Genderbent Wednesdays Presents BLACK CHRISTMAS

When I began Genderbent Wednesdays at the beginning of the year, I wondered if I could keep to a monthly schedule. The answer was a quick and resounding no. So, I adjusted my expectations: I’d post a new column every other month. That, I figured, was perfectly doable.

It’s been roughly (checks calendar) six months since my last confession column.

Okay, so I failed that goal, too. Still, I’ve known since March that I wanted to tackle a classic slasher film, and what better month for that than October, right? Obviously, this wasn’t bad planning; this was DESTINY. As for that slasher film, well, I had a few options. I did consider Halloween for quite some time, being the quintessential horror film and all. But–as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago when I put all my blasphemy cards on the table–despite its obvious film significance, solid third act, and wonderfully creepy score, I’ve never managed to work up much passion for Halloween. Besides, I really liked the idea of examining a sorority movie for this particular column. It’s not that frat boys don’t die in horror films, of course, but they’re not usually terrorized in the same way: not stalked, not watched in their sleep. The calls don’t come from inside the house.

And so I chose one of my favorite horror movies, the slasher that actually predates Michael Myers and his babysitter-killing ways: Black Christmas.

DISCLAIMER

First, there will be ALL the SPOILERS. I feel like that should be sorta self-explanatory, and yet here we are. Also, for the purposes of this column, I’m only swapping genders and not sexualities–which is to say, if the character is a cis straight woman, they will now be a cis straight man. (There are no canon trans or non binary characters in this film.)

Lastly, a couple of TWs: a) I use GIFS from the film which include violence (asphyxiation, to be exact), and b) while there is no explicit rape in this movie, there are explicit rape threats, as well as an off-screen rape that’s briefly mentioned. We’ll be discussing all of these moments in some detail (including one particularly ugly comment about said off-screen assault), so please be aware if reading any of that will upset or harm you.

A CAST OF CHARACTERS

Jesse (Jess)
Bob (Barb)
Phil (Phyl)
Clark (Claire)
Mr. Mac (Mrs. Mac)
Petra (Peter)
Lt. Kendra Fuller (Lt. Ken Fuller)
Sergeant Nash (Sergeant Nash)
Mrs. Harrison (Mr. Harrison)
Christy (Chris)
The Killer (The Killer)
August (Agnes)
Billie (Billy)

THE RAMBLING ESSAY PART

Halfway through watching Black Christmas, I realized I wanted two remakes of this movie. One would be a (mostly) non-genderbent version that skewed relatively close to the original, with a more diverse cast and a slightly different ending. (Only slightly, though. This is the exceedingly rare film where I actually approve of the killer’s identity never being revealed; I’m glad Bob Clark–director of some other minor holiday movie called A Christmas Story–stuck to his guns and didn’t make Chris the murderer.) Such a remake might be unnecessary; after all, the original film still stands up pretty well after 44 years. Oddly, though, that’s actually why it appeals to me. Certain aspects of the story are so depressingly relevant today that a remake almost feels like a message: look at how little we’ve inched forward in almost half a century. (Also, it would hopefully erase the memory of the 2006 remake of Black Christmas, which is pretty awful on almost every level.) The other remake I’d create would be a considerably looser adaptation–pretty much just the basic concept–but with a genderbent cast. Boys as protagonists and victims, and girls as killers, authority figures, and cops.

What we’re going to be imagining together today, however, is a very close remake with a fully genderbent cast, and I’m going to tell you right now: it doesn’t totally work. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with it. Sometimes, even the smallest details offer up more than you think.

Consider the beginning of this movie, for example. We start Black Christmas outside the fraternity house, listening to a woman heavily breathe offscreen. Right away, the audience likely jumps to the wrong conclusion. Any male mouth breather outside a sorority, particularly in a horror movie, is immediately creepy; a woman, on the other hand, is probably just going to sound injured. Of course, there are female villains in Hollywood and even a few lady stalkers, but those are usually one-on-one, Fatal Attraction-type obsessions. A female serial stalker like this is just not what an audience has been groomed to expect . . . at least until she secretly climbs up the house and crawls into the attic. At that point, the audience would hopefully clue into the fact that she isn’t looking for help, although you never know. In this Age of Ludicrous Big Twists, some might still assume she’s hiding from the man who attacked her.

As the Killer lurks about upstairs, a frat party takes place downstairs: loud, certainly, but not a kegger. Is that credible, I wonder? All movie frat parties basically look the same: there’s a keg stand, a game of beer pong, a bunch of girls in bras or bikinis, someone having sex upstairs, and at least one very drunk jock stumbling about. Either way, I suppose, this party is winding down, as all the girls are shooed off–leaving the guys alone with the Killer. In the original film, the implication is very clear that the girls are now vulnerable. In this remake, however, that’s harder to pull off, not because there aren’t badass female characters in Hollywood, but because we don’t live in a culture where women are expected to protect (or be capable of protecting) their menfolk. The boyfriend doesn’t cling to the girlfriend during the scary movie or tell her to investigate the spooky noise outside. The boyfriend doesn’t whine, “Betty, I’m scared,” unless it’s a parody, and this is not. A close gender swapped remake of Black Christmas would be all about flipping those expectations, and it would be fascinating to see . . . but that doesn’t mean it’d be easy to pull off.

