Posts Tagged ‘Black Christmas’

The original Black Christmas from 1974 is a beloved, if kind of weird, early member of the slasher subgenre. The senseless nature of the killer “Billy,” for whom we never get any sort of explanation, as well as the helplessness of the characters, still makes it terrifying forty-five years later. A 2006 remake tried to capture that terror, but it failed miserably, mired in too much exposition and cliches. So, of course, everyone was skeptical when Blumhouse decided to make another remake. But the trailers promised a new angle, so who knows? It could be good.

2019’s Black Christmas again follows sorority sisters trapped on campus and in their sorority house with a killer who appears to taunt them through messaging apps. But there’s more at play here, and it all leads back to a particular fraternity on campus and the university’s controversial founder.

Um…how do I even talk about this one?

As far as storytelling and scares go, this is pretty run of the mill for a slasher, especially ones where a lot of stuff is given away in trailers. Granted, a couple members of the audience did get freaked (one audience member did yell out “that ****er is smart!” when an antagonist did something pretty sneaky), but if you’re familiar with slashers, it all feels standard and a little pulpy. A bit more exciting near the late middle and the last third, but still pretty standard.

The one thing that sets this movie apart is its incorporation of feminism into the plot. And this is where I have to really think about what I type, lest readers get the wrong idea.

Now, let me say this outright. I identify as a feminist. I get upset when I read stories in the news where women are subjected to harassment and misogyny and they are the ones blamed or called into question rather than the men attacking them. I also work in an office whose job is partly to deal with harassment, misogyny, and assault in our organization’s workforce. So I support women breaking barriers and creating more equal places for them in society.

Black Christmas tries to explore these issues in what, considering some of our current events, could be considered timely. And unlike Countdown, which felt gimmicky with its use of the #MeToo movement (see my review here), there was no gimmick here. The film’s handling of feminist issues is well-done at times. There is a lot of discussion of campus rape culture and how we as a society should approach it. Two characters have opposing views on the subject: one says everything must be done to stop the systemic problem, including by survivors, while the other says that not every survivor is willing to be a warrior and may just want to move on. And both bring up good points.

Another scene where the theme is handled well is when one of the protagonists goes to report her friend missing, and the male cop is apathetic, even acting dismissive. Like he thinks the protagonist is making a huge fuss because she’s a woman, not because there might be an actual problem.

Still, there were some moments where I wondered if the inclusion of these themes, as well as some exaggerated aspects, were meant to check some boxes and make this a “woke” sort of film, not really explore the subject matter and allow for enlightening discussion. But then, as I got home, I remembered something that put the film in a new light.

Back in 2018, Jason Blum, owner of Blumhouse Productions which produced the film, made comments about women directors, especially in horror, that drew a lot of ire from the horror community. Blum apologized for the comments and promised to do better. Fast-forward to 2019, and Black Christmas is the company’s first film with a female director, Sophia Takal. Takal also served as a writer with another woman, April Wolfe.

So this film could’ve been Blum’s way of apologizing for his comments and showing that he’s progressive. Or, and I like this scenario more, Takal and Wolfe were given the freedom to make their own horror movie, they were very much aware of what Blum said and they made a film not just to talk about their own issues with the film industry, but also to remind Blum that he, along with a lot of other people and segments in society have to go to really make things equal between men and women. And if that’s true, I can imagine how much Blum squirmed in his seat.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving 2019’s Black Christmas an even 3. While not as bad as the 2006 remake and a nice comeback to Blum’s comments, it still has areas that could’ve been better.

Thus ends the horror films of 2019, which, with a few exceptions, were either average or just bad. Here’s hoping 2020 is A LOT better. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

Around November, stores across the world start putting out tinsel and cute little bulbs and emphasize snow and sleighs and candy canes.* At the same time, Christmas music is played from most loudspeakers and many radio stations, one of those songs being “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by Andy Williams (yeah, I didn’t know who sang that until today, either). And many people would agree. The two months leading up to Christmas, especially December, is the most wonderful time of the year.

However, there is a segment of the population who disagrees with that sentiment. Among that segment are people, and whatever I am, who say Halloween is the most wonderful time of the year. And since I don’t have a singing voice to advocate our views, I’ll do what I do best and write out why the Halloween season, starting anywhere from late August to early September and ending when October becomes November, should be considered the most wonderful time of the year.**

1. Halloween isn’t as cold.┬áOkay, that’s probably not true south of the equator, but at least October isn’t as freezing in most places as it is in November. In fact, in Central Ohio, it can range from the 40’s to the 60’s (we have weird-ass weather). Whereas in December, it’s usually between 30 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. And that’s in a good year.

