Movie Flop Ethics, Part II: “Black Christmas” And The Politicization Of Everything

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. Continue reading