Black Christmas (1974 & 2019): Attempts at Feminist Slashers



Black Christmas (1974) is an arguably accidental feminist film that features a pro-choice protagonist. Black Christmas (2019) is intentionally feminist and features a protagonist dealing with updated misogyny. Gabe unpack these good bad girls and if the films did these themes justice. Kat shares resources and information about safe abortions in the light of a doomed Roe V. Wade.


Sources in this Episode: Jess's Choice: How 'Black Christmas' (1974) Responsibly Addresses Abortion And Bodily Autonomy Slay, Girls: The Sliding Scale of Feminism in the Black Christmas Films Lined Lips, Spiked Bats: When You're a Woman It's Always Political National Network of Abortion Funds Resources for Abortion Access: https://abortionfunds.org/

View our curated list here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vRNe6HfpeYKvn5pKPsd0UxfLNlPjGCFXZlZi2vyPTdSTD9GI-CQqGi6XMN_qzxHD4yNP5UBKp0vmGCt/pub

 

Media from this week's episode:

Black Christmas (1974)

During their Christmas break, a group of sorority girls are stalked by a stranger.

Director: Bob Clark


Black Christmas (2019)

A group of female students is stalked by a stranger during their Christmas break. That is until the young sorority pledges discover that the killer is part of an underground college conspiracy.

Director: Sophia Takal

 

Those Good Bad Girls in Black Christmas

by Gabe Castro


RED: Quotes, someone else's words.


1974 Summary:

The original Black Christmas follows a group of sorority girls as they are slowly picked off by an unknown killer in the darkness. The girls have been harassed by a creepy male caller dubbed the Moaner. He calls and says horrifying and uncomfortable things about the girls or women in general. They don’t bother telling the police because what help are they anyway? As girls go missing and the others worry they eventually seek out help from the authorities but they are dismissed. It’s winter break, the girls are probably off with some boyfriend. It’s not until another man expresses concern, a girl’s father, that the police believe something is amiss.


Black Christmas (1974) is an original slasher. Before Halloween and the horror subgenre’s popularity, there was Black Christmas. It features creative POV shots for which Halloween is often praised for. The death scenes are long and suffocating. The final girl is human, vulnerable but steadfast. It’s also one of the first “the call is coming from inside the house” tropes. What makes Black Christmas quite interesting however is its incredibly feminist undertones. I say under because it seems from interviews with director Bob Clark that it wasn’t his original intent. It just comes with the territory when writing about vulnerable women. Women that are at the mercy of patriarchal power and are in direct opposition to society’s expectations of proper women.


Abortion Issues:

Our final girl, Jess is pregnant and she doesn’t want to be. It’s quite an amazing situation for a horror movie in the 1970s. She tells her boyfriend, Peter, that she wants an abortion. She does not sugarcoat it, no use of euphemisms. She wants an abortion. Released only a year after the ruling of Roe V. Wade, the presence of a final girl who steadfastly seeks an abortion in a horror film is transformative. Whether it was Clark’s intention or not, it certainly becomes that here. Jess is our protagonist and we never see her in a villainous light. Rather, we see her rage-fueled boyfriend, Peter, as the monster. He is destructive (destroying a piano) and is even believed to be the killer. While Jess is continually compassionate, seeking answers and fighting against the oppressive systems that seek to invalidate her and her fellow sisters’ experiences.


In an article on Dread Central titled, Jess's Choice: How 'Black Christmas' (1974) Responsibly Addresses Abortion And Bodily Autonomy, writer Mary Beth McAndrews further describes the important subtext of having a final girl like Jess and a villain like Peter. “Before he can get too excited, she quickly says ‘I’m getting an abortion’…She is merely telling Peter that she has made the decision. Yet, in this moment of establishing her bodily autonomy, Peter becomes livid, making the situation about him. Peter asks Jess, “Don’t you ever consider anyone but yourself?” He adopts manipulative and abusive language to weaponize Jess’s own decisions against her. Then he asks, “how could you do this to me today?” centering Jess’ experience on himself. He doesn’t care about Jess, but about how this affects him and his own personal goals. These questions snarled through his curled lips drip with cruelty and accusations, telling Jess she isn’t allowed to, or capable of, making this choice. To Peter, Jess’s body is his, especially since it’s bearing his seed.”