2. A stalker isn’t part of the central theme of Halloween.┬áNo, I’m not talking about Michael Myers. I’m talking about Santa Claus. I mean, think about it. You have an old guy in a red tracksuit watching you 24/7, but especially right before Christmas, and is judging your behavior. If you “behave,” you get gifts, but if you don’t, you get fossil fuels. Also, he can break into anyone’s home and we have no idea how well his workforce is treated. If this was any other person, they would be hit with investigations and possible criminal charges.

At least with Halloween, a little naughtiness is okay. It’s even encouraged. “Trick or treat,” after all.

3. There’s no need to be “perfect,” “well off,” or “good.” For a lot of people, Christmas is a time to show just how perfect your family is, or how pretty you can make your house look, or how deserving of gifts you are. A lot of people spend more money than they should just to show people they can have the “perfect” Christmas, or suck up their dislike of a disagreeable family member so as not to “ruin” Christmas, or give more to charity because “tis the season.” Shouldn’t the season to help the needy be all year? Not just when gifts are on the horizon?

Though if you are giving to charity during the Christmas season, good on you. Thanks for helping out the less fortunate.

At least with Halloween, you don’t have to go all out. A simple bedsheet with eye holes is a wonderful costume. A bag of penny candy is just fine. And if you gather donations to UNICEF, it’s not because “tis the season,” but just a nice thing to do.

Speaking of costumes…

4. Be whoever you want to be.┬áHalloween is about changing who you are into who you want to be for a day. A princess, a vampire, a soldier, a superhero, it’s all up to you and what costume you buy or create. Or don’t. That’s valid as well. There’s no pressure, just as long as you’re having fun. Want to be a little macabre? Go right ahead. Want to just emphasize the pagan roots of the holiday? Perfectly fine. Just want to have a wild costume party to celebrate fun and monsters and changing your identity for one day? Go get ’em, cowboy! It’s your holiday, and as long as nobody’s getting hurt, you’re answerable to no one.

Again, during Christmas, a lot of people feel like they need to project a certain image of “perfection” or “being good.” Otherwise, your or others might believe you’ve done something wrong, or the season is ruined. I think of the mother from the movie Krampus a lot with this point. She’s dead-set on everything being “perfect” to the point she invites relatives over whom she and her own family don’t really like and comes up with all these complicated foods that nobody really asked for, just to maintain this image of a “perfect” Christmas in her mind.

Has that ever happened with Halloween? As long as you have fun, that’s all that matters.

Jack Skellington had one thing right: Santa Claus is scarier than at first glance.

5. So many reasons to get scared!┬áOf course, for those like me, this is one of the biggest reasons. Horror movies, horror novels, haunted houses, music, costumes, parties and games. At Halloween, there’s so many reasons to get scared and have fun with it. The number of scary things to do at this time of year is endless. Whereas at Christmas, beyond either Black Christmas film, Gremlins and Krampus, there aren’t that many horror-related things associated with the holiday. Maybe a Christmas episode for a horror show, but beyond that, it’ not a holiday to indulge in anything scarier than fossil fuels from everyone’s tracksuit-wearing stalker. And to me, that’s a damn shame.

 

Now, this is just a small fraction of reasons why I prefer the Halloween season to the Christmas season. There’s probably a part two or three that could be written. But tell me, which season do you prefer? Why? Are there are any reasons I missed? Let’s discuss.

Just keep it civil in the comments, folks. Or I will delete your comment and then write you into a story.

*I think. I have no idea what Christmas looks like below the equator beyond the fact that it’s summer down there in December.

**That being said, I’m not trying to put down anyone who thinks Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. I’m not trying to wage war on Christmas or anything like that. I’m just representing an opposing opinion. That’s not the sign of moral decay or an anti-American or anti-Christian persecution. Having a spirited but civil disagreement where both parties respect each other’s views is the sign of a healthy and thriving society. If you feel Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, that’s okay with me. Just let me continue feeling that the Halloween season is the most wonderful time of the year in the meantime.

I’ve been keen to read this novel since Stephen King tweeted about it months ago, saying this novel, which apparently is the first work of an already-established author published under a pen name, was the first great thriller of 2017.* By the time it came out on July 11th, I was one of the first people to get a copy at the library. And while I don’t always agree with King on what makes a good story (see my review for A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay), I have to say, he was right that this is a great thriller novel, possibly the first great one of 2017 (I haven’t read most of the others that came out this year, so who am I to judge?).