After Bob gets off the phone with his dad (who’s blown him off, so he can spend the holiday with some woman), the Killer calls. Jesse picks up the phone and quickly tells the other boys, “It’s her again, the moaner.” All the guys come over and listen to the Killer, who will over the course of the movie speak in multiple voices: sometimes masculine, sometimes feminine, always creepy and rarely coherent. (It’s never held in much doubt, though, that it’s a lone woman making the calls.) Truthfully, she’s pretty hard to understand at times: loud, explicit threats are punctuated by strange snorts and giggling, but the basics stick out, lines like “let me lick your pretty pink cunt” and “suck my juicy cock” and such. While listening, the guys are visibly and justifiably disturbed by this. However, Bob–who’s already in a pretty bad mood because of the whole dad thing–tells the Killer to stick her cock in an electrical socket. The Killer says she’ll stick her tongue up Bob’s pretty pussy. Bob calls her a fucking creep, and the Killer, suddenly very quiet and far too calm, says, “I’m going to kill you,” before hanging up.

There’s a fair bit to break down here.

Obviously, the language has to change to reflect correct anatomical parts. That’s probably the simplest change, although that doesn’t actually make it easy, and for pretty much the same reason that the rest of this scene is difficult to translate: women don’t generally make these kinds of obscene calls to men, and if they did, men likely wouldn’t be scared that the caller would act on them. It’s hard to imagine a group of frat buddies in a movie genuinely creeped out by a woman threatening to violate them over the phone; if anything, you feel like at least one of them would probably laugh and invite her to try. And technically, the plot doesn’t actually require the men to take the caller seriously at this point, but in a shot-for-shot remake where you’re building suspense, they would.

Clark, for instance, does take the call seriously and tells Bob that he shouldn’t have provoked the woman, reminding him that a man from town was raped a couple of weeks ago. Of course, it’s not impossible for a woman to rape a man; that does happen. It does, however, seem incredibly unlikely that other men in town would be frightened it might happen to them next, partially because a female serial rapist is statistically considerably less likely, and partially, I believe, because the majority of men aren’t taught that rape prevention is a burden of responsibility that they have to bear (at least, not until the popular Rape Prevention Tips meme). It feels unrealistic for a man to worry that his or another man’s behavior might result in him being sexually assaulted by a stranger, though it’s worth pointing out that not all films have to be realistic in order to be powerful.

Another thing worth pointing out: Clark’s use of the word “provoke” here is, well, a bit provoking, as if Bob’s the one to blame for the Killer’s soon-to-be murderous rampage. Considering I know full well that Bob doesn’t make it, that bothers me a bit. It bothers me even more now that I’ve seen a few plot synopses that, either consciously or unconsciously, are quick to echo this supposed cause-and-effect. But that’s bullshit: the boys here don’t die because Bob told off some creep on the phone. They die because someone chose to kill them. And I’m not just speaking from a “hey, maybe we should stop blaming the victims” perspective, either, because as you’ll remember, the Killer is calling the boys from inside their goddamn attic. Don’t even try and tell me that Barb/Bob is responsible for these murders; that’s some sexist garbage, and I’m not here for it.

Of course, none of that means Bob isn’t an asshole. He definitely is, bad day or not; when Clark reminds everyone about the guy from town who was raped, Bob opines that townies can’t be raped. I’ve got to admit, my sympathy for Bob did run into an abrupt wall right here. It’s interesting, though: while I’d be a happier person if this bit was scrapped, the line itself works from either a man or a woman. A guy says this line, I think he’s a creepy little asshole who’s probably not safe to be alone in an elevator with. A woman says this line, I think she’s an elitist little asshole who makes me bitter about all those women who will believe that creepy elevator asshole over you.

Clark doesn’t appreciate Bob’s witticisms and goes upstairs, as Mr. Mac, the house father, returns. (Bob, continuing his quest for Chief Asshat, refers to both Clark and Mr. Mac as “professional virgins.”) A quick Google search tells me that “house father” or “den father” is not actually a thing, and while some fraternities have house mothers, most of them don’t anymore, at least, not live-in ones. So, I guess that’s a problem, although I suspect it’d be pretty easy to write around. Either way, the boys give Mr. Mac a Christmas present as the ill-fated Clark begins packing upstairs with only the house cat for company. I am dubious that real fraternities come with house cats, but I have to admit, I’m charmed by the notion.

The Killer suffocates Clark with one of those fancy plastic covers you put over nice dresses.

I guess Clark could have a nice suit or something, but I suspect a plastic bag would be easier. It is interesting to see a woman strangle or suffocate anyone, though, much less a man; in film, it’s almost always the reverse. Presumably, this is where someone’s going to leap up and say, “A woman physically couldn’t strangle a grown man to death!” but obviously, they’re wrong, especially if the killer has both a bag and the element of surprise.

No one hears the struggle because everyone’s being too loud downstairs. The guys have gotten Mr. Mac clothes, specifically, some hideous dress he pretends to be grateful for. I expect this wouldn’t stay clothes, much less a dress, although I’ve gotta be honest, I’m really starting to warm to the idea of this mythical frat house where the parties aren’t all wild and the guys have a cat and the den father rocks drag and isn’t all “no homo” about it. Like I said before, it’s not always about realism, especially since fiction so often dictates what qualifies as realistic expectation.

