Black Christmas (2006)
Directed by : Glen Morgan
Starring: Katie Cassidy, Michelle Trachtenberg, Kristen Cloke, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Lacey Chabert, Andrea Martin, Crystal Lowe, Oliver Hudson, Karin Konoval, Robert Mann
1/2 (out of 4)
Bob Clark’s Black Christmas was a little gem of a holiday horror flick that inspired a whole truckload of films, including John Carpenter’s Halloween. And like Halloween, recently remade by Rob Zombie, Black Christmas has also been, as they say, “re-imagined”, and the result is fairly close to what I expected. That is to say, most movies that are remade don’t need to be, and the new versions make the argument better than anyone. Glen Morgan’s version of Black Christmas is no exception – it’s a Christmas horror slasher that drops all the subtleties of the original and replaces them with 21st century cynicism and a high gore content, but little else.
Not that gore is a bad thing. In point of fact, it happens to be the best thing about the new Black Christmas, which shares in common with the original film a plot regarding a crazed psycho named Billy who makes menacing phone calls while he’s butchering sorority sisters in their home over Christmas holiday break. What surprised me was the amount of eye violence, which reaches levels of absurdity that not even Lucio Fulci could have imagined. I got a brief flashback to a scene in Fulci’s The Beyond after I witnessed an impalement through the eye, coming out the back of the victim’s head with the eyeball still attached to the murder weapon. It’s a brief amusement in a movie that is actually really stupid.
It’s Christmas time at the insert-funny-sorority-name-here house, and all the girls are gathered around the tree, exchanging gifts, drinking booze, and generally hating on Christmas and each other. “Fuck Christmas!” one girl cries, while another gives the the expected “it’s all bullshit” routine about the holiday’s pagan roots. Another fantasizes out loud about burying the hatchet with her estranged sister, “in her head”. During the insanely large amount of exposition given in a short 5 minute time frame (which in itself is appalling in its delivery), I realized the amount of hostility this film has towards Christmas. Is it just a sign of the times that everybody in Black Christmas is either a total bitch or a lunatic? I don’t know, but I don’t remember the original film taking this kind of attitude. That’s what made the original melancholic as well as frightening – the idea that death would intrude on what is normally a peaceful, happy affair. But in the remake, since nobody really cares about anything, we don’t care when they get killed. The girls, who are all fairly interchangeable, don’t have much to offer beyond being meat for the grinder. And what little they do offer makes them unlikeable.
The original gave never before seen motifs like killer-point-of-view and killer-calling-from-in-the-house. It also kept the origins of is murderer purposefully vague. Over thirty years later, we’ve all seen every possible variation on these themes, so the new movie jettisons all of that in favor of a back story of killer Billy and his sister Agnes. Parts of the film flash back to Billy growing up, where he has to endure his crazy mother murdering his father, then locking him up in the attic while occasionally coming up to engage in incest. Having been completely dumped for new baby sister Agnes, Billy goes berserk, killing mom and making Christmas cookies out of her. It’s all done in Grand Guignol fashion, and is probably the only truly interesting part of the flick.
The rest of the running time is dedicated to the different ways of being killed and having ones eyes removed to be used as tasty hors d’�uvre. Again, this would be fine if the plot devices and characters weren’t so stupid. In this day and age, when people are aware that a crazed serial killer is in the vicinity, would they really get into a car without checking the backseat first? And would they purposefully go into the attic where the killer has been determined to be hiding? Wouldn’t paramedics take a close look at supposed dead bodies to make sure they are really dead before zipping them up? Finally, I am confused as to how, in a movie that establishes that a blizzard has downed power lines, delayed police, and caused massive pile-ups, still manages to stage a denouement in a hospital where nurses, police, morgue attendants, victims, and television reporters had no trouble getting to.
I think underneath it all, Morgan was trying to deliver a commentary on what it means to be family, but it’s not strong enough to make it through the morass. The major problem though, is that no movie is seen in a vacuum, remakes especially. The reason one remakes a film (in an ideal world, of course) is to improve upon it. Morgan’s movie removes the elements that made the original work (like style, structure, atmosphere) and ramps up the ones that were left out for a good reason. There’s no particular charm to it, and it doesn’t have any strong characters in the style of Margot Kidder or John Saxon. But that’s par for the course in horror these days. As holiday slashers go, you could do worse than Black Christmas 2006, but then again you could certainly do better.
- Bill Gordon