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SYFY WIRE Christmas

Slay Bells Ring! Remembering 2006 Horror Remake Black Christmas

An ode to the slasher that teamed Michelle Trachtenberg & Mary Elizabeth Winstead as short-lived sorority sisters.

By Benjamin Bullard
The cast of Black Christmas (2006) peers from a staircase.

Horror and the holidays — it’s a sweet ’n’ scary pairing that comes with a long and jolly history at the movies. From Gremlins to Jack Frost to Violent Night and more, there’s just something subversive and a little bit campy about the mixing of Jingle Bells and jugular blood that pretty much guarantees that the genre-within-a-genre will never really die.

Black Christmas breaks away from the fast-twitch horror formula of rapid action and nervously-edited camera cuts for something just a little bit different: a slow-boil stalker flick that takes its time getting to the gory stuff. Released in 2006 and helmed by former The X-Files scribe and Willard director Glen Morgan (who also executive produced Jordan Peele’s TV reboot of The Twilight Zone), it’s an extremely loose reimagining of the similarly patient 1974 slasher of the same name that starred Margot Kidder as a bratty — and eventually very dead — sorority girl.

Black Christmas: When Michelle Trachtenberg & Mary Elizabeth Winstead got their scream on

You definitely don’t need to know much about the 1970s version of Black Christmas to jump straight into the 2006 movie; in fact, you’re probably better served knowing more about late-‘90s TV staples like Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

That’s because Black Christmas assembles some serious turn-of-the-millennium star power to supply its updated sorority house with an adequate count of victims, including Buffy’s Michelle Trachtenberg, Mean Girls’ Lacey Chabert, Final Destination star Kristen Cloke, and an early-career Marry Elizabeth Winstead (fresh off her turn in the shot-lived horror series Wolf Lake but well before her iconic 2010 role as Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). Eventual Arrowverse alum Katie Cassidy (The Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow) performs final-girl honors as sole survivor Kelli Presley, though that’s not exactly vital info; in Black Christmas, the killers get far more interesting story beats than the victims.

For More on Black Christmas:
11 Holiday Horror Movies, from Black Christmas to Gremlins
The Surprising Connection Between Black Christmas and A Christmas Story
The 2019 Black Christmas Remake Shouldn't Be on the Naughty List

Still, the casting matters, because you’ll spend a lot of downtime couch surfing with these bored college co-eds long before the movie brings the worst of the slash-y action to their doorstep. Things don’t truly erupt into chaos until just past the film’s halfway point, but by then, Black Christmas has performed a pretty neat trick in establishing its pair of murderous perpetrators (two for the price of one!), along with a satisfyingly goofy time-jumping backstory to explain why neighborhood terror Billy Lenz (Robert Mann) and his sister Agnes (Dean Friss) just had to grow up to kill.

Aside from the fact that the college girls’ sorority house just happens to be the same house where young Billy — now a sanatorium escapee ready to return to his tragic roots — murdered his own mother 15 years ago, most of the horror logic in Black Christmas runs on rails. There’s nothing in this flick you haven’t seen somewhere else already: Phone batteries die just at the wrong time, the power cuts out right on cue, and characters go exactly where they need to go and commit boneheaded deeds exactly as they must to set the stage for each bloody addition to the body count.

To its credit, though, Black Christmas is far from a frenzied slasher flick. When murder’s afoot, the killings develop slowly and often in long shots, giving all the silly melodrama oodles of time to steep. More often than not, the payoffs end up being worth the wait, whether it’s a well-placed icicle impalement (ouch!) or death by a candy cane that’s been licked to pointy perfection (double-ouch!). And while Black Christmas isn’t straight-up pitched as a horror-comedy flick, the cast definitely seems in on the joke — or, at least, the earnestly goofy spirit of it all.

Black Christmas never quite caught on the same way as its scary 2000s movie contemporaries — movies like Scream, The Faculty, and I Know What You Did Last Summer that similarly rounded out their casts with a roster of too-cool millennial acting names. But if you’re the kind of horror fan who instinctively laughs at all the crazy-absurd stuff that the most audacious of slasher flicks tend to get away with, then you’ll at least be entertained — whether it’s in the script or not — by Black Christmas. Better still, the movie’s updated take on its 1974 predecessor’s urban-legend tropes will likely send you back to the original, just to appreciate all the ways that the terror times have changed… plus maybe even a handful of ways that they haven’t (and, in this genre, probably never will).

Stream Black Christmas on Peacock here, and then catch the 1974 version here.