That all being said, I’d actually be disappointed to lose certain female characters to their male counterparts in a GB remake. Mrs. Mac is actually one of them, as is–surprisingly–Jess. We’ll discuss both of these characters in more detail soon; for now, Jesse talks to his girlfriend, Petra, on the phone. He tells Petra he needs to see her, though insists nothing’s wrong. Frankly, Petra doesn’t sound too into it; apparently, tomorrow is a very important day for her. Eventually she agrees, though, telling her boyfriend that she loves him. Interestingly, Jesse only replies, “I know.” Admittedly, in this Han/Leia world, I do find it more interesting when it’s Jess, not Jesse, saying it. Either way, though, the implication is clear: Jesse might care about Petra, but he doesn’t capital L love her.

Meanwhile, Clark–still in his plastic death bag–has been dragged upstairs to sit in a rocking chair in the attic as the Killer sings, “Bye, Baby Bunting.” Consider the whole Psycho Mommy trope, this is probably the easiest scene in the entire film to translate.

Now it’s the next day. Mrs. Harrison, a prim woman in her 50’s, waits on a sidewalk to meet up with her son; unfortunately, her son is Dead Clark, so she’s been waiting a while. Also, a few kids hit her with snowballs. Their teacher shoos them off and apologizes for not keeping a better eye on them. Mrs. Harrison isn’t terribly grateful, and the teacher isn’t particularly apologetic, but she does direct the other woman to the sorority, where she meets Mr. Mac.

The meeting goes poorly. Mrs. Harrison is rather appalled by the place: the picture of an old woman flipping off the camera, the peace symbol made up of two naked people having sex. (It’s tame enough: you mostly just see legs, arms, and a butt–a butt that Mr. Mac awkwardly and unsuccessfully keeps trying to hide with his hand.) Mrs. Harrison insists she didn’t send her son here to drink and fool around, while Mr. Mac hastens to assure her that she shouldn’t get the wrong idea, that Dead Clark is a very “good boy.” Once he’s alone, though, Mr. Mac immediately switches off Sweet Mode and begins grousing about how he does the best job he can and he doesn’t know what these bastards expect from him. He amusingly–and unconvincingly–switches back to Sweet Mode when Mrs. Harrison catches him bellowing curses at the cat, and the two leave the house together, as Mrs. Harrison needs a ride.

None of this is impossible to accomplish by any means (though I’m not entirely certain Mrs. Harrison would ask a man she just met for transportation), but there are definitely some gender roles in play here. Take Mrs. Harrison, for instance: while a fussy, overprotective mother is probably represented just as often as a fussy, overprotective father, how they’re overprotective typically differs, particularly depending on the gender of their child. An older man who’s concerned about his daughter drinking and seeing obscene imagery in college will likely come off as silly and stuffy, but relatively normal; she’s “daddy’s little girl” and all. But a “momma’s boy” is a bit different when the “boy” in question is old enough to vote, something I suppose we can all thank Psycho for. Adult men are really only described as boys when they’ve done something terrible and someone else wants to excuse them for it. (And even then, that really only applies if the “boy” in question is white.) Otherwise, I think it’s pretty rare to hear an adult male referred to as a “good boy.” College-aged women can be good girls or bad girls, but college-aged guys are just . . . guys, who are supposed to party and drink, or, at the very least, don’t need to be protected from dirty thoughts and PG-13 levels of nudity. As such, Mrs. Harrison’s reactions here are much more likely to come across as irrational, neurotic, and creepy, rather than merely stuffy. She’s a weirdo, not a windbag, which means her relationship to Clark could easily have that whole “a boy’s best friend is his mother” vibe. (This is doubly so if Clark, as that “professional virgin,” is depicted the way Hollywood always depicts adult male virgins: pale, frail, impossibly awkward, and more than a little shrieky.)

Now let’s look at Mr. Mac. Like many people, Mr. Mac has two faces: the one he wears professionally when he has to interact with the students or their parents (cheerful, conciliatory, doting) and the one he wears when he’s alone (cranky, eccentric, pretty much a boozehound). There’s nothing gender-specific about acting differently with different groups of people, but considering that women, specifically, are pressured to smile and downplay and use a feminine-but-not-too-feminine voice, I must admit that, while seeing a man in the role could be interesting, I rather like watching Mrs. Mac seamlessly drop out of Sweet Mode and into . . . well, Beast Mode feels like I’m overselling it, but definitely Tired of Everyone’s Shit Mode. (And as someone’s who both a) actually gotten in trouble for having too dry a voice, and b) been gently teased for having an uncharacteristically perky phone voice, I’m all about seeing female characters modulating their voices in their day-to-day lives.)

But back to the story. Jesse and Petra are fighting, which means we’ve hit our most serious Genderbent Plot Complication: Jesse is pregnant with Petra’s baby.

Well, crap.

Jesse had decided to have an abortion. Petra is appalled, saying that Jesse hasn’t even asked her yet, and also doesn’t he ever think about anyone but himself? (If you’re wondering, this is the spot in my notes where I stopped to type “I CAN’T WAIT TILL YOU DIE.”) She’s also upset that Jesse decided to tell her this today of all days–it’s her big piano recital, apparently. (On this, and only this, I’m actually on Petra’s side: why in God’s name wouldn’t you wait until the next day to tell her? There’s a legal clock for abortion in this country–for now, at least, though with recent Supreme Court appointees, we’ll see how long that lasts–but I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that we’re pushing up against it.) Petra wants to see Jesse later that night; Jesse says fine, but his mind is made up.

