I was excited when I heard Blumhouse was going to remake BLACK CHRISTMAS considering the respectful way they were able to help the HALLOWEEN franchise up on its feet and send it in a well-received and fruitful direction. Then the trailer popped up online and my faith buckled a bit because it looked sorta drab and it couldn’t stop telling on itself. I refused to give up the ghost entirely though because I recalled how I judged the 2006 remake too harshly at first and then went on to learn to love its various charms and ignore its bizarre missteps. Well, it turns out the ill feelings the trailer left me with were sort of prophetic. After an enjoyably retro campus-slasher opening, it manages to be sufficiently entertaining for some time only to careen full force into a stupendously silly conclusion. I wish I could say its fearlessly off the wall wind-up rendered it goofy fun but since it spends much time gnawing serious issues early on, it feels more like self-sabotage.
This modern take got a lot of grief online for daring to be clear about its feminist viewpoint. As someone who grew up thinking the Bionic Woman was way cooler than the Six Million Dollar Man, I don’t really understand how female empowerment ruffles fan-boy feathers. I don’t believe BLACK CHRISTMAS does itself any harm by simply laying its ideas/ammo on the table, I just wish it was a surer shot when it came to taking down its adversaries. I very much enjoyed seeing professional contrarian Camille Paglia taken to task (she was a customer at my video store and truly the most atrocious individual I’ve ever encountered of any gender) but I felt some cringe when it came to the handling of the main character’s past rape. Riley (IMOGENE POOTS) is fortunate to have a championing support group but I have to question the thoughtlessness of her gal pals badgering her to preform a parody of “Up on the House Top” with jokey lyrics addressing date rape in front of her very rapist. One of her chums even tells her “you won” afterwards which I found even more bothersome (though that may have been the intention). Later when we find out what’s actually causing the rash of murders, it renders the culprits somewhat inculpable and I’m not sure how I felt about that either. I guess that I dug that it talked the talk but felt that it walked the walk rather clumsily (plus I feel like I’ve seen the rallying finale done way better in countless episodes of BUFFY.)
On the plus side, POOTS is impeccable. She somehow breathes pure life into uneven material and it’s easy to find yourself caring about her fate. There’s also more than a few moments that successfully conjure up the atmosphere of a classic eighties slasher and it’s clear director SOPHIA TAKAL and co-writer APRIL WOLFE have genuine affection for such films. It’s almost sad to think how much better the movie could have been if it just spoke its mind and drove straight ahead rather than making a u-turn into the supernatural zone. I suppose we’d still have to deal with its glaring seams. As nicely orchestrated as much is, there are large ragged chunks crammed with awkward voiceovers and an over reliance on flashbacks to clarify important plot-points. I don’t mind the PG- 13 rating (I’ll always be grateful for my G-rated teen experience with ‘82s ONE DARK NIGHT) but this film’s editing almost physically hurts as it strains to show just enough and has to snap away just when you’re getting a splinter of visual information.
Gripes aside, there’s no way around the fact that I have a serious soft spot for Christmas set horror films and BLACK CHRISTMAS (‘19) was at least kind enough to toss me plenty of snow, twinkling lights and even a crystal unicorn cameo. Could I grow to enjoy it like the last redo simply for being its own faulty, semi-original self (not sure how “original” a movie can claim to be when it involves that evil catch-all, black goo)? It’s possible, I guess (especially if an R-rated version materializes). I did dig a fair share of the ride and even when it’s tripping over its own feet, it’s at least thought provoking. As for now, I’ve got to call out its wobbly nature. I certainly didn’t hate it as much as the audience member who stood up at the end and declared that it was the “worst movie ever.” I thought that particular naysayer was a bit over the top but I do applaud her for voicing her opinion.