Final Girls follows Quincy Carpenter, the lone survivor of the Pine Cottage Massacre, in which a man she only refers to as Him killed all her friends while on a camping trip and she was the only survivor. This has made Quincy part of an exclusive club known as the Final Girls, women who have survived horror-movie style massacres and, like the girls in those movies, are the only ones to survive. The other two are Lisa Milner, the survivor of a sorority house murder spree in Indiana, and Samantha Boyd, who escaped and killed a killer known as the Sack Man at a motel in Florida. Quincy, who has no memory of the events at Pine Cottage, wants nothing but to keep up her baking blog, maybe marry her defense attorney boyfriend someday, and have some definition of normal.

That is, until Lisa Milner dies under mysterious circumstances in Indiana, and Samantha Boyd shows up at Quincy’s apartment in New York to talk. Suddenly Quincy’s life is thrown into a maelstrom as Sam’s presence threatens not just to unearth the memories from that fateful night, but change her world forever.

Immediately, you feel like this is two stories in one, a standard slasher and a mystery/thriller. On the slasher hand, you get to read Quincy’s recollections of Pine Cottage, which are told in third-person POV and past tense. And on the other hand, you get the events of Quincy’s current life, which are told in first-person POV and present tense, which is a mystery/thriller mixed with the story of two completely opposite people trying to bond over an incredible and dark situation. And both stories are peppered with references to horror movies, especially the best of the slasher genre. There are some obvious ones: Quincy’s last name is a reference to director John Carpenter of the Halloween series, while Lisa Milner’s massacre is an obvious reference to Black Christmas. But there are other, subtler references. ┬áThe mystery elements definitely remind me of the Scream movies and the TV series, which utilize mystery to offset themselves from tried-and-done-to-death slasher stories, as well as elements that make me think of Urban Legend. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, there are probably references I don’t recognize from movies/comics/shows/books I haven’t seen or read yet.

I also really enjoyed the characters. Quincy felt incredibly real to me: rather than being a character who’s always good and delicate or always damaged and dealing with her issues, she’s actually a pretty good balance of both. She’s clearly made some progress in trying to move on and have a new normal, but she also has issues that she doesn’t want to address, even takes some joy in, and those occasionally threaten the balance she’s trying to maintain in her life. It’s very refreshing to see such a realistic character like that. I also found Samantha Boyd (or Sam, as she prefers), to be very real. She’s a girl whose life is one defined by horrors, and who’s trying, in her own way, to reach out to the one person left in the world who knows what it’s like to have felt horrors like hers. The way she does it isn’t exactly smooth, but it does feel like someone with her background might use to reach out and find some mutual catharsis.

But the best part of the story is definitely how twisty it is. Even when we go back to Quincy’s past, it is anything but a standard slasher, going in directions you don’t see coming. Just today, while reading the last 70 or so pages, I kept marveling at surprise after surprise after surprise. And that’s pretty much how it is for most of the book, especially in the latter half of it. I think even some veteran mystery/thriller fans will find themselves surprised at the twists in store here in Final Girls.

If there’s one thing that might have been a drawback for this novel, I felt that the moments that Quincy and Sam were trying to bond were a little slow at times, but that may be nitpicking on my part. They were still well-written parts, and they showed both how much these girls wanted to be friends and how much they rubbed against each other as people.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Final Girls a well-earned 4.6. From one page to the next, you never know what to expect, and it will only leave you wanting more. Go ahead, pick it up, and find you have a hard time putting it down.

* This tweet and hints about the author’s identity make me think it might be Stephen King’s son Joe Hill doing his own Richard Bachman turn, but that’s just my guess.

Hollywood is stuck in this phase where the studios are obsessed with sequels and prequels and spin-offs and franchises and remakes and reboots and re imaginings and a million other things. I have mixed feelings on this culture. On the one hand, I love the Marvel movies and a clever re imagining of a classic story or stories (like what Once Upon a Time has done with some of my favorite fairy tales when I was young) is a great thing. Plus who doesn’t love a good adaptation of a beloved novel or comic book or even video game into a movie or TV series?

On the other hand, seeing all these stories continued or retold constantly encourages filmmakers ane viewers to seek out familiar stories that are sure bets to be successful rather than new material that they don’t know will work out for them, when there is new material. And plenty of these sequels/prequels/reboots/whatever, when they come out, they are just awful and you wonder how the filmmakers could do this to beloved properties (see my review of the Poltergeist remake or watch these two dudes review the Smurfs movie if you need further proof).