McAndrews goes on to explain that Jess doesn’t even have a big reason for not wanting to have the child. She is in a somewhat stable relationship, at a good place in her life, and fully capable of taking care of a child. She simply doesn’t want one right now. And that, in Peter’s eyes, makes her a pure villain. McAndrews says, “Even more, her abortion doesn’t define her. Jess isn’t just a character undergoing the procedure whose every action and motivation revolves around pregnancy. Instead, she is the final girl, a survivor, and a fighter not just against Peter but against all the men that refuse to listen to her, including the police.”


Those Good Bad Girls:

The true killer (which honestly should’ve just been Peter), is a stranger in the attic. A man who is superimposing his traumas onto the women in the house. He speaks of a mother. Of getting rid of a baby. Of abuse and torment. And he acts out these delusions onto the women of the house and the town. In an article on HorrorObsessive.com titled, Slay, Girls: The Sliding Scale of Feminism in the Black Christmas Films by Robin Moon they explain, “the killer is a psychosexual villain who targets solely women and girls, addressing them over the phone in an inherently sexual and creepy manner. He hides from women, luring and attacking them only when he knows they are vulnerable. After killing Clare, he sits her in a rocking chair and places a baby doll in her lap. His actions reflect an inferiority to and infantilization of women, enjoying control over their bodies after he has killed them. These are all signs of misogyny-fuelled murder.”


This brings me to another element of this film that makes it even more feminist. It’s the women. The girls in this sorority are not good girls. Not by the standards to which they are expected to abide. The character Barb is an outspoken, raunchy, and sexually confident woman. She smokes, drinks, and makes sexual innuendos that upset uppity old men. She’s a product of her time, making terribly sexist jokes or holding sexist/problematic ideologies. When a town girl is r*ped and murdered, she quips, “You can’t r*pe a townie.” She’s an entire problem. But she’s also just herself. She’s there, alongside her fellow sorority sisters, looking for the missing ones. She’s fighting back against the Moaner on the phone. When the father of one of the missing girls comes to find her, he is appalled by these girls. The police are also made uncomfortable by them. It’s easy to dismiss these girls as being wild and therefore not worthy of justice or their time. Even their house mother is a bit on the fringe, she allows their raucous behavior and supports them throughout. She fights to keep the men around them blind to their true nature. She knows what happens when men see you as less than.


For a genre that focuses and definitely in the years that followed this film, on the brutalization and torment of femme bodies, having the “good guys” be these “bad girls” is phenomenal.


2019 Summary:

The 2nd remake of Black Christmas follows a group of sorority girls as they are slowly being picked off by an unknown evil. Made in 2019 and directed by a woman, Sophia Takal, this one seeks to be as feminist as it’s allowed. Our final girl Riley doesn’t want an abortion but she is the victim of an on-campus sexual assault. The tone throughout is one of negligence. The boy who harmed her continues his college career unscathed while Riley fights to protect her sisters from similar circumstances that feel inevitable. As in the original, the girls are dismissed when they seek help. Not only because they are girls but because they are outspoken girls, seen as attention-seeking troublemakers. They’re SJWs and therefore, couldn’t have any real problems.


In an article on Mubi.com titled, Lined Lips, Spiked Bats: When You're a Woman It's Always Political, by Willow Catelyn Maclay, they explain some of the more subtle, powerful aspects of this feminsit film.

“There’s one scene early on where Riley Stone (Imogen Poots) is working her day job as a barista. Everything is normal until a man walks in she immediately recognizes. He’s the best friend of the man who raped her. He’s there for no reason other than to exert his power over her, but because Riley is working her day job she can’t say or do anything, except serve him. The new Black Christmas is filled to the brim with examples like these and goes about delivering them in frank, to the point, fashion that feels more appropriate for the times we now live in. Instead of dirty phone calls, the new edition of this story includes suggestive threatening text messages, and the anxieties around abortion and a woman’s right to choose are updated to that of rape culture.”


