[GUEST CONTRIBUTOR: Sophie Day may be one of the wimpiest-est horror fans you’ve ever met, but she wears that title like a badge of honour. She is a contributor for BloodyGoodHorror.com—where she enjoys being accused by trolls of being an angry feminist—and is one of the hosts of the podcast Behold an Electric Terror.]
In a piece that ran in Fangoria recently, Joe Bob Briggs starts with the line, “At this point, we’re not supposed to talk about Black Christmas anymore.” I’m not sure who told Joe Bob that “we” aren’t allowed to talk about the movie anymore, but I wonder if he misheard people telling him that they didn’t want to hear him talk about it anymore. Before the movie was even released, Joe Bob tweeted an interview with the film’s creators maligning the fact that their movie had a point, and waxing poetic about the good old days when horror movies didn’t have to have a political message. Never mind the fact that horror has been engaging with society’s politics and anxieties for decades.
Reading Joe Bob’s review, it struck me how many things he seemed to miss about the movie. Let’s take a look at what he had to say, shall we?
He begins by lampooning the idea that any white male who doesn’t like the movie should examine his prejudice and privilege, which I think is actually not a bad idea. Black Christmas isn’t a perfect movie, but if you present as male, especially a straight white one, it might not be a bad idea to take a moment to think about your perspective. It doesn’t mean that you have to love the movie, but I would argue that even if you didn’t like the movie, you don’t have to throw out its messaging whole cloth. He goes on to suggest that the target demographic for this movie is “pre-adolescent girls.” Let’s set aside the fact that girls who are “pre-adolescent” would not be old enough to see this PG-13 movie in theatres without parental supervision. His insistence that this movie is for little girls feels like a barbed attack at the idea of a horror movie being made for women and girls at all. I myself am an adult woman and a huge horror fan, and I loved this movie. Women account for more than 50% of horror ticket sales, so I don’t think that calling us a “limited audience” is all that smart.
The next issue, which I’ve heard a lot since this movie was released, is that it shouldn’t have been called Black Christmas. Bob Clarke’s original 1974 film is a phenomenal piece of filmmaking that really holds up. It centres around a group of young women living in a sorority house, who party and drink and have boyfriends that they sleep with. The film, often credited with being one of the progenitors of the slasher genre, doesn’t adhere to the “Rules” that would come later, that characters are killed for acting immorally in some way. These women are targeted simply because they are women. The women in the house receive sexually explicit and threatening phone calls, and become the target of violence while women and girls in town are being raped and murdered. Most if not all of the male characters in the movie either don’t take the women seriously or come across as actively threatening.
This is why it’s so hard for me when people suggest that Sophia Takal and April Wolfe’s movie is not deserving of the name simply because the threat they face is bigger than one man hiding in the shadows. Black Christmas was never about Billy in the first place. The fact that we never found out who he was meant that he could have been any of the men we met throughout the movie—or he could have been none of them. In this new telling of the story, the threat is the demonic frat, but it’s also a system that allows such an organization to exist at all.
But even simple plot elements seem to elude Joe Bob. He suggests that the fraternity has been having these rituals for 200 years which, of course, they haven’t. In fact, it wasn’t until Kris has the bust of Calvin Hawthorne removed from one of the academic buildings and the fraternity takes it in that they discover the power that it holds. He also suggests that their student leader is forced to leave school over a rape allegation which, in fact, he isn’t. The man who drugged and raped Riley graduated despite her reporting him. He has moved on with his life with no repercussions, and is returning to campus to visit for the holiday.
Joe Bob suggests that because the killer is a group of men, there is no real antagonist. That without CGI effects and a huge fight scene, the threat here isn’t all that scary. For people who didn’t grow up cis, straight, white, and male, it is all too easy to imagine a largely faceless and rather ordinary group of people who don’t care about your wellbeing or, worse, actively seek to harm you.
This leads me to perhaps the most egregious part of the review, in which Joe Bob whines about the filmmakers’ choice not to show Riley’s rape (which isn’t entirely true, we do see flashbacks, albeit nothing graphic) or the murder of women on screen. Both of these complaints speak to a complete lack of understanding of what it might feel like, as a female horror fan, to watch people who look like you beaten, raped, and murdered over and over in a genre you love. Imagine how it might feel to finally see a movie that doesn’t roll around in gore and brutality, only to have a man bemoan what was clearly a very intentional choice by the writer and director?
In the end, I wish that Joe Bob had taken even one minute to consider the two things that he reported being told after he saw this movie: 1) consider your privilege and 2) maybe this movie isn’t for you.