This is the third installment of a three-part series about holiday movies. The first part of this series broke down the best classic holiday movies, and the second part broke down the best indie holiday films. Readers had the opportunity to vote on their favorite films from each category via a poll on The Heights’ Instagram. The results from each poll informed the options for the final best film, featured in this article.
Boston College has spoken—the results for BC’s favorite holiday films are in.
In the “classic” category, BC voted for Elf as the best classic holiday film, which narrowly beat Home Alone by one percentage point—37 percent to 36 percent. Would I much rather have had The Polar Express take the prize of best classic holiday film? Yes, yes I would. But, I digress—Elf is a worthy and fun pick for BC’s favorite classic.
For the indie category, BC voted for Black Christmas as its favorite holiday film. The movie earned 35 percent of the vote. This race wasn’t as close as the classics, with the closest contender being The Lunch Date, which earned 25 percent of BC’s vote. I was a Black Christmas supporter in the polls, being a fan of horror myself. I’m glad that this pioneer slasher film is gaining traction.
But we’re not here to discuss whether or not I agree with the poll decisions—I’m going to figure out which film is objectively better, and I’ll prove why.
I rewatched both films before I wrote this article so that I could speak to each film’s specific strengths and weaknesses. To be fair, I had my friends watch both movies with me. We came to a unanimous conclusion on which was better, so I’m doing my best to remain unbiased.
I’ll begin by giving my thoughts on Elf. I’m not sure how much funnier a comedy film can be. My rewatch of the film reminded me of all of the comedic bits the movie has to offer—and there are lots of them. Think of Buddy getting attacked by a raccoon that he tries to befriend, Buddy starting a fight with a fake Santa in a shopping mall, or Buddy using maple syrup as a sauce for his spaghetti. That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to laughs in Elf. The film’s golden comedy writing makes it one of the most memorable films in the comedy genre, let alone the holiday genre.
There’s also a lot to love when it comes to Will Ferrell’s Buddy the Elf as a protagonist—he’s free of many bad qualities that plague our society. He has no sense of greed, puts others first, and he’s not afraid to be himself, even when that puts him at odds with the norms of New York City life. It’s easy to root for Buddy on his quest to reunite with his family and save Christmas.
The only criticism I have is the depiction of the North Pole. The setting is underwhelming, to say the least. The walls are a dull gray, the elves have basic pastel costumes, and there’s a lack of actual Christmas decor. This element may have been intentional to contribute toward Buddy’s motivation to leave the North Pole, but it wasn’t necessary. Buddy had the motivation to find his father and he saw differences between himself and the elves, leading him to his decision to leave. The North Pole setting didn’t have to suffer as a consequence of attempting to add to Buddy’s motivations, and the lack of holiday cheer in the setting was a missed opportunity.
That takes us to Black Christmas, a film that absolutely nails its setting to instill the unsettling tone that is required of a slasher movie. Black Christmas is unique in that it often incorporates shots from a first-person point of view of the killer. Viewers follow the murderer as he comes across unnerving holiday decor. Christmas carolers are singing and holiday parties are happening as murders are being committed just upstairs. This movie takes any preconceived idea of what a Christmas setting should be and twists it to use as a weapon of fear.
I also want to take a moment to appreciate Olivia Hussey’s Jess, the film’s protagonist. Instead of making stupid or unwarranted decisions as a “scream queen,” if you will, throughout the film, Jess presents herself as a sure and determined woman who stands up for her beliefs. She’s heroic, she’s a team player, but most importantly, she does everything right. Jess plays the game like a good-hearted person would, not as a typical horror movie character would.
Black Christmas’ fatal flaw is its weak attempts at comedy. Slasher films don’t always have to take themselves seriously, but Black Christmas would have been better without the cringe jokes. Once in a while, I would chuckle at Mrs. Mac’s (Marian Waldman) obsession with alcohol, or give a throwaway laugh at a joke made by the usually unfunny Barb (Margot Kidder). Black Christmas didn’t quite recognize that it could’ve—and should’ve—survived without its weak attempts at comedic relief.
As for which holiday film is better … well, it’s not an easy answer. Both movies live in subgenres of the holiday movie category. Elf is competing with countless films as a holiday comedy, while Black Christmas essentially invented the entire slasher genre, let alone the horror-Christmas genre. Both are at the top of their respective genre lists, though, making for a difficult decision.
I think that ultimately, I have to cite Black Christmas as the better Christmas film. When watching it, I felt a different kind of investment in Jess and her plot than I did with Buddy’s plot. While I was all for Buddy saving Christmas, there was always a sense that everything would be okay. Stakes never seemed too high, and I think that while I loved Buddy the Elf and what he stood for, he wasn’t all too relatable. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but when you invest in a film, I find it more enjoyable to do so when you can relate to the main character. That’s why I think that Black Christmas rightfully deserves the status of being BC’s best holiday film.