Black Christmas: the problematic way people assume they know everything about a movie they've never seen.

November 14, 2019

 

There's a little bit of a spat happening at the moment, at least between the horror fans on Film Twitter, about the rating of Blumhouse's remake of Black Christmas. For those of you who don't know, the Bob Clark directed 1974 horror Black Christmas is often cited as being one of the first slasher movies, at least in the terms we recognise them, and remains a classic, if somewhat under-seen, film. It tells the story of a group of sorority sisters who are terrorised by a crazed killer.

 

It's an inventive, mean-spirited movie, and I really enjoy it.

 

In 2006 MGM and Dimension Films released a remake, also called Black Christmas, although sometimes known as Black X-Mas (because apparently "Christmas" isn't cool enough). Now, this movie, written and directed by Glen Morgan, is a remake in the loosest sense of the word. It has the title - kinda - and it has the general plot points, but there are some key differences. It also suffered at the hands of studio interference and from a so-called controversy around the release date.

 

It's also not all that good, truth be told. It's kind of generic, and while it delivers of gore, it lacks any sense of fun or inventiveness.

 

Both of these films also have an R rating in the USA.

 

Now, here is 2019, Blumhouse are releasing yet another take of Clark's seasonal tale. This one, directed by Sophia Takal, and written by Takal and April Wolfe, seems to (from the publicity material at least) bear even less resemblance to the 1974 original, beyond the idea of a sorority house and, well, Christmas. Whether or not it does follow any of the original plot points I don't know, because it hasn't been released and I'm yet to see it.

 

You'd be forgiven for thinking that any so-called "controversy" around this particular iteration of the movie might be it's shift away from the source material, but instead it came in the form of outrage - and I use that term lightly in the age of The Last Jedi and Sonic the Hedgehog - about the rating the film has received.

 

Unlike it's two predecessors, it would seem that Black Christmas 2019 is going to be a (drum-roll, please...) PG-13. And this, apparently, is a clear marker that the film will be... bad(?) I guess.

 

The issue of age-ratings, and the way in which movies are rated and classified, especially in 'merica, has always been a somewhat tricky one. There seems to be little to no actual guidelines for how a film is certificated beyond whoever watched it at the time (and if you're interested in learning more may I strong suggest you check out This Film Is Not Yet Rated, an excellent documentary about the subject of the ratings board in America), but for some reason certain people seem to have decided that an R is almost like a badge of honour, especially when it comes to horror films.

 

So, the news that the new Black Christmas movie won't be Restricted has caused something of a stir, but I fear these people are forgetting that, in all truth, an R - or rather a lack thereof - is not, in anyway shape or form, an indication of quality.

 

For evidence of this, look no further than the two previous versions of this very movie. While 1974's remains a cult classic, the 2006 take is absolute garbage. And guess what, it's rated R!

 

Going even deeper, there are some stellar horror films, genuinely terrifying and scary movies, that sit within the PG-13 banner. Recent examples include 2012's The Woman in Black, starring Daniel Radcliffe, which prompted its own controversy from furious (and thick as shit) parents who took their children along to see what they assumed would be a Harry Potter-esque adventure - one can only assume these parents were unfamiliar with the concept of, y'know, actors...

 

Indeed, this year saw the release of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, which received a 15 certificate over here in the UK, but a PG-13 in the States, and was aimed squarely at the early teens market, despite featuring some genuinely creepy and scary concepts. And that's not to mention the countless horrifying classics slapped with that particular rating, films like Poltergeist, The Changeling, and flipping Jaws!

 

Will Black Christmas be hampered by its lack of gore and violence "deserving" of an R rating? I dunno. I haven't seen the film, and it's probably best to reserve judgement on things like that until I have. But one thing should be evidently clear from this little rant of mine; a PG-13 certificate is not confirmation that a film won't be a challenging or scary watch.

 

Look, I understand the concern. Already the trailer seems to be deviating a lot from Bob Clark's classic, and already we're on edge when a remake of a beloved movie is announced, especially when said movie has already had a terrible remake once. To learn then that it is likely not aiming for the same kind of viciousness as the original can be troublesome, especially if that's part of what you liked about it in the first place, and a PG-13 does, to a degree, suggest that.

 

I get it. I really do. I'd have been worried if The Evil Dead remake was slapped with a PG-13, so I understand. But I really wish we'd stop passing judgement on films before they're released. And I really wish we'd stop with this faux outrage over things that don't really matter.

 

I mentioned Sonic the Hedgehog earlier, and that movie had it's own little issue when the first trailer was released and people were furious (I assume, I just thought it was funny) about the look of the title character. The filmmakers actually acknowledged the concern in that instance and re-designed Sonic with a more recognisable look. The might be fine, but I'm not sure I like the idea of a movie being forced into something because of the reactions of people who, and this is the important part, haven't even actually watched the f**king thing!

 

Since this whole stupid thing blew up, I've seen people claim that "They gave everything away in the trailer anyway" and that "It's nothing like the original, they may as well have not called it Black Christmas". I mean, c'mon, guys! How can you possibly know these things? The film isn't out. No one bar the people making the film have seen it. We can assume that might be the case, of course, but it is just an assumption.

 

Why are we so quick to demand changes be made to a film we don't actually know anything about?

 

Redesigning Sonic is one thing, but let's say some studio exec somewhere gets wind of the anger over the PG-13 and decides re-shoots are needed to grab that R (I appreciate limiting their audience might not be what studios are after... but for the sake of argument), who's to say that won't screw up the filmmaker's original vision? Who's to say that won't ruin the pacing, or destroy the message, or mess with the very fabric of the film?

 

Of course film-making is a collaborative process, I know that first hand, and there are certain points within that process where changes are made, but don't you think what we, as the audience, should receive should be the closest possible thing to the filmmaker's vision of it? And shouldn't we trust, at least before we've actually seen the movie, that something as trivial as an age-rating, isn't really a gauge on whether or not said film is any good?

 

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© Alex Secker 2018