Billy’s Rage

Black Christmas, directed by Bob Clark in 1974, is considered by many a movie critic to be the first genuine slasher movie, yet its 2006 remake, the focus of this section, is cliche ridden and fairly dull. Since Psycho is regarded to have delivered many of the formulas that have heavily influenced the slasher genre, Black Christmas reworked bits and pieces of its predecessor, adding to it several of the now classical ingredients (for example mobile camera, killer’s subjective point of view), helping to constitute this very productive horror subgenre.11

The remake (re)tells the story of Billy and as is so frequently the case with remakes, ‘the Black Christmas remake furnishes the psychotic Billy with an extensive, explanatory back-story’ (Nelson 2010, 112). In an almost formulaic manner, Billy is shown to have been traumatized by his evil mother in early childhood and ‘consequently' kills attractive young women who live in a sorority on the site of his childhood home. By the time the Black Christmas remake was shown in movie theatres, the evil mother first introduced in Hitchcock’s Psycho had long become a stock character of horror film. Hitchcock’s inspiration drawn from Ed Gein and his simplistic, yet easily comprehensible ‘psychoanalytic’ reasoning, sufficed to explain the creation of a ‘movie monster' some fifty years later. It seems as if whenever there is a psychologically deviant child in horror film, the first person to blame is the mother, as if this is widely accepted by horror movie audiences, or at the very least by horror movie directors.

In many ways, Black Christmas spells out what Psycho only hinted at. Where Norma Bates was in fact absent throughout the movie, Billy’s mother is granted an almost unbearable presence until her removal. The Bates’ Oedipal family structure is literally shown onscreen by having Billy’s mother rape her son and giving birth to an inbred daughter. Norman's psychological incorporation of his mother and her eventual omnipresence in her absence is epitomized by Billy literally cannibalizing parts of his former oppressor, making the evil mother an inescapable presence of the traumatized slasher. The very graphic depiction of gore in this movie reaches its climax in this symbolic matricide gone horribly awry. This literal matricide abounds in abject imagery and it is filled with very dark humor. If Barbara Creed described Mrs. Bates as the ‘castrating parent’ (Creed 1994, 139ff.), referring to her punitive function and the many subliminal filmic clues given, Billy’s mother is quite obviously portrayed as being monstrous. Her disgusting appearance, the things she says, and, most importantly, the things she does render her as despicable right from the start. She is the fully developed evil mother of the slasher film that had its roots in Hitchcock’s Psycho. In her eventual absence, this evil mother exists predominantly in and through the deeds of her child, lacking much agency of her own. This is why the logic of the narrative is that she must be removed. She is not even supplied with a name but is only referred to as ‘Billy’s mother’ in the credits. She is nothing but a means to an end, an explanation for the creation of a monster. If Norma Bates, as presented in Psycho, was exclusively the product of Norman’s psyche—at least that is what is suggested to the movie audience—Billy is presented as the result of his mother’s monstrousness. Apart from fulfilling a legitimizing function, she is not granted any other role. She is reduced and defined by her relation to and influence on the child.

These two sons insidiously kill their mothers in an act of rage which is the starting point for their filmic killing sprees. Their taking arms against an evil oppressor is depicted as justified to a certain extent, yet it is also an act that can only have one consequence, which is their eventual demise. Billy’s fairly gory matricide, in particular, is diametrically opposed to the depiction of matricide in another horror movie classic, based on Stephen King’s debut novel from 1974. If Psycho and Black Christmas were predominantly concerned with the outcome of symbolic matricide gone awry, Carrie (1976) focuses on the path leading to the annihilation of the evil mother in horror movies. This movie also shows clearly the difference between sons and daughters of horror film killing their mothers.

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