Black Christmas (1974), (2006), and (2019)
Updated: Jan 19
Christmas, a holiday centered around giving, joy, and often corny miracles. A man in a sleigh who watches your children all year long decides who is deserving and undeserving of material gifts, specifically toys. Though the horror genre isn’t typically associated with Christmas I feel there are inherently sinister elements of the Christmas season that fit perfectly with horror. As a fan of both horror and Christmas I look forward to Christmas centered horror movies every year. To kick off the Christmas season I decided to watch not one, not two, but all three Black Christmas movies. Though considered a series it is more like a movie that has been recreated two times over to have the original story to fit the period of the remakes.
Before I dissect each movie and the differences in them first, I think it’s important to highlight the main story pieces that connect all three. Each takes place at a sorority house during the start of Christmas break. All three have a snow filled, festive setting on a traditional looking college campus. The big shock popularized by the original 1974 movie that the killer is in the house with them is present in all three though represented in vastly different ways. A closet kill or fake out scare occurs, prank phone calls of a creepy nature take place, a ski trip is mentioned, and a glass unicorn is not only present but a weapon. The first two, 1974 and 2006, have very similar stories with the second one going more into backstory for the killer and explaining some of the vaguer plot points from the 1974 Black Christmas. The 2019 remake however is completely different regarding plot and only shares basic similarities like the setting and basic scenario of sorority girls being attacked at their house during holiday break.
So, might as well dive in. Starting up first we have Black Christmas (1974), considered by some to be the first slasher point-of-view movie. Written by A. Roy Moore and directed by Bob Clark this story is based on an urban legend about a babysitter and 1943 case of a 14-year-old murdering his family. We are introduced to a group of sorority sisters and frat guys having a holiday party. Nothing of note happens here except the men getting kicked out followed by a phone call. This phone call sets the scene of fear, a person who the women have named “the moaner” has been calling and saying crude and unusual things. These things make little to no sense, are usually sexual in nature and added later to be viler without the actors knowing. The kill scenes in this movie are interesting to say the least. One particularly iconic scene is filmed with a handheld camera as the killer hides behind dry cleaning and then attacks Clare, killing her and then placing her body in the attic window. Her body, sat in a rocker, is the actress with a plastic bag over her head. Often, we revisit this scene and the killer at some points even interacts with Clare’s body. Most of the first half of the movie is following Clare’s dad trying to find out what the hell happened to Clare.
The other iconic scene is the killer, Billy, using a unicorn glass figurine to stab to death a rather interesting character, Barb, while she drunkenly sleeps. One of the sister’s boyfriends, Peter, who is a truly terrible guy gets blamed for all the killings that Billy has committed. The movie ends with Peter being taken away and the killer and bodies still in the house, and the phone rings. The ending of the first Black Christmas is intentionally vague, leaving many plot points unfinished and open to the imagination of the viewer to what will happen next.
Upon the initial release Black Christmas, actually released under an alternate title to avoid accusations of Blaxploitation, received mixed reviews from audiences. Some found it to be too obscene and grotesque. Despite this at the time it gained the title of third highest grossing film in Canada of all time at $2 million. With a budget of $620,000 Black Christmas earned around $4.1 million internationally during its release. A few years later in 1978 Black Christmas (1974) faced unexpected controversy around the TV premiere date. Two weeks prior to the airdate on networks a man, who we now know to be Ted Bundy, broke into a Chi Omega sorority house in Tallahassee, Florida and murdered several students. The Florida Governor at the time asked that the movie not air in Florida due to the setting and nature of the movie in light of the murders. Due to this Georgia, Florida, and Alabama were given the option to show an alternate movie during that time slot rather than Black Christmas.
Things get weird in the 2006 rendition of Black Christmas. Intentionally cast to not be able to tell who the final girl would be we follow Billy and his backstory filling in those missing plot holes from the original story. I don’t even know how to describe how bizarre things become in this movie. From obscenely grotesque scenes to jarring acts of incest and assault this movie genuinely made me uncomfortable in more of a triggered way than a fearful one. Not a whole lot makes sense in this movie, and we’ve given evidence to the ‘Agnes’ mentioned in the first movie’s phone calls who is Billy’s younger sister/daughter that he had with his mother while being captive in the attic. This isn’t even the most bizarre thing, Billy is yellow, like bright highlighter SpongeBob yellow. He’s meant to be jaundiced I guess but the whole time it’s just a total what the hell. Billy and Agnes are a killing duo in this movie that somehow survive a fire and attempt to take out the final girl in the hospital. The alternate ending of Billy being impaled by a Christmas tree is a creation of the Weinstein’s and the studio that made this film. I don’t even want to go into specific details from this movie because I was that disturbed by how awful and yet corny it is.
The third and most recent Black Christmas made in 2019 takes a completely different turn than its two predecessors. It is directed by a woman, Sophia Takal, who wanted to address female centered issues like sexual assault on college campuses. I find this movie interesting to watch from start to finish, enjoyed the characters, and liked the supernatural cult turn of the story. Men taken over by a misogynistic fraternity founder’s evil spell to have men rule the world attack the sisters and attempt to indoctrinate all men on campus and then the world before being stopped in an epic fight scene by the pissed off surviving sorority sisters. The movie ends with the supernatural statue being smashed and the frat house burned down while the sisters and the one woke guy looking on.
While the 2019 installment is a good movie in my opinion, I wouldn’t necessarily say that it is a Black Christmas remake. It doesn’t have much in common with the other two movies and treats its female subjects completely differently. Woman aren’t objects in the third one and not plot devices like in the first one. All the characters are multidimensional and have motivations outside of a horror movie plot. Also, not a huge fan of the Billy killer so I did not miss him in the slightest.
This has been my first time watching Black Christmas (1974) and I have to say I am not really a fan. I have major respect for some of the things pioneered with this film like the point of view of the killer camera angles and the killer being in the house the whole time, but I found researching the background and fun facts about the film far more interesting than watching it. I do think that Clark accomplished the goal of portraying young adults as more capable rather than partiers in comparison to other media at the time. Despite low audience reviews for the 2019 Black Christmas I would recommend watching it for a quick semi-Christmas focused horror movie to watch this season.