Obviously, there are biological problems here. Outside of mpreg fanfiction, Jesse can’t be pregnant with Petra’s baby unless Jesse is a trans man and Petra is a trans woman, which is hardly ideal; while the trans community deserves to see themselves reflected in Hollywood, this is definitely NOT the ship to pick. These two have to be fighting over something else, then, and something significant enough to be considered a motive for murder. Infidelity seems to be the most obvious choice, though I’m not crazy about it because Jesse shouldn’t morally be in the wrong here. Straight-up jealousy could work, maybe; Petra is clearly possessive . . . though still, I can’t help but feel this works better if Petra is Peter again. Not because women can’t be envious or controlling (obviously not the case), but because it’s such a specific type of entitlement: Peter/Petra wants to take ownership of Jesse’s body; they feel it’s their right to make medical decisions for Jesse, to insist on Big Life Changes, to not care about anyone’s plans but their own. And maybe it’s just the current political climate in my country, but that’s the kind of entitlement that comes across as distinctly male to me. I did briefly consider making a case for the “Everyone But Peter and Jess” Genderswap remake, but alas, that doesn’t work: Jess obviously can’t live in a fraternity with Phil and Bob, and Peter and the Killer pretty much have to be the same gender for Plot Reasons. So, it’s a conundrum.

Let’s see, where were we . . . ah, Mrs. Harrison, Phil, and a drunk Bob have gone down to the police station to report Dead Clark’s disappearance. (Hm. I kind of skipped the scenes where Bob was getting drunk at Grumpy Santa’s workshop, probably because nothing much important happens. Still, it does raise the question: how do you handle popular folk characters in a genderbent remake: do you bend the character {so Mrs. Clause is handing out presents}, the character playing the character {so a girl is dressed up as Santa Claus}, or do you just leave poor Santa alone?) At any rate, they’re not getting much out of Sergeant Nash, who doesn’t take their concerns seriously. She tells Mrs. Harrison that if it’s any consolation, a college boy who goes missing is usually at a cabin with their girlfriend. Mrs. Harrison irritably says that’s not much consolation, because once again, Mrs. Harrison is the mom who doesn’t expect her grownup son to be having sex. In Hollywood, that means she’s either very Christian or very weird.

Drunk Bob also tells Sergeant Nash that the house address includes the word “fellatio,” which Nash doesn’t question because she doesn’t know what it means. This comes off as more of a prank than a weird come-on to me in the original version, though I’m not sure it would be the same in a GB swap. Later in the film, the other cops will see the sorority’s “address” and laugh their asses off, much to Nash’s initial bewilderment. It is, honest to God, one of my favorite scenes in this proposed remake: there’s something just delightful about a couple of lady cops cracking up at a dirty practical joke.

Meanwhile, Jesse tells Christy (Dead Clark’s girlfriend) that her boyfriend’s gone missing and the cops aren’t taking it seriously. Christy has better results: possibly because she has no compunctions about making a scene and yelling at Nash, possibly because she’s taken more seriously than a couple of college boys and a creepily overprotective mother, or possibly because she talks to the considerably more competent Lt. Kendra Fuller, who knows Chris and also just received a report from a worried father about his missing 13-year-old son. (Honestly, it’s probably some combination of the three, though it feels novel to write about a woman “making a scene” and being “taken more seriously” as a consequence.)

Back at the house, Bob (who is very drunk by now) starts talking about turtles who fuck for elongated periods of time, as one does. Presumably, he’s trying to make Mrs. Harrison feel uncomfortable (it’s succeeding) but really, he’s feeling guilty about being mean to Dead Clark the night before. He starts yelling that everyone thinks its his fault for driving Dead Clark away, that they’ve been implying it all afternoon, until Phil finally snaps that Bob’s drunk and need to go to bed.

None of this really needs to change; I’m mostly bringing it up because–except for the rape joke that I’d be happy to just dropkick from the script–I’ve always found Barb an interesting character in the original version. It’s easy to write her off as a mean girl and call it a day, but really, her arc goes more like this: she gets blown off by her mom at the holidays, she feels hurt, she takes it out on one of the girls, she gets drunk because she’s still hurt and also feels guilty about how she behaved, and then later gets murdered without basically any chance to defend herself by a killer whose actions she’s implicitly blamed for. I’ve honestly never been a huge proponent of creating more unlikable female heroines (mostly because I want more likable heroes in general), but I often wish Barb could’ve lived because I like the idea of that redemption story, where she’s initially kind of an asshole because she’s hurt but later, when the killer strikes, she summons that energy to be a badass and help her sisters instead. Barb, I’m positive, would fight back hard. And mind you, Bob could also totally have this redemption story, but it’d mean a lot less to me, considering that men do often get the opportunity to be unlikable and heroic simultaneously. (Though, admittedly, less in horror than in other genres.) I can’t help but feel, though, that it’s more likely Bob would be the drunk frat guy with no implicit or explicit emotional arc at all.

