Synopsis: The horror classic Black Christmas, which spawned a wave of hit slasher films, is re-imagined for a new generation of fans in this terrifying remake. A group of sorority sisters, snowed in over the holiday break, tried desperately to survive the night as a relentless killer terrorizes and murders them, one by one. Featuring an old-school slasher story, the modern horror touch of director Glen Morgan (writer/producer, Final Destination) and a cast of today’s hottest stars, including Michelle Trachtenberg (Eurotrip), Lacey Chabert (Mean Girls), Katie Cassidy (When A Stranger Calls), and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Grindhouse), Black Christmas is a thrilling, blood-soaked screamfest.
eyelights: its a new spin on the old classic.
eyesores: the ending was one ending too many. the dialogues are poor. the acting isn’t stellar.
“Merry Christmas, you mother!@#$er!”
I’m a minor fan of 1974’s ‘Black Christmas‘. I picked it up when it was first released on DVD, having never heard of it before, just because a twisted take on Christmas appealed to me. But it doesn’t make it a classic. At best it’s a cult classic, known only to a few genre fans.
Which, these days, makes it ripe for remaking.
32 years after the Bob Clark original, a modern take on the same story was released. Written and directed by Glen Morgan, who gave us ‘Final Destination’, it was intended as both a respectful remake and an exploration of the mysterious killer’s backstory – something which Clark hadn’t done.
And then the studio interfered.
Given the popularity of so-called “torture porn” at the time, studio head Bob Weinstein decided that the picture needed to be more gruesome. Morgan was against it, but he was overruled by Weinstein, leaving the filmmaker to try to attenuate the extent of the damage being made to his film.
The violence is pretty brutal. Thankfully, we don’t see that much of it (it’s not quite torture porn!), but what the killer does to his/her victims is quite horrible when you think of it: there’s all manners of mutilation, gouging and even some cannibalism in this version of the story.
Personally, for all its flaws, I preferred the more atmospheric approach of the original. While there were murders, most of the picture was about the growing paranoia and feeling of insecurity. The scariest pictures work on your brain, tapping into your fears; they don’t titillate the senses.
2006’s ‘Black Christmas’ lack subtlety: it starts with a murder. Then it takes us to a hospital for the criminally insane – one that has a children’s ward. Seriously. Either that, or it’s a normal hospital which so happens to have a ward for the criminally insane. It doesn’t make sense.
And this is the biggest problem with ‘Black Christmas’, beyond its needlessly violent persuasion: the script just isn’t very good. It’s filled with nonsensical scenes, poorly done exposition (especially in the beginning), and the dialogues are pretty horrible, if not plain stupid.
(It doesn’t help that the delivery of this cast of ingénues would sometimes best be described as “campy”.)
But, back to the psycho ward…
It’s Christmas Eve and Billy has been trying to escape every Christmas Eve since he was first locked up 15 years ago. Obviously he escapes this time. But it’s only thanks to a guard who actually unlocks his room and leaves the door wide open – without calling for back-up first.
…especially knowing that Billy tries to escape on this night every year. Heck, why don’t they just double down on security or put Billy in a restraint on that night?
Then Billy kills the visiting Santa Claus, and leaves in his stead – as though no one could tell that his build and facial features (albeit partly disguised) were totally different. And it doesn’t explain why all the pools of gushing blood were magically cleaned off his Santa suit.
He must have popped by the hospital laundry facilities before leaving, I’m guessing.
What’s funny is that we now know that there are two killers: Billy, and whoever killed the girl in the first scene. And yet the picture spends an inordinate amount of time trying to make us suspicious of pretty much each character that shows up – even though they mostly stay together.
It also spends a lot time trying to fuel paranoia by having someone watch the girls, even though it’s impossible for the killer to see them from those vantage points: through a pin hole in the wall, or beneath a loose tile on the bathroom floor. Does the killer have telescopic eyes?
It’s suggested that the killer might be moving between the walls, but how much space is there between the walls there? And how thin are the walls, that someone could push a pin out from the other side and peer through? Paper thin, I’d have to wager. And how would they get beneath the floor?
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Even worse is that the killer makes calls to the girls, but we know he/she is in the house. Firstly, the sounds this person makes are impossible to make by one person alone. Secondly, given the threatening rants, you would hear it in the house – since the killer is supposedly hiding there.
And especially since the walls are so damned thin, right?
Anyway, one quickly realizes that the killer couldn’t possibly have made these calls anyway, because they were made on some of the victims’ cel phones, and not only would some of them require passwords, but the killer wouldn’t likely know how to operate a damned cel phone anyway.
Especially if the killer is Billy, who has never been exposed to modern life. Ever.
Where this ‘Black Christmas’ gets interesting is in its exploration of Billy and his whole family. The picture flashes back to 1970, to Billy’s origin, and then to 1975, 1982 and, finally, 1991. His story is told in bits and bites, which is a cool device because it breaks up the doldrums.
I wasn’t entirely convinced by Billy’s backstory (could this actually happen in modern society, without child protection services or the cops being involved?), but it was interesting nonetheless – in a Grimm sort of way. At least it explains Billy’s behaviour and mental instability.
Another thing that the picture does well is in establishing that Christmas Eve is chaos, so no one really knows who’s already gone for the holidays and who remains. That leaves the characters uncertain of what’s going on, so it takes them 2/3 of the picture too realize there’s a killer.
I was also pleased with the way in which the characters always found reasons to stay or return to the sorority house. Well done. It would have been so easy for them to just leave and escape the slaughter, but the filmmakers’ contrivances didn’t feel too forced in this case.
And, on a technical level, I really enjoyed the location: the sorority house was gorgeous and the Christmas lights were that of dreams (how these girls got them all up, however, is another matter). And I also enjoyed the surround effects of the picture. It was a pleasing audio-visual experience.
However, any goodwill that one might have for ‘Black Christmas’ ends with its ridiculous epilogue, wherein both killers were thought dead and brought to the morgue – but somehow survived. Really? I was enjoying it to some degree until that point. This actually ruins the movie, in my estimation.
And it wasn’t a masterpiece in the first place.
No, the original ‘Black Christmas’ wasn’t a classic, and this one is even less of one. It adds a few interesting elements to the story, but it doesn’t do any of it especially well. Who was to blame? The writer-director, or the studio? Probably both. Oh, and the casting director.
It doesn’t matter, anyway: there’s no holly jolly Christmas here.
Date of viewing: December 22, 2014