In terms of exploiting the Christmas season for box office profits, 2006 has to be one of the most whorey years in recent memory. In 2006 alone, Tinseltown begat Deck the Halls, Unaccompanied Minors, The Santa Clause 3, The Holiday and The Nativity Story, followed on Christmas Day by Black Christmas; a remake of the iconic 1975 slasher of the same name. It’s fair to say that expectations were rather high for this remake, as it was written and directed by the guy who scripted Final Destination, and the executive producer was Bob Clark (who directed the 1975 original). Alas, 2006’s Black Christmas is a disaster in almost every conceivable way. Boring and incompetent, the film provides no thrills or chills, and is not imbued with any sort of tension or suspense. Instead, it’s a cesspool of repulsive, uncomfortable sadism.
Rather than going home for the Christmas holidays, a group of personality-free college girls choose to remain in their sorority home with housemother Mrs. Mac (Martin, who starred in the original Black Christmas). The girls have trouble getting into the Christmas spirit, though, as they bicker and deal with personal troubles, and so on. The boring evening is soon interrupted, though, when the house’s former tenant – the murderous Billy – escapes an insane asylum and returns to his childhood home where he savagely murdered his family several years prior.
Bob Clark’s original Black Christmas was not exactly rocket science from a narrative perspective; its brilliance came from its technical competence, sense of patience and restraint, and shocking ending. Of course, today’s movie-goers are less cultured, hence writer-director Glen Morgan’s re-imagining of Black Christmas has been specifically designed to give viewers more bang for their buck. There’s tonnes of senseless bloodletting here as eyes as gauged, ornaments and candy canes are used as stabbing objects, and icicles pierce the skin like butter. There are several problems with this approach. First of all, the editing is frantic, rendering most of the kills indecipherable. Secondly, the kills aren’t frightening or intense; they’re just uncomfortably graphic and in-your-face. And most importantly, the violent set-pieces aren’t fun; they’re just unpleasant. This exercise in Yuletide chills therefore quickly dissolves into an excruciating torture porn endurance test (think Hostel). There are a few good ideas here (the killer rings the girls using the cell phone of his last victim), but they’re wasted in Morgan’s drab filmmaking hands.
One of the biggest blunders of Black Christmas is that it gives the murderer – Billy – a huge back-story bursting with silliness and convention. Billy was a mysterious psychopath in the original, but here he’s an abused child with yellow skin and cruel parents. Such a trite history erases any sense of menace, and it forbids an opportunity for the film to be a whodunit slasher. Gone, too, is Billy’s range of male, female and child voices which suggested schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder… What we have here instead is just a standard-issue sicko. And because there’s so much focus on Billy, none of the sorority girls are given the chance to develop personalities. Thus, the girls are barely distinguishable from one another, and additional characters keep getting added to the mix for further bewilderment. We don’t grow to identify with the sorority sisters, and you do not care who lives or dies. Not to mention, we know that whoever goes off on their own will be the next victim. The editing is a mess as well – flashbacks to Billy’s past are inserted at random times, murdering the film’s flow and at times coming across as downright confusing.
The actors are all completely forgettable, playing one-note “bitchy sorority girl” roles without so much as a modicum of personality. The girls here are all television actresses, too – there’s Michelle Trachtenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Kristen Cloke (Millennium), Katie Cassidy (7th Heaven), Lacey Chabert (Party of Five) and even Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Wolf Lake). Due to Winstead’s subsequent Hollywood stardom (she went on to feature in the likes of Live Free or Die Hard and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), she’s easily the most recognisable face here, but she’s far too good for the half-written stick figure she plays. The only other cast member worth mentioning is Andrea Martin, who was in the original Black Christmas and who features here as housemother Mrs. Mac. Saddled with a poorly-written caricature of a character, Martin is completely wasted, and she makes no impression.
Although Glen Morgan is credited as the film’s writer and director, it may be unfair to lay too much of the blame on his shoulders for this mess. Apparently the distributors demanded re-shoots and re-editing in order to turn the final cut into the tensionless gore reel that it is, disposing of nuance, suspense and character development for splatter effects. The resulting picture is unforgivable. Remakes can work if they respectfully update a decades-old movie for a new generation, but Black Christmas doesn’t do this; instead, it’s a run-of-the-mill rehash of generic slasher conventions featuring a bunch of forgettable pretty faces ready to be slaughtered.