After Bob’s gone to bed, Phil, Jesse, Mrs. Harrison, and Christy leave to join the search party for the missing teenager and Dead Clark. One thing I like about this scene in a GB remake is that all the people providing either leadership or comfort are now women. Christy, for instance, is trying to make Jesse feel better by giving him a platonic shoulder rub. The cop giving instructions to the crowd is a woman; in fact, all the cops are. It’s a pleasant reversal that will continue pretty much throughout the film. Also, when a couple finds the boy’s body in the snow, it’s now the man who repeatedly screams while the woman, more practically, runs back to the cops for help. Then both Mrs. Harrison and the boy’s father run over, but it’s only the boy’s father who hysterically screams as he runs, while Mrs. Harrison is silent. Black Christmas is now the exceedingly rare horror film where the only woman who screams is the killer; otherwise, it’s all men.

It’s also, of course, mostly men who are dying. First, Dead Clark and then, possibly, Little Boy. (It’s never technically confirmed that he was murdered by our Killer.) Then, sadly, it’s Mr. Mac’s time, who searches for the cat in the attic, sees Dead Clark’s body, and is promptly killed. His cab driver (a woman and, potentially, someone who could have helped) comes up to the door but doesn’t see or hear anything and eventually drives away.

Jesse leaves the search party early because he’s meeting Petra at the house. Petra, by the way, has since given a sweaty, angry, and overall poor piano recital, to the surprise of no one. Afterwards, in a typically misplaced fit of rage, she pretty much kills the piano with her fists. It is admittedly fun to see a woman given the opportunity to express that level of fury; I don’t feel like I’ve seen very many Enraged Lady Pianist Characters before.

Anyway, Jesse returns to the house and gets another phone call full of the usual incoherences, all, “Please stop” and “I know what you did, Billie,” and “Where did you put the baby? Where did you put August, Billie?” and so forth. (BTW, I am condensing a few of the phone calls. This is already rather a long essay; you may have noticed.) Jesse responds with things like “Look, I’m telling you, you have the wrong number!” and “For God’s sake, what are you doing?” Neither line really feels authentic from a guy’s mouth, but honestly, neither line feels that authentic from a young girl’s mouth either, or at least not an American one. These line deliveries are so Olivia Hussey that it’s hard for me to picture anyone else saying them with sincerity.

As Jesse calls the police to report the obscene call, someone sneaks down the stairs and comes up behind him. The Killer? No, only Petra, in Full Passive Aggressive Asshat Mode.

Yup. Peter is played by Dave from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Jesse isn’t here for it: “Petra, what kind of game are you playing? I thought you wanted to talk, so why don’t you quit attacking me and have a rational, adult conversation?” Again, the exact wording doesn’t seem totally natural from a young guy, but the same sentiment could easily be expressed, absolutely.

Unfortunately, Jesse’s phone call to Sergeant Nash doesn’t go so well. Once again, she’s pretty dismissive and more openly sexist about it, too, telling Jesse that one of his girlfriends is probably just playing a prank on him. (She also tells Jesse that a child’s been murdered in the same bored tone you might expect from someone complaining that the office is out of coffee.) The only reason the call even gets taken seriously is because Mrs. Harrison, Christy, and Phil overhear it. Lt. Kendra Fuller is displeased that Nash hasn’t put into any of these cases together.

After hanging up, Jesse tells Petra about the murdered kid and Dead Clark’s disappearance. Petra offhandedly assures him that Dead Clark is all right, and then immediately manages to make the conversation all about her: “Now, Jesse, I know you’re upset, but I’ve got something to tell you: I’m leaving the conservatory . . . I’m quitting the conservatory and we’re getting married.” Jesse, naturally, is quite surprised to hear that his future has been so decided. He gently explains that just because Petra’s changed her plans doesn’t mean Jesse has changed his, that he still has things he wants to do and that Petra can’t expect him to drop all those ambitions now. When Petra insists that nothing has to change, Jesse quietly but decisively tells her, “I don’t want to marry you.”

And when Jesse sticks to his guns about the abortion (or whatever it ends up being–we’ll just stick with abortion for clarity’s sake), Petra is, once again, filled with rage, breaking Christmas ornaments and calling him a selfish bitch. (Selfish dick, maybe?) She talks about “killing our baby” and how it’s different from having a wart removed. “What are you trying to do to me?” she asks. “Jesse, let’s get one thing straight: you are not going to abort that baby.” Jesse tells Petra she can’t tell him what to do; Petra responds by stepping forward threateningly and telling Jesse that he’ll be very sorry before storming out. Her angry exit does not go unnoticed by Lt. Kendra Fuller.

Before continuing on, I have to mention this: years ago, I made up this list of my 10 Favorite Final Girls, and not only did I not include Jess, I singled her out as an example of a classic heroine with no personality. But either I was conflating Jess with Audra (Bill’s annoying love interest in It, also played by Hussey) or I’ve just grown appreciation for Jess overtime because she actually breaks some interesting Final Girl rules. (For instance, Jess quite obviously isn’t a virgin.) Admittedly, that’s probably because in 1974, those rules hadn’t been written yet. Still, Jess feels surprisingly modern: for a sweet, unassuming girl, she’s pretty direct, and she doesn’t put up with Peter’s bullshit, which I like immensely. She’s also apparently very career-oriented; she knows what she wants, and it’s definitely not to settle down with this dude and a kid. Jess refuses to let a man or an unexpected pregnancy get in the way of her goals. She’s made a decision to have an abortion, and as far as I can tell, it’s not some tragic choice for her. An important choice, certainly, but not something that’s tormenting her, a dark secret or hidden shame. That’s all pretty big, even today, and I mention it here not just to amend my past mistakes, but to point out that we lose all of that the second we make Jess a man. Jess is an important Final Girl; I’m not so sure Jesse is an important Final Boy.

