Who doesn’t love an advent calendar? Around the Daily Grindhouse virtual offices, we decided the only way to make the advent calendar better is to replace what you might traditionally find behind the door with Christmas horror movies! So everyday from December 1st through to Christmas, we will be highlighting a different movie for our horror-loving readers to celebrate the season. Our film for Day Twenty-Three is the 2006 remake BLACK CHRISTMAS!
2006’s BLACK CHRISTMAS remake (or BLACK X-MAS, if ya nasty) is the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 of mid-aughts redux madness, repudiating everything that came before it in a gleefully perverse manor. Where the first went subtle, this one goes garish and big. Where the original prized suspense and likable characters, this one is filled with sardonically bitchy ones getting dispatched in outlandishly gory ways. The new version is lit in bold, vivid colors, instead of the icy Canadian winterscapes of its predecessor. It’s cheerfully mean-spirited when the first is classically scary. It was the exact opposite of everything the original represented and audiences hated it.
Audiences hated TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 when it came out as well, for the exact same reasons, but as the decades passed they began to come around to Tobe Hooper’s hoot-and-a-holler splatterpunk version of his Texan cannibal clan. It’s only fair that they do the same for Glen Morgan’s baroquely gaudy vision of holiday ho-ho-horror. The former X-Files veteran takes the bare essence of Bob Clark’s masterclass in suspense, and uses it to build his own perverted act of killer Christmas genius.
The basic story remains the same: it’s the Christmas holiday, and the last remaining sisters of a sorority house that haven’t yet flown the coup for family adventures, are shuffling around, getting drunk on nog and wine, and gathering for their annual Secret Santa gift exchange. But this Christmas holiday is not going to be a merry one for this sisterhood. All through the night, they are plagued by obscene phone calls from a creepy, gibbering lunatic. But these aren’t any ordinary crank calls, and before the night is over, slay bells will be ringing and these poor girls will be jolly no more.
Clark was responsible for two very different holiday classics–he’s also the mind behind the perennial A CHRISTMAS STORY–with BLACK CHRISTMAS acting as the proto-holiday slasher, slicing up it’s college aged protagonists on a special occasion long before Michael Myers plunged his butcher knife into jack-o’-lanterns and babysitters on HALLOWEEN night. Clark’s film has an idiosyncratic Canadian tax-shelter charm. It was made before the elements of the slasher film were codified into an actual formula, and thus we were allowed to spend time with these sweetly confused, hard luck young twentysomethings, who already have enough to deal with before a killer starts to come for them. All the while Clark builds suspense and ambiguity by electing to keep his maniac unseen (save for a single terrifying eye glinting from a crack in the wall) and with zero backstory, just a force of mortality designed to pluck these young women right in the prime of their life.
The 1974 BLACK CHRISTMAS is, by and large, a better movie than its remake; what it isn’t, however, is a better Christmas movie. Clark opts to not take any real advantage of the holiday setting. It’s there to set up why this house is mostly empty, why there are so few of the girls, and why no one is immediately suspicious when one of their sisters suddenly vanishes (after all, they’re probably just headed back to their parents, right?) But it’s not really a film that is dripping with the holiday spirit. Morgan’s BLACK CHRISTMAS is practically drenched in it. Morgan infuses the film with enough gialli-esque red-and-green lighting to make Bava jealous, and poor saps are slaughtered in all sorts of cheerily demented holiday ways: candy canes are turned into shivs, flesh is cut out with gingerbread shapes, and icicles plummet through craniums, leaving gaping wounds as red as the Christmas spirit.
Demented is the name of the game for Morgan, as he turns the elegant dread and terror of Clark’s film on its head, turning BLACK CHRISTMAS into a sick-joke dark comedy. It’s mostly there in the bad taste backstory that the filmmaker builds for his homicidal ghoul, Billy. Clark eschewed any kind of revelatory history for Billy, while Morgan goes hog wild with obscenity, daring to go as gleefully, disgustingly trashy as he can in a mainstream, wide release horror film due to be released on the holiest of holidays. It’s awesome.
When BLACK CHRISTMAS was released, it opened on Christmas Day, triggering the objections of religious groups who protested the release of a sick and violent horror movie on Jesus’s birthday. Never mind that Dimension Films had released WOLF CREEK on the same date just one year prior; that Aussie pickup didn’t take place on Christmas itself, so they paid that arguably more punishing film no mind. Typical of the era, the film was cast with a gaggle of young and attractive rising stars, some (Michelle Trachtenberg, Lacey Chabert) already famous, others (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, ARROW’s Katie Cassidy) still a few years away from fame, and a veteran of the original — SCTV legend Andrea Martin — tying it together in a bow coming back decades later to play the house mother. Morgan himself was, alongside his frequent filmmaking partner James Wong, one of the most popular writing/directing teams on the early seasons of The X-Files, and together they helped to create (alongside initial story creator Jeffrey Reddick) the insanely popular wheel-of-fate splat-cartoon FINAL DESTINATION (which, incidentally, released a Wong-directed entry that year with Winstead as it’s lead.)
Despite all that, BLACK CHRISTMAS tanked at the box office, grossing just $16 million US. Maybe it was the controversy that did it in, turning it into the red Starbucks cup of horror movies. Or maybe, and more likely, it was just the bad reviews, the stink of this being a slick Dimension slasher well after the prime of SCREAM, and the fact that the BLACK CHRISTMAS name probably meant diddlysquat to mainstream audiences that proved the film’s undoing. Which is a wildly unfair fate for what is a ridiculously entertaining slasher redux. The cast is great, fleshing out the sometimes snipey, sometimes caring relationship between these sordid sisters, and Morgan keeps it on point and stylish, enveloping the film in lurid Christmas ambience and hung-stocking-red gore. BLACK CHRISTMAS was Morgan’s second film, and second remake (after 2003’s failed attempt to relaunch an even more obscure title in WILLARD) and he displayed a knack for refitting old school B-side cult terrors into gnarly and stylish modern fare. Even for a fan such as myself, BLACK CHRISTMAS ‘06 may not live up to the immeasurable influence of its former, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth dismissal either–it’s a nasty slice of tongue-in-cheek psycho pulp, and loaded with enough Christmas goodness to deservedly become a blood-drenched holiday tradition.
–Johnny Donaldson (@johnnydonaldson)
Tags: Andrea Martin, Black Christmas, Bob Clark, Christmas, Crystal Lowe, Dimension Films, Glen Morgan, Holidays, Horror, Horror Advent Calendar 2018, James Wong, Katie Cassidy, Kristen Cloke, Lacey Chabert, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michelle Trachtenburg, Oliver Hudson, remakes, Slashers