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John’s Horror Corner: Black Christmas (2019), the second reimagining of the 1974 classic slasher Christmas horror.

December 22, 2020

MY CALL: Another remake of the 1974 original, but borrowing little from it. This remake is very light and feisty, best suited for an audience of teenagers or viewers who can’t handle mean, brutal, shocking horror movies. MOVIES LIKE Black Christmas: The closest choice would be. For more Christmas horror try Black Christmas (1974, 2006 remake), Await Further Instructions (2018), Holidays (2016; Christmas), A Christmas Horror Story (2015), Krampus (2015), Better Watch Out (2016), Tales from the Crypt Season 1 (1989; And All Through the House), Silent Night Deadly Night (1984), Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) Gremlins (1984), and Tales from the Crypt (1972; And All Through the House). Skip The Oracle (1985) and All the Creatures were Stirring (2018).

This film opens with familiar beats; tropes yes, but executed well. A young college student departing campus for the holiday break is stalked by a mysterious hooded assailant. Everything swiftly goes wrong for this poor girl and her demise is as much cliché as it is graceful, rich with wintery themes. And with the close of our cold open, we fast forward to another winter break sometime in the near future.

As we’re introduced to our Hawthorne College sorority girls, we find they are thoughtfully written and likewise acted in lived-in, credible fashion. I’m reminded of the high-quality characters of Happy Death Day (2017) even though the tones of these two films differ a bit. We meet some who are gawky and awkward, shy, activistic and the like, and all of them feel like real people saying real things instead of some “this is what I do” canned cast introductions. Barring the ‘higher film’ attempts in horror (e.g., Get Out, Us, Hereditary, Midsommar) we seldom expect such natural writing in the genre—especially not for a second remake/reimagining. There are times in this first act that I completely forgot I was watching a horror movie, and that’s a big compliment.

When we meet Professor Gelson (Cary Elwes; Saw, The Bride, Bram Stoker’s Dracula), he seems everything we expect from a well-scripted (if still typical) college movie. He’s charismatic, a bit arrogant, and has an adversarial relationship with key players of the story. Again I’ll say it: tropes yes, but executed well.

The proficient employment of classic writing/movie tropes effects a sense of familiarity with this movie. Another strength of the film: the winterscape campus shots are a snowy stark sight. And while the photography is nothing epic and rarely wide-angled, the snow-caked buildings taunt the eye. Director and co-writer Sophia Takal (Always Shine) made an entertaining movie for those who have had enough brutal or high-brow horror fare lately, and Imogen Poots (Fright Night, Vivarium, Green Room) serves the film well as the lead.

I enjoyed the film overall as a low stakes popcorn flick, and appreciate the general filmmaking. But the shots of our hooded slasher (along with his actions) tend not to impress. The killer is the weakest component of the movie. Maybe it’s the PG-13-ness of it all, but it just feels sooooo Horror-LITE. Not only that, but we see very little provocative violence happen on-screen. The brutality is almost all off-screen and after the fact. What does happen on-screen tends to lack any punch or shock. The weakest “horror” of it all was the finale, which felt just plain stupid to an almost angering degree. All of the thoughtful writing was thrown out the window for this “children’s horror movie finale” display. Moreover I found the ending to be meaningless. The last 20-30 minutes of the film were a disappointing departure from the wonderful foundation of the first 60.

This remake feels nothing like the original. Not in tone or intensity, or even a scintilla of development. This is a completely unique product which essentially only shares the premise that “a group sorority girls are stalked and murdered on campus during Christmas break.” What’s good about that is that there is nothing to compare (or complain) about regarding the 1974 classic. The downside is that it hardly feels worthy of the iconic name Black Christmas, despite being a very well-made PG-13 horror-LITE movie.

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