Back to Kendra Fuller. She’s asking questions about Dead Clark, while a female technician puts a tap on the phone, and a female police officer sits outside in a car to stand guard for the boys. The questions Kendra poses and how she poses them (like “any emotional problems” and “who was he seeing besides Christy Hayden”) definitely come off a bit sexist, like, you know flirty college boys and their high-strung emotions. It’s sort of satisfying to see those assumptions directed at men for once.

Meanwhile, Petra lurks outside, like a creeper.

After all the cops have left (well, except for the one in the car), Phil gets upset and starts crying. He’s sure that Clark is dead (which, hey, he’s totally right about that), and Jesse tries to comfort him. It’s an interesting scene because it’s exactly the kind of moment that you’re more likely to see in real life than in a movie. Like, yeah, men are constantly pressured by society to be stoic, to be “manly,” etc., but in a real life situation when your friend is probably dead and you’re scared you might be next, you know, that’s a reasonable time to cry a little. I genuinely don’t think most people in real life would be like, “Wait, this dude’s crying just because his friend has probably been axe-murdered by someone who keeps calling the house? What a pussy.” And yet I see Hollywood execs freaking out for just that reason.

Phil goes upstairs and tries to sleep. Dead Clark continues to rock upstairs, now with a baby doll in hand.

Bob, passed out, suddenly wakes up, fumbling to use his inhaler (is he holding it upside down?) and telling Jesse that he “dreamed” someone came into his room.  Then he passes back out again, and Jesse goes downstairs to listen to some tiny little bastards caroling at the front door–which is why he doesn’t hear the Killer go back into Bob’s room, pick up a big glass unicorn figurine, and stab Bob multiple times with it. (Bob wakes up just in time to see himself get stabbed.) I’m fairly certain a GB remake would change the weapon, though I’m not sure what they’d use instead . . . I mean, a unicorn is pretty specific, like, traditionally, it represents virginity and purity and, I suppose, “girly-girlness.” What the hell is the male equivalent of all that?

If you’re wondering exactly why a bunch of kids are caroling when some 13-year-old boy just got murdered, well, that’s because the chaperone hadn’t heard yet. Another man runs up to tell him, and they all scoot off to safety. Then Jesse gets another obscene call bringing up his “wart removal,” a clear reference to his earlier discussion with Petra. Jesse starts to wonder if Petra’s the one behind all this, but refuses to tell the cops. Phil, who couldn’t sleep, comforts Jesse, saying that while Petra might be an asshole, he doesn’t think she’s the killer. But the very next phone call is from Petra, who’s crying like a weirdo and saying, “You can’t kill the baby.”

Because of those societal expectations, it’s easier to paint a man as unstable by making him weep–but it’s not that hard to do with a woman, either, considering that women are often assumed as “hysterical” or “histrionic” by their very nature. Shit, in the original film, Peter is described as “high-strung” because he’s an artist–I can only imagine this goes double for Petra. Anyway, if her eye makeup starts running and her hair has gone super poofy, the audience will understand Petra’s not just “lady emotional” but five seconds from picking up an axe and going to town with it.

Jesse and Phil realize that Petra can’t be the one harassing them, since she was upstairs earlier when the Killer called. They’re so relieved they laugh off two dorky women from the search party who briefly come up, offering to protect them. Despite Petra’s supposed alibi, though, Kendra Fuller is zeroing in on Petra as the primary suspect. She investigates the scene of the piano’s murder, which only strengthens her suspicions.

Phil and Jesse separate to lock the doors. (Seriously, HOW HAVE THEY NOT DONE THIS YET?) Phil goes upstairs to check on Bob and, sadly, is murdered. (Off screen, no less.) Jesse then gets another call. This time, he’s finally able to keep the Killer on the phone long enough for a trace, and it’s revealed that the Killer–DUN DUN DUN–has been calling from inside the house. Kendra tries to call the cop outside, but she’s dead because of course she’s dead: Cops Parked Outside The House have possibly the highest mortality rate of any movie cops ever, closely followed by the Off Duty Cop Who Walks In On A Convenience Store Robbery. Kendra then tells Nash to call the boys and calmly tell them to leave the house immediately. Under no circumstances is Nash to explain that the Killer is inside the house.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Nash quickly fucks this right up. (Nash is so getting fired the next day.) Jesse screams for Phil and Bob, justifiably hysteric in a scene that probably wouldn’t happen but absolutely needs to happen. Then, unwilling to leave them, Jesse grabs a poker and cautiously walks upstairs. He finds the bodies and runs. The Killer chases him, briefly catching Jesse by the hair. This could be changed, of course, but I kind of like the idea of casting a long-haired guy just for this moment.

