Black Christmas [2006]

Certificate: 15
Running time: 84 mins
Director: Glen Morgan
Starring: Michelle Trachtenberg, Katie Cassidy, Lacey Chabert, Oliver Hudson
Genre: Horror
Format: DVD
Country: USA/Canada

It wouldn’t be Christmas without someone going back to the table for seconds.  This time around the gorb is director Glen Morgan (Willard) to go back Bob Clark’s classic for something that strives to be something between a remake and a sequel. 

Crazed Sorority killer Billy (Robert Mann) escapes from an asylum for the criminally insane to return to his childhood home on Sorority row.  Once inside he begins to call the sisters from the cell phones of those he has just killed.

The construction of the script is one of interest, the exposition of Billy’s childhood explains a lot of the rationale behind what made Billy the special little boy (and man) he is.  The flashback sequences detailing the abuse of Billy by his mother and ultimately the revenge he extracts works really well.  There’s a case to be made that says Billy (as a character) is a lot more interesting when there’s mystery to his back story, all you have to do is look at Heath Ledgers Joker in The Dark Knight to see how that argument works but it’s almost a requirement in the horror genre.  For the most part the flashback film is of interest and enjoyable, it details Billy’s disease that left his skin yellow and the scene in which he kills his sister and parents is both brutal and has really guts (pun only slightly intended on that one).  The problems arise when time catches up on itself and we return to present day and Sorority row.

The casting of the film is, at least for some, problematic.  I’ve never warmed to Michelle Trachtenberg (Melissa), in Buffy The Vampire Slayer I found her whiney and annoying and in Black Christmas though she’s a number of years older she is still whiney and annoying, similarly Lacey Chabert (Party of Five) doesn’t have the believability to be studying in University let alone in mortal peril.  It’s damn near impossible to hope for their safety when the Sorority sisters are all in high pitch ‘whatever mode’.  The bright sparks are Katie Cassidy (Kelli) who though plays to a broad Sorority type has range, as witnessed in Supernatural, and Kristen Cloke (Leigh) who most Sci-Fi enthusiasts will recognize from just about…everything.  Painfully though these two actresses are hampered by the bland, unimaginative and other dreadful dialogue.  Case in point one, if you line up the Sorority sisters retort to their phone calls alongside that of Margot Kidder (as Barb in the 1974 version) and you realize just how ridiculously timid this film actually is, point two “until I see that she is dead she is alive” (Schrodinger’s sister anyone?).

The score of the original was one of the most atmospheric, simplistic and yet perfect pieces of scoring horror cinema has ever had.  The same could be sad for this film…but you’d be lying.  The score is a hatchet job from the ‘Horror Film Scores for Dummies’ including an arrangement that sounds, at one point, like it’s been taken straight from Psycho.  The rest of the score cheats in that terrible Hollywood horror way that has the audio go deafly silent before ramping up the volume to score a cheap fright from the audience.  It is cheap and unappreciated and weakens any claim to this being a legitimate horror.  In fact it only goes to highlight further (pretending that further highlighting was required) the absolutely and definitive lack of atmosphere and tension this film actually has.

The camera work is fine, there’s nothing especially exciting about it but more important there’s nothing terrible about it.  It’s conservative and by the book and we’ve seen it before.  One of the great things they achieved with the cinematography in 1974 was the ability to achieve tension at a split second by the use and reinforcement of the point of view short from Billy.  A smart director would look to build on that but it’s sadly one of the first things that’s abandoned which is odd when you consider the amount of bland horror motifs the hung on to during the making of this film.

It would be interesting to hear what Bob Clark has to say about what they (Hollywood) have done to his little bundle of terror as not only have they made a terrible film but have also risked devaluing one of his finest moments as a director.  Being that he served as Executive Producer he might not be able to look you in the eye.


James Gracey said...

This remake was very disappointing. I'm a HUGE fan of Bob Clarke's original, so obviously this was always going to pale in comparison. While I still kind of enjoyed it, it's not particularly good, and while competently made, it relies too much on tired genre conventions.

John Baxter said...

Yeah, some movies are more enjoyable than others. This was one of the others.

Direct to Video Connoisseur said...

I haven't seen the original in who knows how long, so I'll have to check that out again before I do this one, though based on your review I may not bother.

John Baxter said...

There are definitely better ways to spend a DVD night. It's sad how soulless this film is

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