Christmas and horror are odd bedfellows. Most people might not assume they go together, but they somehow work wonderfully when placed side-by-side. A few yuletide classics also serve as scare-you-silly chillers. (Admit it, you probably watch GREMLINS every year.)
One film carved into the Mount Rushmore of scary Christmas movies is BLACK CHRISTMAS, a 1974 classic directed by Bob Clark. (Years later, he also helmed the bloodless Christmas classic A CHRISTMAS STORY.) Now, in 2019, BLACK CHRISTMAS is decked out with a fresh strand of lights thanks to Blumhouse. This new version promises a different brand of holiday horror.
[Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
The original BLACK CHRISTMAS featured a cast that was very starry for the time, with Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin, and John Saxon. The premise of the Canadian production, based loosely on a series of Montreal murders, is startling in its simplicity: A group of sorority girls, staying in their house over the holidays, are stalked by an unseen killer hiding in the house’s attic. Notable for its disturbing point of view sequences and the fact that the murderer's identity is never revealed, BLACK CHRISTMAS was a genre trailblazer.
The film set the stage for the slasher movie craze that would be cemented with HALLOWEEN, in 1978, and continue throughout the 1980s with the FRIDAY THE 13th and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchises. Artier and more nuanced than most of the slasher films that would follow (especially the sequels that followed each new success), BLACK CHRISTMAS was an atmospheric triumph — and one of the very best scary Christmas movies ever.
This BLACK CHRISTMAS actually isn’t the first remake of the original film. In 2006, the first remake, with a title shortened to BLACK X-MAS on many of the promotional materials, was released on Christmas day. Written and directed by X-FILES vet Glen Morgan and produced by Clark (who gave Morgan script suggestions), the 2006 BLACK CHRISTMAS dug into the backstory of the killer while also giving him a similarly psychopathic sister.
One of the cooler aspects of this new BLACK CHRISTMAS is that, up until a few months ago, nobody even know it existed. The film was announced in June 2019 with a December 13, 2019 release dated locked in place. Production wrapped in July 2019 and the trailer (embedded above) dropped just weeks ago. At a time when we seem to know a great deal about new movies for over a year before they arrive, this was a pleasant surprise.
The film is co-written and directed by Sophia Takal, who directed the buzzy 2016 thriller ALWAYS SHINE, and made a terrific installment of Blumhouse’s INTO THE DARK series called “New Year, New You.” She has a unique perspective and is the perfect filmmaker to modernize the material. Film critic April Wolfe, whose excellent Switchblade Sisters podcast offers deep dives into both filmmaking and horror topics, acts as her co-writer.
The cast is stacked with terrific women, too, including Imogen Poots, Brittany O’Grady, Aleyse Shannon, and Lily Donaghue. They play sorority sisters who are targeted by a masked and robed assailant — or perhaps several of them — and ultimately have to defend their own home against attack. Cary Elwes also appears, as a conniving professor and campus leader.
One of the elements that makes this film markedly different from the original is that the women fight back. The official synopsis notes that “the killer is about to discover that this generation's young women aren't willing to become helpless victims as they mount a fight to the finish,” and the trailer features a number of moments where the tables are most definitely turned on the attacker.
Remaking a slasher movie is one thing; doing it in a way that puts power in the hands of the former victims is a lot more interesting. (We saw this in the 2018 HALLOWEEN, which had a terrific third act climax thanks to this sort of storytelling approach.) With this cast and the suggestion of weird power rituals performed by a fraternity, there are some exciting ideas in this remake. The BLACK CHRISTMAS trailer set it up as one of the most anxiously-anticipated horror films of the year.
We do have one last question. The trailer features a moment where Cary Elwes, who is (spoiler!) clearly a bad guy, says “This school has 200 years of history. Many sacrifices have been made to keep our traditions alive.” So is this actually a follow-up to the 1974 original? Or does it at least incorporate those events into the narrative of the new story? We don’t want to open our Christmas presents early, but it’s an intriguing idea.
All images courtesy of Universal Pictures, except where noted.