting people massacred in a voyeuristic fashion. While these things could both be said about this film, there is something else at play that goes beyond simply scratching that itch to see people suffer for our entertainment on the biggest screen possible. There is real tension, as well as an incredibly talented cast showcasing skills the majority of moviegoers would not recognize for years to come. There are also some utterly insane moments that need to be seen to be believed.
The plot follows the sisters of Delta Alpha Kappa who are spending the holidays in their sorority house. The same house was once the home of Edward “Billy” Lenz, a convicted felon and mentally deranged individual who suffers from a severe case of jaundice and murdered his parents. Billy’s one wish every year is to be home for Christmas, and this year he sets to making his dream a reality by breaking out of his cell and murdering everyone who gets in his way.
Did I mention that Billy has an infatuation with eyeballs? Ripping them out, staring at them, eating them… You know, typical psychopath stuff.
When Billy discovers his boyhood home is now inhabited by strangers he decides to pick the girls off one by one, but not every member of Delta Alpha Kappa is easy to fool. The sisters—brought to life by Katie Cassidy, Michelle Trachtenberg, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Hudson, Lacey Chabert, and Kristen Cloke—fight back with mixed results until only a select few remain. Those who fall die in spectacular fashion, with bursts of corn syrup splattering across walls and windshields and snow until every set piece resembles a Jackson Pollock painting. It may be a stereotypical final girl(s) scenario, but its elaborate execution makes for perfect popcorn entertainment.
Black Christmas separates itself from the majority of holiday-themed films by not allowing its seasonal setting to loom too heavily over the moment-to-moment interactions. The story may use Christmas as a reason for Billy’s decision to escape, but once the killings begin to unfold holiday tie-ins are nowhere to be found. The urgency of the situation takes precedent over the holiday—as they should—and suddenly the movie begins to feel like any fight for survival you’ve seen brought to life on screen. You connect with the women on screen despite the fact they’re being pursued by a madman who resembles a failed screen test for Roark Junior from Sin City.
By finding a way to make us give a damn for the people on screen, even though everything around them is built solely to destroy them, Black Christmas finds a way to transcend the holiday slasher niche and become something far more compelling, exciting, and unexpected. It’s a movie doomed to fail with mainstream audiences and big city critics that doesn’t give a damn about those facts because it knows the core audience for slasher movies will be happy. Even the tagline, “This holiday season, the slay ride begins,” doesn’t give a damn. This movie is not trying to convince you that it’s anything other than a traditional slasher that delivers gore and giggles in equal measure.
Regardless of these facts, Black Christmas seems destined to be forgotten by the sands of time rather than committed to the annals of horror history. In addition to being ravaged by critics, the film also holds the title for being the lowest-grossing film among the modern slasher remakes, which consisted of When A Stranger Calls (2006), Halloween (2007), Prom Night (2008), My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009), and A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010)—led by Friday The 13th (2009) with $65 million. Many of those movies have already become next to impossible to find in the streaming era, so it’s not hard to believe the same will happen for Black Christmas unless whatever fandom that still exists continues to be outspoken about their affection.
This Christmas, my one wish is not meant for Santa, but for you. I wish that all of you would reconsider your stance on Glen Morgan’s devilish little slasher before it slips through the cracks of the streaming era and becomes impossible to find. If you haven’t seen Black Christmas yet, seek it out. It’s not as easily accessible as movies released within the last few years, but you can rent it on Amazon and stream it from wherever the holiday season takes you. It makes for a great conversation starter around the dinner table, as well as the perfect escape from the frustrations of being in a tight space with family you only see once or twice a year. Just don’t let the kids see it.