In 1974 Bob Clark, future director of 1983’s beloved A Christmas Story, tackled a different kind of holiday favorite. A little exploitation movie called Black Christmas. Now to say this film is a masterpiece would be a huge overstatement as most could not say that with a straight face. However it had a sleaziness to it that was quite refreshing and even inspired a legit masterpiece with 1978’s Halloween and perhaps was an unofficial precursor to the Slasher explosion of the 1980s.
Then in 2006 it was redone during a slew of theatrical R-rated Horror remakes coming out at that time including 2006’s The Hills Have Eyes and 2005’s The Amityville Horror. It was not necessarily an improvement over the original, but it had a committed cast and a bizarre uncomfortable tone that was fascinating looking at it in retrospective. Now in 2019 we have a brand new reboot with another Black Christmas hitting theaters on Friday, December 13, 2019 through Universal Pictures. Why another remake? Because this time it is more ‘relevant’ than ever, and tries so desperately to piggy back off the hashtag Me Too culture, but it instead ends up insulting. In fact, this new film will make you call the previous two installments masterpieces. Interested to find out why? Read on….
Released by the ever so prolific Blumhouse, the film stars Imogen Poots (28 Weeks Laters 2007, Green Room 2015) as Riley, Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride 1987, Saw 2004) as Professor Gelson, Aleyse Shannon (Charmed series, Instinct series) as Kris, Lily Donoghue (Grey’s Anatomy series, Jane the Virgin series) as Marty, Brittany O’Grady (The Messengers series, Star series) as Jesse, and Caleb Eberhardt (The Deuce series Love Beats Rhymes 2017) as Landon. Additionally, it is directed by Sophie Takal and co-written by Takal and April Wolfe.
Maintaining the sorority Christmas stalker angle, but throwing a little updated twist on it, this version centers on a group of sorority girls who are being stalked by a stranger in a black cloak who they eventually discover is connected to an underground fraternity cult. It is the classic Man vs. Woman motif and boy does the film embrace it… like really embrace it. Honestly, it is quite possibly the most forced feminist adventure since 2016’s forgotten Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.
All this said, one has to give props to Sakal who took a risk and tried to do something different with the source material. It just was not what fans wanted or needed. However, Sophia Takal, a genuine talent in her own right, just seems like a strange choice considering she comes from directing hardcore art films like 2011’s Green and 2016’s Always Shine. So to bring her on board to helm what is essentially the most predictably generic mainstream “horror” fluff with a clunky on the nose message is quite surprising. If anything we can hope it was a pleasant experience making Black Christmas, because watching the film certainly is not. Though that is not to say it does not have some micro pluses about it.
First and foremost, Imogen Poots continues to remind audiences that she is the real deal and has a face you can look at forever. Her character, Riley, has a dark history of getting sexually assaulted by a fraternity brother and she certainly plays it up in the most honest way. She easily has the most challenging role over anyone else. Especially considering how grounded she needs to keep everything despite the blatantly laughable script.
Beyond this, there is also one very well done death scene that manages to barely show you anything but still carries an impact. What makes it compelling is it is done with a neat camera trick of a oner combined with a sharp snap zoom clearly emulating the feel of the slashers it’s homaging. Despite these two elements in a 92 minute movie, they are are not enough to salvage what is essentially a disposable holiday Horror movie that tries way too hard to be of the times that it somehow felt dated the moment the credits rolled.
Now it is no mystery that the director and Blumhouse received some backlash for the PG-13 rating, but they reassured everyone that the rating would not hold the film back. That it would be just as juicy and visceral. Well you can talk the talk but when it comes down to actual execution, those promises are nowhere to be seen. You cannot help but think of the travesty that was the 2008 remake of Prom Night; a PG-13 rated reboot of an R rated 1980 exploitation film that failed miserably.
If Black Christmas at least was rated R and was a little harder with its content, perhaps the up front and center flaws could be forgiven. Although, since Tinseltown is all about generating the widest audience imaginable, one can’t blame them for wanting to catch as many fish as they can. It might make a healthy profit but chances are people remembering this dreck thirty minutes after they have seen it are slim to nil. That is why Cryptic Rock gives 2019’s Black Christmas 1 out of 5 stars.