Agnes, it’s me, Billy: A tale of three Black Christmases

Photo: Black Christmas. Image Courtesy Shudder
Photo: Black Christmas. Image Courtesy Shudder /

1974’s Black Christmas is often cited as the first slasher film (it pre-dates Halloween by 4 years), and has just been remade for the second time. With an opening weekend of $4 million, the second remake was not exactly a rousing success out of the gate.

I consider the OG Black Christmas to be the film that sucked me into horror. I saw it in a theater at the tender age of 11, so for me, it’s my first horror love. I approached both remakes with a mixture of hope and skepticism.

Warning: the rest of this piece contains spoilers regarding the first two movies.

First, let’s talk about Bob Clark’s original Black Christmas. It was a tense, violent movie showing little blood. Billy was a terrifying character who was prone to talking in multiple voices during his crazed phone calls to the girls. He also used those voices when there was no one else around (other than poor, dead Clare, plastic bag over her head, mouth open in a frozen scream, placed in a rocking chair in the attic).

He frequently mentioned the name, Agnes, although we are never given any clue who she may be. These mentions included: “Agnes, it’s me, Billy. Don’t you tell anyone what we did.”

The sorority girl characters were likable, and Margot Kidder’s drunken Barb was both sympathetic and funny.  SCTV’s Andrea Martin played Phyl, and Olivia Hussey did an amazing job in the harrowing role of Jess, our Final Girl.

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In 2006, Black X-mas was released, and it was a remake that delved into the family history of our killer, Billy. It was an interesting and creative take, although part of what made Billy so frightening in the original BC was the fact that we knew nothing about him.

Billy had a vicious, domineering mother who not only killed Daddy, she also molested Billy. There was a very good chance that Billy’s little sister Agnes may have actually been his child.

That’s OK, though, because Billy eventually got back at her. In a wonderfully gross scene, he killed her, then used Christmas cookie cutters on her back to make some delicious Mom cookies. Truth be told, I actually liked most of Black X-mas…until it went off the rails in the last thirty minutes, introducing the adult Agnes as Billy’s accomplice.

This Agnes was just as crazy as her big brother/Dad, shown climbing up the inside structure of the house to commit murder and mayhem. Most distracting of all was the casting choice; Agnes was played by male actor Robert Mann, who didn’t fool me into believing he was a female for one minute. It just felt odd.

Still, I enjoyed the movie enough that I actually own it, and watch it sometimes during the holidays. It scored high points for casting Andrea Martin as Mrs. Mack, and for including the scene from the original that had the biggest impact on 11-year-old me: Clare’s suffocation and placement in the attic.

Cut to the newest remake, 2019’s Black Christmas. After seeing the first trailer, I was a little ticked off. It was very spoiler-y, showing us at least two of the girls being killed while you could clearly see their faces. It also completely gave away a potential plot twist by calling out Cary Elwes as a villain, and I was very irritated by a line uttered by one of the final girls. Dirty and bloodied, she faces the killer and says, “Ho ho ho, b***h!”

My response was “No no no, b***h!” Black Christmas is supposed to be SCARY, not FUNNY, what on earth was Blumhouse thinking? A later trailer eliminated the worst spoilers, and I decided to go into this with an open mind.

I bought a ticket for opening night, and I actually enjoyed it for the first hour, although it never really scared me as much as the first two versions. I liked the characters and the premise and was thankful the “Ho ho ho, b*tch” line was taken out.

Other than a few homages, this one really bore little similarity to the original BC. A character is named Jess, the cat is named Claudette, a plastic bag is used at one point, and one of the girls is killed in the attic, but that’s really it. Honestly, they would have been better off giving the film a different title instead of getting fans of the original all fired up.

Black Christmas
(from left) Riley (Imogen Poots), Kris (Aleyse Shannon) and Marty (Lily Donoghue) in “Black Christmas,” co-written and directed by Sophia Takal. /

It started out as a fun flick, and I enjoyed the girls’ performance at the fraternity party, where they sing a parody of “Up On the Housetop” to call out one of the brothers who sexually assaulted the main character, Riley. And the actresses playing the sorority sisters have great chemistry.

Then came the “twist”, and I found myself rolling my eyes. I won’t give it away, but let’s just say that what seemed to be a straight-up slasher movie suddenly decided to go the supernatural route.

It was also an odd choice to go PG-13, as some inventive kills were shown in a mostly bloodless fashion, or worse yet, not shown at all. If you can’t really be scary, you should at least be gory, right? It’s a shame because the movie showed some promise earlier on.

If you are a fan of the original or the first remake, by all means, see this one as well. But, honestly, you are not really losing out if you wait until it hits VOD or Blu ray.

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Are you a fan of the Black Christmas movies, and if so, which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments section.