The horror genre has been a big part in this, for better or for worse. Since the success of 2003’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake (as opposed to 2013’s remake of the film), there have been a slew of horror remakes, mainly slashers but quite a few others, and they have been showing up with increasing frequency). I’m focusing on the slashers though, because of the horror remakes the slashers are often the ones I see the most advertising for (an exception being Poltergeist, but we know how that turned out), they have some of the most iconic characters in the horror genre (Freddy, Jason, Leatherface, etc.), they’re notorious for putting out too many sequels of varying quality, even for horror, and they’re difficult to get right, because they rely on blood, guts, and gore to scare people rather than suspense and atmosphere.

And for God’s sake, there’s just been so many of them:

  • Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its prequel (the former was good, the latter awful)
  • Halloween and Halloween II (same deal as TCM in terms of quality)
  • My Bloody Valentine (lacks all that made the original so awesome)
  • Black Christmas (awful murder-porn)
  • Prom Night (awful and nonsensical)
  • Friday the 13th (of all the Michael Bay shit movies, this one is the shittiest)
  • Nightmare on Elm Street (I liked it, but others disagree with me)
  • Leprechaun (more of a re-imagining of average quality)
  • Texas Chainsaw 3D (I liked this too, but not everybody else did)
  • Evil Dead (fun and extremely bloody)
  • Scream (got rebooted as a TV series. Only saw one episode before leaving for Germany, but wasn’t impressed by what I saw)

On TV and in the movies at the same time. Like Kevin Bacon or Viola Davis.

And that’s just the ones that I know of that are out. And believe it or not, there are more on the way: Friday the 13th is getting a new movie as well as being re-imagined as a TV series for CW (haven’t heard anything on the movie, but what I’ve heard on the TV series┬ásounds promising), Halloween is getting a new movie (also looks promising), Evil Dead is getting a TV series set years after the original films (excuse me while I skip it, because I’m not much of a fan of the franchise), and Texas Chainsaw Massacre is getting a prequel exploring Leatherface’s origins (I’m skeptical). There was also talk of a Hellraiser reboot, but there’s been no word in two years on that, so I’m going to say it’s been shelved.

So why are slashers being remade by the dozen? Like I said, they’re difficult to pull off, and┬áthey’re formulaic. Plus blood and gore is how they primarily scare you, and a lot of horror fans, including myself, find that distasteful. What makes them so appealing?

I think a lot of it has to do with the characters. Slashers have produced some of the most iconic characters in horror and in cinema: Norman Bates, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers. Heck, Freddy Kreuger isso well-known that he’s made cameo appearances in movies parodying the 1980’s in one form or another. People love these characters as much as they’re scared of them, they love watching them in action and being terrified of them. They like to sit there and think, “What’s he going to do next? What’s he going to do next? What’s he going to do–AAAH!”

Studios are aware of that, as well as they are aware of how much people go back to see the old films (the better ones anyway) and see these beloved characters do what they do best. With huge fan followings like this, and how easy it is to make a horror movie under twenty million dollars with minimal special effects, they know people are going to come and see the films so they can see these beloved characters resurrected again and perhaps in a movie worthy of carrying the franchise’s name.

The problem with that is, these same studios may just be banking on the popularity of a franchise and its character or characters to draw in crowds. Take a look at Friday the 13th, or another horror movie that Michael Bay meddled in, Ouija (read my review here). Both of those sucked, but yet they still made money. I think the latter was because of very good marketing, but the former had the draw of the first Friday the 13th film in six years, and one not bogged down by sequels’ worth of mythologies. Problem was, they didn’t invest in a good story, like the first film did and most of the early films tried to do with varying success. Instead they gave it a passable story and then added in as much drugs, sex, nudity, swearing, and gratuitous death scenes as possible so that the audiences would stay interested.

The result was a waste of film that makes watching people defecate on public streets look more entertaining. And I’m very worried that these other films that are on the way will do the same thing. They’ll be made with just drawing in fans and their credit cards in mind and the results will be absolutely terrible. And no horror fan wants to see beloved characters treated that way.

Hoping for better films for all these guys, and more.

On the other hand, I like to imagine that some of these filmmakers are huge fans of the franchises and really are trying to give these characters the stories they should be in, stories that are worth investing seven dollars and two hours in. The Halloween movie supposedly has an interesting plot, and the one thing I’ve heard on the Friday the 13th sequel indicates it’ll take place in the 1980’s, when the series started and where most of the better films are set. Perhaps there is hope here.

Well, we’ll just have to wait and see…and pray that along with better sequels/franchises/whatever, we get some new material too (*cough* Hollywood, call me *cough*).

All for now, my Followers of Fear. I have to get ready for the High Holidays tonight, so I’ll be busy for a while, but I’ll write again when I can.

See you next year, and Shanah Tovah (that means “Have a good year” if you don’t speak Hebrew).