Jesse gets away and locks himself in the cellar. The Killer attacks the door for a while (she’s quite theatrical about it) and then seems to leave . . . only for a shadow to appear outside a covered window, trying to peer in. It goes from window to window until Petra finally appears outside one that hasn’t been papered over and sees Jesse. Promptly, she breaks in like a creeper. Jesse tries to hide, but Petra finds him. “Why didn’t you answer me?” she asks, as Jesse cowers with a crowbar. “Jesse, you had me worried. What are you doing down here?” Obviously, Petra can’t read a room to save her life. Literally, in point of fact. Also, all this would be amazing to see.

Kendra Fuller (and others) arrive to the sound of Jesse screaming. They find him and Petra, both presumably dead: Jesse’s sitting with his head fallen back, and Petra is practically in his lap, a shot that I feel might be more striking in its original form, but am willing to be persuaded on. Petra is eyes-open dead; meanwhile, Jesse is just unconscious, which either means he hit his head in the struggle, or killed his girlfriend and promptly fainted. I’m sure you know which option I prefer. Jesse wakes when Kendra calls his name.

Finally, in our denouement, Jesse is back to sleep again, upstairs, with the help of some sedatives. There are cops and doctors all around. Also, Christy and Mrs. Harrison, who pretty much dropped out of the movie, like, 40 minutes ago. (Something I would also very much like to fix.) Mrs. Harrison suddenly faints due to shock, which is understandable enough, although not very exciting in a GB version of the script. Honestly, though, I’m not totally in love with it in the original, either, mostly because getting Mrs. Harrison to the hospital is the primary reason the cops leave a sedated Jesse alone in the house with only one cop outside for protection. Like, I get it, Jesse is supposed to be out for hours, and they have no reason to suspect the Killer is still alive; I’m fine with that. But these total assholes haven’t even bothered fully searching the house yet. Leaving some traumatized victim virtually alone in a Murder House that no one’s even bothered to check the attic of–even though they know the Killer was lurking around upstairs somewhere, making calls–all because one and only one dude needs to go to the ER? I mean, come on, that’s just sloppy writing. I love 90% of this ending, but I need a better excuse for this shit. For fuck’s sake, they take off without the bodies which have been discovered. (Technically, there’s an excuse for this, too. It’s just incredibly thin. All of the excuses here are just hideously, hideously thin.)

Anyway, yes. The lights are turned off as nearly everyone leaves. We pan up to the attic where Dead Clark and Dead Mr. Mac are still chilling, and we hear the Killer babble, proving, of course, that she is still very much alive. And as we push back from the house, the phone begins to ring.

It’s creepy and awesome in any version. But for real: let’s fix that plot hole, shall we?

CASTING CALLS

Jesse

Sadly, I couldn’t think of anyone I particularly liked for the role with long hair.

However, I am kind of leaning towards Ross Butler for the part. 13 Reasons Why is a show with its ups and downs, to put it mildly, but Butler does a fantastic job as Zach, particularly in second season, when he really gets to explore different facets of his character. I’d love to see him as the lead of something, and besides, considering Jesse spends the most time being frightened (either on the phone or getting chased through the house), I really like the idea of that part being played by someone of Butler’s tall, muscular physique. Other, less muscly possibilities: Keiynan Lonsdale or Josh Hutcherson, maybe?

Petra

Hm. Who do you cast when you want a possessive, temperamental, and unstable piano player dropout? I considered multiple actresses, from Sophie Turner to Candice King to Holland Roden to Lili Reinhart (DARK BETTY RETURNS), but ultimately, I’m going with Mia Wasikowska, who I feel would do justice to that sweaty, angry piano performance, and also to the instrument’s violent demise. Mia Wasikowska can do intense; I feel it in my bones.

Bob

It’s typecasting, I know, but after watching The 100 (well, four seasons of The 100–I’m behind, and not yet sure if I’m going to try and catch up), I think Richard Harmon would make an excellent Bob. Redemptive jerk with a sharp tongue and occasional emo eyes? Yeah, I’m gonna call it. Although I did consider Miles Heizer and Ezra Miller as well, and it might be fun to see Josh Hutcherson in what would pretty much be the anti-typecast.

Phil

I’ve always liked Phyl in the original version, though I have difficulty expressing why, exactly–she just seems like a nice, quietly amused, low-key nerd. For Phyl’s male counterpart, I considered Grant Gustin for a while (I know he can cry, and I like the idea of him busting out those Earth 2 glasses again), and also Joe Keery, who I really enjoy in Stranger Things, but in the end I decided to go with Atticus Mitchell, who just gave a great turn in Killjoys, and who I’d love to see in more things.

Lt. Kendra Fuller

The truth is, a lot of people could probably play Lt. Kendra Fuller really well, but there’s something about the idea of Sandra Oh being the competent lead detective in a horror movie that really appeals to me. (And no, I still haven’t seen Killing Eve yet; look, I don’t have BBC America, okay?) I absolutely adore Sandra Oh and would happily watch her in all the things. Alfre Woodard, however, could also be excellent to watch.

Laughing Cop

I didn’t discuss Laughing Cop in this essay by name, but she’s the one who sees the fellatio joke Nash didn’t understand and, dying of laughter, shows it to Kendra. Her entire role in this movie is to crack up with Sandra Oh, and I can think of no better person for that particular cameo than Allison Janney. I want this. I want it now.

