I hated Black X-Mas when it came out, and hated it for years after, until recently when I revisited the film and found something to love about it after all. Though I still feel this remake—a term I struggle to use for this film, which I feel is actually more of a sequel than anything—is actually pretty trashy, I recognise how smart the good bits of the film are and how they cleverly subvert the Christian image of Christmas. And while the original Black Christmas was nasty in its own right, its 2006 iteration takes exploitation nastiness to a whole other gruesome level.
What’s so compelling about the ugly, gratuitous Black X-Mas is the way it continuously drags Christian Christmas through the mud, whether by blatant dialogue or through the subversion of traditionally Christian iconography and the holiday’s elements itself. To make it all better, the screenplay takes Bob Clark’s original backstory for the killer Billy and expands it into a disturbingly blasphemous plot, wrapping that blasphemy and heaps of gore around Christmas for a proper holiday horror package.
Something loveable about Black X-Mas is how it retains pieces of the original outside of the basic plot points, and one way it does that is by expressing an honest, albeit grim outlook on men’s attitudes towards women. The character Kyle (Oliver Hudson) takes on a similar though very different role as Keir Dullea’s Peter in the original Black Christmas. Kyle, similar to Peter is a gross, sketchy, creepy misogynist. He refers to the sorority sisters as “spoiled bitches,” and later, after his exploitative “visual trophies“—a.k.a sex tapes—are discovered, he’s about to leave and says: “Fuck all you bitches.” He’s also been having sex with young women and videotaping them without consent; creep behaviour and, y’know, illegal. Kyle becomes, for a time, a major red herring to the sorority sisters because his misogyny makes him a plausible killer of women; the exact role Peter played in the original, just sans abortion storyline this time around.
Something troublesome about Black X-Mas is the way it leans too heavily on misogyny, considering it’s a film made in 2006 when we as a society were already long aware of the misogynistic tendencies in far too many slasher films. My biggest bone to pick here is that Clark’s backstory for Billy was that his parents locked him in the attic and later Billy killed them; neither the mother or the father were implicated any more than the other. Director-writer Glen Morgan altered this into Billy’s mother being the ultimate antagonist in the killer’s life. The mother cheats on the father, then she and her lover kill her husband, and later she rapes her own son to have a child with which she can then replace the son. It’s a brutally misogynistic creation and also a tired cliche in the slasher sub-genre, one overflowing with boys who hate their mothers so much they grew into serial killers. Not to mention that whole idea overlaps with real life and society, feeding into genuine social attitudes; not something a film like Black X-Mas, or any film at all for that matter, ought to be perpetuating.
The real brilliance of Black X-Mas is how it viciously subverts Christmas, and most specifically a Christian Christmas, through a manipulation of imagery and symbolism traditionally connected with the holiday. The biggest Christmastime image that the film targets is, naturally, Santa Claus. We get a great jump scare when a Santa decoration scares one of the characters who yells at it: “Fuck you, Santa Claus.” More important is the way the film sexualises Santa in one scene. The sexualisation of Santa isn’t new, that’s why we’ve got songs like “Santa Baby” or “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” but the film goes much further. A guy dressed up as Santa and visiting the psychiatric ward puts on the sleaze when he asks a nurse: “You ever see the backseat of a sleigh before?” He follows it up with: “You know Santa checks his list twice, I know you‘re very, very naughty.” Later when the sorority sisters are talking about Christmas one of them refers to Mr. Claus as a “fat voyeur.” Jolly old Saint Nick isn’t safe in this fantastically blasphemous film, and neither is Christianity.
Releasing Black X-Mas on Christmas Day in 2006 was a stroke of marketing genius. It also got the film protested by numerous Christian groups, like Liberty Counsel and Operation Just Say Merry Christmas, which, for horror in particular, is actually a badge of honour—just ask Martin Scorsese how it worked out for him and his career. To be fair, the Christians probably had a right to be concerned here, at least in their narrow little perspective, because Black X-Mas doesn’t hold back when it comes to blaspheming. The title of the film alone has been stylised as Black X-Mas, a subtle rejection of Christianity as part of the holiday season; quite literally taking the Christ out of Christmas, like so many Christians have worried about for decades and decades. Then there’s the conversation between the sorority sisters when one of them talks about various Christmas iconography and celebrations, telling a Christian sister: “It‘s all neopagan magic.”
A great callback to the original Black Christmas brings the Bible into this remake/sequel while again chipping away at Christian imagery. One of the sorority sisters gifts another a crystal unicorn because she knows the latter likes “the Bible and stuff.” [The re’em or reëm, translated as unicorn, is referenced nine times in the Hebrew Bible.] Like the original film, Black X-Mas turns the crystal unicorn into a weapon for the killer, but here, with the Christian connection, it’s transformed into weaponised Christianity, a religion with more blood on its hands than any other.
The film’s best spit in the eye of Christianity involves Billy’s cannibalism, playing off the act of Communion. More definitively, the film’s depiction of cannibalism attacks the Catholic symbolism of transubstantiation: the idea of Communion wafers and wine becoming the body and blood of Jesus Christ. To make it all the more horrifying, Billy chopped up his own mother and turned her into Christmas cookies. In one scene a character recounts Billy’s cannibalism and then refers to the psychiatric ward food saying: “It‘s the closest we could get to how mom used to taste.” That one line encompasses the plot’s incest and cannibalism, and because the cannibalism in the film evokes Christianity it’s all tied together in a grisly, blasphemous bow.
The word blasphemy in all its forms continues to come up when discussing Black X-Mas, and it’s because that is the one element which drives the film’s best moments. There’s actually a scene when one of the sorority sisters compares Billy to God, in reference to Billy’s voyeurism during his crimes, then later in a flashback scene young Agnes is downstairs while Billy walks around upstairs locked in the attic and his little sister/daughter thinks it’s “Santa and his reindeer.” Everything about this film means to take Christianity and Christmas alike down a peg, which is the finest thing a Christmas horror film can do.
For all its trashiness and exploitative nastiness, Black X-Mas works as a horror satire, using Christmas horror not as a seasonal cashgrab but more like a vehicle to take the piss out of all that’s sacred about Christmas with unadulterated slasher madness.