There is a new version of Black Christmas coming out soon and, if you’re involved in the horror world even just a touch, you’ve probably heard about the uproar that came with the reveal of its rating. I have a lot of ideas about why some people might be outraged at the very idea of the new Black Christmas being marketed as it is, but the most baffling reason I’ve come across is that somehow a PG-13 rating makes it so inferior to the original that it’s not even horror anymore...
...I don’t really know who gets to decide what is and isn’t horror, but I do know policing something like this and deciding before its release that you already hate it probably means it wasn’t made for you anyway. Everyone has different tastes, of course, but no one person’s is superior to any other, and to denounce a movie so completely just because you decide it’s not hardcore enough for you is completely missing the point. This version of Black Christmas may be the only one so far that doesn’t have an R rating, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t out to get us. Co-writer April Wolfe came out against the backlash almost immediately to explain that it was written with an R rating in mind, after all.
Either because I am so easily scared anyway, or because I no longer pay as much attention, I don’t quite know what the rating fuss is for. I can only assume an R rating on a horror movie is tantamount to it having more clout or freedom because almost all limitations would be removed, but there’s an opposite, almost limiting effect that comes with that rating. An R rating in a theatrical run means there are whole demographics of an audience who wouldn’t be able to see it without supervision. There have been excellent, completely traumatizing horror movies released with a PG-13 or less rating throughout the years. Jaws made young people afraid to swim in the ocean when it came out, and it’s rated PG to this day. The clown from Poltergeist (PG-13) made my own mom afraid to look under the bed. The first time I watched The Ring (PG-13) I did it from the hallway of my house. Even Psycho, which by MPAA standards is rated R today, was rated the modern-day equivalent of G on its initial release, and that movie traumatized entire generations of people and changed filmmaking—and bathing habits—forever.
I asked several people for several days what the most effective horror movie with a less-than-R rating was for them, and even watched a few of them before this writing. What I discovered was that you don’t need graphic on-screen violence, or sex, or any other Giant Red R-Rating Flag to scare people. All you need to do is get under their skin. Make them think. What we can come up with in our minds is way worse than anything we can be shown. Some of my favorite responses weren’t even conventionally thought of as horror. They were Disney movies. Movies that took some definitely graphic and not-entirely-for-kids source material and turned them into something generations of us watched over and over again growing up. Snow White and Pinocchio are family movies on the face of them, but have you ever stopped to think about them really, or read what they were adapted from?
Watching this rating outrage happen on my social media was cringe-worthy to say the least, in part because I don’t put a lot of stock in what a corporation decides is too brutal, but there have been some great moments to come from it. Perhaps my favorite was watching people respond to April Wolfe’s tweets with beaming proclamations that they were going to take their daughters or their sisters out to see this Black Christmas on its release, and her responding with equal excitement that yes, you should, and a PG-13 rating means the more the merrier anyway, doesn’t it? Because she’s right, and that more than anything is a fact to be celebrated. Revisit some of the themes of the original, and consider what it means that this one has already been described as dealing with “timely” issues, and try to come back and give me one good reason why PG-13 is a bad rating. I don’t want to tout too long on its feminist potential, though, because it doesn’t have to be feminist to be targeted at teenage girls.
The only thing a lower rating on any film can really do is bring more potential fans to the work, and if it so happens that some of the new fans wipe out the old ones afraid and angry that it can’t live up to its original, then so much the better. One of my favorite discoveries about horror films—after getting mostly over my initial fear—and the community I have had the good fortune to carve out because of it, is the way the genre can take the things we find the hardest to talk about and frame them in ways that are easy to digest. And there are a lot of things in the world that younger audiences have a lot of trouble trying to put into words. If watching some college girls kick some dude’s ass because he came to the wrong sorority gives them a reference point for how to talk about something like sexual assault then so be it, how badass is that? If Laurie Strode in Halloween can help people cope with home invasion, there’s no reason Black Christmas can’t do the same for a new generation dealing with slightly different issues. The horror world needs more female fans anyway, and for the most part it seems like the only people willing to cater to them and tell their stories are female filmmakers. So be it, we need more of them anyway.
Gatekeeping is never a good look in any community, and it has been a little heartbreaking to see in one I’ve found so many wonderful opportunities in, but it still seems like those with the old ideas are in the minority, and who knows? Maybe all this outrage will make people more interested in seeing the movie. If it works, though, let’s all remember it was probably not a marketing scheme. You just lost the fight and missed the point along the way. Lower MPAA ratings mean potentially larger audiences and someone, somewhere is probably gonna see themselves in this movie. It was, after all, made for young women by women, a combination there is tragically not enough of. Young women are some of the most overlooked demographic in horror especially, and any steps we can take to provide them with a safe space to see and explore for themselves the things they may not be able to say or do should be taken without hesitation. All women, and young women especially, deserve to be able to see themselves on screen as the complex people they are in life. Scared, maybe, but also strong, and powerful. Their own heroes. If it takes a PG-13 rating going on a movie written with an R rating in mind to show that, great. Boundaries do not always equal limitations. Ask any woman you know.
By Katelyn Nelson