In Part I, I said I was glad that Clint Eastwood’s latest film “Richard Jewell” was bombing, because the film impugns the integrity of a now-deceased reporter simply to spice up its story. After I read some of Clint’s comments yesterday in response to the controversy, I’m even more glad. Clint said that nobody knows how reporter Kathy Scruggs got a crucial leak from the FBI, but that it could have occurred because she traded sex for information. That’s despicable.
Nevertheless, the other dud among the Hollywood releases over the weekend, “Black Christmas,” deserved to flop even more than Eastwood’s epic.
The original “Black Christmas” (1974) was released under the name “Silent Night, Evil Night.” I saw it with my sister a few days after its opening (I was amused at the ad’s catchline, “If this movie doesn’t make your skin crawl, IT’S ON TOO TIGHT!!!”) and it scared the bejesus out of both of us, but especially her: she slept with the light on for weeks, and to this day my uncanny imitations of the maniac’s phone calls upset her (so I keep doing them, of course.)
Arriving before John Carpenter’s “Halloween” and its later, cheesier rip-off “Friday the 13th,” what was soon re-titled “Black Christmas” anticipated many of the themes and techniques of the slasher genre, perhaps too well. Blessed with a much better cast than any subsequent movie of the type (Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Andrea Martin, John Saxon, and Margot Kidder) and clever and gutsy director Bob Clark (“A Christmas Story,” “Porky’s”), the film was declared too disturbing by many critics. I thought it was easily the best horror movie I had ever seen, and recommended it to many friends, some of whom were not grateful after spending the following night jumping at every sound. It was very gratifying to see “Black Christmas” finally emerge as a cult film and the acknowledged inspiration for the slasher film genre (along with “Psycho,” of course.)
I saw the 2006 “sequel,” which was terrible, and had a sense of dread when I learned that Hollywood would try again. It was clear that the new film was already off to an unethical start when I saw the trailer: this was another example of producers hijacking a familiar title while making a movie barely connected to the older film it was evoking. That trick, essentially a bait and switch, always ticks me off. In the trailer for the new film, we could see that the killer wears a black robe and uses a longbow. Clark’s original famously never shows the maniac murderer at all: much of the movie is shot from his perspective (I assume it’s a he), though we see his shadow, one mad eye, and his arm at various times. We also hear him, and a more crazy-sounding killer has never been recorded.
The new “Black Christmas” takes place in a sorority house around Christmas, and there’s someone knocking off the girls. That’s about the extent of the similarity. To be fair, the advent of cell phones ruined the original film’s most iconic scare: it was the first movie in which we heard the chilling words, “The phone calls are coming from inside the house!”
The promotion of more female film directors is a feminist cause right now. There’s even a Christmas commercial where a little girl tells her parents who have just bought Disney princess toys to put under the tree for her, “I don’t want to be a princess any more. I want to be a film director!” I have always championed female directors for the stage; there is no question that there are multiple biases against them in theater, and I assume the same bias afflicts them in Hollywood. However, I do not want to see more female directors because they bring a special, feminine perspective to their work, and I really don’t want to see more female directors so they can use their plays and films as feminist propaganda vehicles. Just make a good movie, kid: if your work only stands for the proposition that women can’t just make entertaining and effective films, but have to clobber the audience with feminist tropes, you will have created a legitimate reason for the industry to be wary of female directors.
Yet for some ridiculous reason, the producers of “Black Christmas” (The same woke crowd who made the offensive and wildly over-praised “Get Out,” which posited that all white people want to enslave and kill blacks) decided to hire as its director and screen writer up-and-coming feminist Sophia Takal, who not only hadn’t ever made a horror movie, she apparently hadn’t seen many of them either. She announced, and her screenplay (co-written with April Wolfe, also without slasher-film creds but who claims to be a horror film buff) confirmed, that the new “Black Christmas” would be a #MeToo version.
The original film was hardly sexist, unlike its progeny, where bimbo-esque women were usually slaughtered after having sex. The intelligent, anti-bimbo protagonist, played by Hussey, is embroiled in an argument with her unstable boyfriend because she has decided to abort their baby. The menaced sorority sisters, even as they are picked off, don’t scream or demean themselves, and Hussey, when she learns that the killer is in the house and her friends are probably dead, doesn’t immediately flee to safety. She picks up a poker and starts going up the stairs (when I saw the movie in the theater, everyone was screaming and yelling at the screen, “NO! GET OUT!”)
Never mind: Takal knew better. She told the New York Times that her serial killer was based on…Brett Kavanaugh. She really did. In an interview, it became clear that, although the first “Black Christmas” was a pro-female slasher film, the latest one would be anti-male. Her Times interview ended with this: “In the end, Takal found working on the film cathartic, particularly working alongside guys who, she said, didn’t look all that different from some of the film’s villains. “These were, superficially, the same types of men who might be characters in the movie, but they were all so supportive and engaged and encouraging. I think it allowed me to explore this anxiety I have about misogyny, and to work through my fear that, underneath it all, men just really want us all dead.”
The largely unspoken problem is that, while feminists deny any differences between men and women (except that women, as Barack Obama recently intoned, are “better”) women aren’t the biggest fans of horror movies. Amusement over blood and guts is a guy thing, and so, as we are constantly reminded by misandrists who think the Y chromosome is a blight on humanity, is violent entertainment. So what did the producers get by handing a slasher film over to this female activist director? Here’s a typical review:
“[T]he actual kills are bloodless, empty, and mostly off screen. Again and again we get a brief cat and mouse game, the masked killer appears, and just as he approaches a victim the film cuts away leaving little variety aside from an attempted homage to one of the greatest scares in horror history that’s fumbled in its brevity and execution. It feels very much like a movie working hard to stay safe, and whether it was done while shooting or in the editing room the result is the same…the young women show no sign of being any smarter or more aware than your average slasher fodder. They make dumb choices, they constantly separate, and they fail to work together until a finale that lacks conviction in its belated attempt to make a point. Men are bad — not all men, just the obvious ones, except for when even the good guys are overruled by their “true alpha” nature — and the women are forced to fight their way through this male dominated world.”
In short, the movie isn’t scary, which, you know, is supposed to be the point. It wasn’t Takal’s point, though. She wanted to exploit a horror classic’s title to make a film about #MeToo, and created an incompetent movie that cheats its audience and the original in the process. So even though most critics are being gentle in their reviews, much as they were to the awful female “Ghostbusters” re-boot, the audiences are staying away, the movie is going to lose money, and Takal, though she may never know it, has made a fool of herself. “Black Christmas” is a flop.