Failed Activism:

This remake has been given some harsh reviews. Many dislike the on-the-nose feminist commentary. Sorority girl Kris is highly opinionated. She has petitions regarding the curriculum and is constantly chiming in with typical activist rhetoric. Like Barb, she’s a problematic woman. She refuses to abide by society’s expectations and instead calls out the misogyny, racism, and patriarchal issues of the school and society. However, the constant quips and catchphrases feel forced and make Kris highly unlikable. She continually puts Riley into terrible situations where she is uncomfortable under the guise of fighting back. She puts all the onus on Riley to fight against her attacker, the system, and more. There’s a terrible music number that plays at her assault and is framed as a sassy win but instead comes off as incredibly uncomfortable (not only for the audience but also Riley).


In that same Slay Girls article, Moon goes on to say,

“This sentiment recurs consistently throughout the film, with Kris shaming Riley for not fighting back against her rapist at every opportunity and likening it to upholding the patriarchy. No respect for Riley’s boundaries or feelings is given, but instead, the responsibility for ending misogyny and rape culture is placed entirely on her shoulders, which is extremely problematic and insulting.”


Barb was a problem in the 1974 version, certainly. But Kris made feminists look bad. Furthermore, Kris is a black woman. She isn’t only fighting against the patriarchy but also the racist systems that oppress her and others like her. And yet, she is designed as an annoying harbinger. Were Kris our protagonist, we could explore more issues and possibly do so with more tact. It was easy to dismiss Kris and all of what she stood for simply because she was seen as annoying.


Pardon the Villainy:

The biggest issue with this film is actually the ending. It is revealed that the fraternity has awakened its founder’s spirit. He was a cultist and holds a terrible power that allows him to control the minds of the boys. These boys who were already terrible are now arguably victims too. We see as other boys not associated with the frat are affected by the power. A boyfriend is turned misogynist and awful. A potential friend/boyfriend is quickly turned into a foe. This begs the question, were these boys innocent? Did these girls murder victims?


That Slay Girls article explains the problem of this supernatural ending, The involvement of the supernatural undercuts any real-world reflection of patriarchy and misogyny, as it narrows it down to a frat cult that can be defeated. Misogyny in real life is ingrained in the fabric of society and expressed via microaggressions as well as direct violence towards and sexual assault of women, so any magical, otherworldly influence trivializes this reality. Furthermore, the twist brings into question whether the DKO pledges were actually evil, as the implication of brainwashing absolves them of any personal responsibility.


Riley and most of the women escape in the end after killing the DKO pledges, in an attempt at an empowering conclusion. However, it feels unearned and also validates Kris’ problematic attitude of burdening rape survivors with the responsibility of ‘fighting back’. If the pledges were brainwashed, then the women potentially just murdered a building full of innocent people, and judging by how the police officer interpreted the situation earlier in the film, Riley and the others could even be arrested. Even the idea that the evil is defeated is condescending in the context of real-world patriarchy.


Bad Endings:

We have always had an issue with the r*pe revenge trope and though this isn’t explicitly that, it does serve similar purposes. In the end, Riley and her sisters will be tried for the murder of an entire Fraternity’s worth of boys and a police officer. They didn’t win. The systems that exist and allow for the events to occur are still very much in place. What did we really learn?


In the original, we are unsure if Jess truly survives. Believing him to be the killer, Jess kills Peter. The police, also believing him to be the killer, accept that as a just end and leave Jess in the house. (I’m not sure why they didn’t at least bring her in for questioning.) They leave her there while Billy, the real killer (a mentally ill faceless monster - oh 1970s horror!), and as the phone continues to ring at the end of the film we can be led to believe she is no longer alive.


So while there are some truly feminist and impressive aspects to both of these films, they ultimately fall flat in the end. Still, I appreciate their existence and contribution to the F*ck the Patriarchy movement.

 

Resource Drop & Information About Abortions

by Kat Kushin


RED: Quotes, someone else's words.


For this series my section will be a bit different. Instead of just ranting about all the horrifying, and awful things that are happening around the planet, we’re gonna talk about what you can do about them. A big piece of why we wanted to do this series was as a resource share, call to action, and other methods of rallying the ghouls to protect the many things that are actively under attack, including but not limited to safe access to medical services, abortions, gender affirming care and contraceptive access. As many listeners know with the threats against Roe v. Wade, many states have been passing laws that make abortion, as well as just safe medical access for women, LGBTQIA+ youth and adults inaccessible. With all of the awful going on, we figured it would be a better use of our time, and yours to provide people with next steps for their frustration and rage. With this, we also open our platform to others, so If you know of any resources, rallies, petitions, etc. that you think our listeners should have access to, or want to use as an amplifying voice for these issues please post resources in our comments, email them to us, tag us, and we will share them out.