Nash

Sergeant Nash was a hard one. She’s sort of an odd character, kind of a goofy, oblivious little fuckup. Obviously, a character actress was required, so going through the list of awesome actresses I always want to see more of, I landed squarely on Joan Cusack. (I heart you forever, Marcella!) Otherwise . . . Aubrey Plaza, maybe? (I can definitely picture her deadpan line about the dead kid.)

Mr. Mac

There are a few comedic actors who might do well with the house father who can go from syrupy sweet to extraordinarily grouchy on a dime–Stephen Tobolowsky was probably the strongest contender–but ultimately I had to go with Kurt Fuller. Cause, man. I didn’t appreciate this guy’s range until, after years of watching him play various assholes or evil creeps, I watched his total oddball coroner in Psych.

Mrs. Harrison

I predicted Mrs. Harrison would be painted as an over-the-top, possibly screechy, and almost certainly creepy mommy dearest type in a GB flip of this movie . . . but that’s not actually the character I want. So, I struggled for a while, until I came up with Patricia Clarkson, that is, who I feel could keep Mrs. Harrison a much more restrained, disapproving, and slightly snotty character: overprotective, yes, but not necessarily in a Mrs. Bates kind of way.

Dead Clark

I always figured Dead Clark would be best played by someone famous for the shock value, you know, Peeta dead in the first five minutes, or oh my God, they killed Spider-Man so fast! But then I thought, yes, let’s keep that, but also a) pick a guy known for horror so it’s a really good reversal, and b) find someone with distinctive bone structure, since Dead Clark’s biggest job is rocking on a chair with plastic wrap immortalizing his creepy, dead face. And lo and behold, Bill Skarsgård was immediately cast.

Christy

Christy’s primary job, OTOH, is to reassure the boys when they’re scared or upset, force the police to take them seriously, and otherwise be a potential source of protective awesomeness who’s worried about her missing boyfriend. I rather like China Anne-McClain for the role. (I’m behind on Black Lightning, as well, but I liked both her and Nafessa Williams a lot last season.) Possible alternates: Zendaya, Candice Patton, and Brianna Hildebrand.

The Killer

Finally, considering that we only ever see her eye, I’m inclined to pick someone known for voice acting. Cree Summer, maybe? As the clip demonstrates, she’s kind of the best.

CONCLUSIONS

Like I said before–thousands and thousands of words ago–a close genderbent remake of this movie doesn’t completely work. I’d miss too many things: our surprisingly awesome heroine, the themes of male entitlement, how abortion is pretty frankly discussed, especially for 1974, etc. But even a “loosely inspired” GB remake does interest me; I’d be SO EXCITED to see more horror films which allow women to be both killers and caretakers, while men just largely need to be protected.

Hm. I wonder if I could write that slasher novel. I’ll add it to the list.

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4 Responses to Genderbent Wednesdays Presents BLACK CHRISTMAS

  1. Great post! I actually wrote about Black Christmas (and Halloween) for my thesis in grad school. I agree that, while a GB reasoning would be fun, it would lose a lot of that female-specific stuff that makes the film so fascinating. Fun fact, the term sexual harassment was coined only one year after this film came out, which I think makes it incredibly topical and groundbreaking. A GB overhaul might require considering a similarly topical gender-issue, though I’m not sure exactly what that should be. Thinking cap required lol Oh, and YES, write that novel! 😁

    • Thanks! That sounds like an awesome thesis. And yes, shifting the topical-gender-issue does sound like a good idea, but I, too, am at a loss at what such an issue might be. The power dynamic is the problem. The only thing I can even think of still centers around sexual harassment and assault, but where nobody believes the boys are in trouble because of the false belief that guys can’t be sexually harassed. Even then, I’d probably still want some of the cops to be men, though, so it’s less of a female vs male thing and more of a toxic masculinity thing. But still, I’m not sure I’m totally sold. I’ll have to think about it. 🙂

  2. skhoot says:

    I see revenge fantasy in the Killer as a genderbent to female. If she’s trying to make the men in the frat house feel humiliated and frightened like a woman might feel in the same situation, leaving the gendered speech the way it is could actually work. Object rape is a thing, after all.

    Also, I think it might work to leave the pregnancy if Petra’s the one who is pregnant instead of Jess. Basically swap the genders and swap who is pregnant, but leave the reactions the same as the original character (modified as needed to fit that Petra’s the one who is pregnant.)

    Petra tells Jess she’s pregnant. Jess suggests that Petra get an abortion. Petra is appalled, etc. Petra eventually ends up calling and crying that if he wants her to, she’ll have the abortion (building the revenge motif – the killer is punishing men for their bad behavior.) The scene with Jess and Petra then reads as Jess killed Petra so he didn’t have to deal with her and the baby, and the phone in the attic rings at the end because Jess is a bad bad man who is about to get what he deserves.

    • My problem with this is that, in a Black Christmas reboot, I don’t think I want the guys to be getting their just desserts, or what have you. I totally wouldn’t mind seeing that in some other horror movie, mind. That could be very fun to watch, a revenge fantasy upon awful guys. But in a Black Christmas reboot, I actually find myself wanting something closer to the original, where the guys are just these vulnerable, innocent victims getting stalked, and sadly, that’s proven harder to work.

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