My main focus for this episode will be outlining access to abortion, and things you can do to either support others or yourself in finding resources, fighting for rights, among other things. I got the below information from the National Network of Abortion Funds, because they provide access guides and steps for those who may be in need of an abortion on how to find the services they need. They also provide lists of groups that support funding for abortion services.

If you need an Abortion, the website outlines steps to do so:

FOLLOW THESE STEPS: full list of funds.

  1. Find out if you have insurance that covers your abortion. Call your insurance company to ask if abortion is a covered benefit, and ask for an in-network clinic. You can often find their phone number on the back of your insurance card. If you know you have Medicaid, check this information to find out if your state covers abortion.

  2. Make an appointment at a clinic for your abortion before searching for funding. Call different clinics to find which one costs the least. Tell the clinic if you can’t afford it and ask if there are any discounts. It’s fine to make an appointment for your abortion even if you’re not sure how you’ll pay for it. Clinics don’t charge you for rescheduling. Find a clinic.

  3. Add up how much you can cover on your own. Abortion funds often don’t have the money to cover the entire cost of your abortion, so any money you can contribute will be important.

  4. Use our search box and map to find abortion funds that can help cover expenses. To maximize your funding sources: Search the state where your clinic appointment is located, as well as your home state if they are not the same— and click “List All National” to see funds that provide assistance nation-wide.

  5. Read the instructions before you contact an abortion fund on the list. You’ll find out if you qualify for funding and learn the best way to contact them.

  6. c There may be more than one local or national abortion fund that can help you with your abortion or other things you need on your way to getting an abortion such as transportation and childcare. Find out what to expect when you call abortion funds.

One thing that really is ridiculous but not surprising is that there are clinics that intentionally exist to act as a barrier and don’t give any abortions at all, but instead are targetting adds for people searching for abortion services as a means to mislead them, prolong the process, and ultimately push them outside the legal range for safe abortion care.

A Warning about Fake Abortion Clinics

There are some places out there that call themselves clinics, but don’t actually perform abortions. These “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” are often listed in phone books under Abortion or Abortion Alternatives. They also show up when you do Internet searches for “abortion.” They often will offer you free pregnancy tests or free ultrasounds, but the people who perform these services are not doctors. The places are anti-abortion and they will try to convince you not to have an abortion, often by giving you false, medically inaccurate information about the risks or costs of abortion. To protect yourself, you should never give your medical information to anyone who is not a doctor or working for a doctor’s office.


Something that I saw originally as a facebook meme but then did more research on is that it may be dangerous to track your period on your phone with the data sharing that takes place. As someone whose thoughts once entered into my head immediately disperse into the void, this was really upsetting to me because I genuinely rely on those kinds of trackers to have any idea what’s happening with my body. With the possible overturn of Roe v. Wade, as well as severe access restrictions in many states, it’s important to recognize the data sharing that companies, our government collect, and how that information could harm you if these laws get even more intense. It all sounds really intense but we briefly covered the ways in which our government already tracks us and uses data to find people. In fact, ICE has done significant data collection in attempts to find immigrants, and


My plan for all of these episodes is to try to focus them by issues covered within the content and to segment out resources based on that information. This episode features two versions of the film that have different focal points in terms of issues at hand, with some overlap. The two major themes that stood out for me in the first film was abortion, and in the second film, SA. The overlapping theme seen in both films was the flawed way that campuses internally act as judge and jury for cases of these issues, as well as the general lack of training and overall incompetency of campus police in handling real problems. The last overlapping theme being the ingrained misogyny within higher education, as well as fraternal societies, and the intersectional ways they can also act as toxic spaces drenched in white supremacy, classism and homophobia. There is a LOT of information, so I vetted them as best as I could. Please give us feedback on if there are resources not mentioned, or if you find any of the listed resources a problem. This is my first time creating a list of this scale, so I will make updates as necessary. Many of these links lead to even more lists of resources.