31 Screams in October, Vol. 2, #2: Black Christmas (2006)

Posted: October 2, 2015 in Movie Review
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Black Christmas (2006)

Director: Glen Morgan

Starring: Katie Cassidy, Michelle Trachtenberg, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Oliver Hudson, Lacey Chabert, Kristin Cloke, Andrea Martin

A pile of crap, by any other name, would still be a pile of crap. The original “Black Christmas” (made in Canada in 1974 and starring Olivia Hussey of “Romeo & Juliet” fame) was the first movie I chose to write a review for my Reel Affinity blog. A big reason for that was my love of horror movies and that film’s importance to the genre’s history, but also because it is a very suspenseful film. It’s good to know that Glen Morgan, the writer/director of the 2006 remake, feels the same way. That makes it all the more disappointing that his tribute to “Black Christmas” is as terrible as it is.

Going with an approach that Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” remake would also foolishly adopt the next year, “Black Christmas” right away decides the thing to do is to take what was originally a mysterious, spooky and unseen villain and give him a backstory filled with the generic abusive childhood with absolute trailer trash parents. Well, actually, Billy’s biological father is a kind soul… so, naturally, he has to die a gruesome death with his son in full view of the whole thing. Billy’s origin story shows him to be afflicted with an extreme form of jaundice (giving his skin a radioactive yellowish glow), locked up in the attic by his deranged mother and stepfather… and, oh yeah, at the age of 12 he’s raped by his mother and is thus both the father AND brother to Agnes! Ewwwww. Eight years pass and, on Christmas Eve 1991, Billy disfigures Agnes by tearing out her right eye (and then eating it!), as well as killing his mother and stepfather, making Christmas cookies out of his mother’s skin while he waits for the cops to show up. Again with the “ewwwww.”

Now, it would be bad enough if the movie had contained just the one scene of someone having their eyeballs forcibly removed and then consumed, but “Black Christmas” gets downright obsessive about it! Almost every kill scene has something to do with the aforementioned gruesome act. On top of being grotesque even for those well-versed enough in horror films to have a strong stomach, it’s also devoid of creativity. Half the fun of slasher films is the endless possibilities for elaborate death scenes. But “Black Christmas” doesn’t care about any of that. It doesn’t even take care of all the backstory crap in one lump as a prologue, in my opinion, as it should. As a result, what little plot the movie possesses is put on hold and suffers every time another flasback sequence is inserted.

I suppose now’s as good a time as any to briefly touch on the part of the story which takes place in the present day. I’ll only give it as much attention as the writers did. So, Billy breaks out of a psych ward, but the murders at the sorority house begin before this even happens. This lets us know far sooner than we should be finding out that (for no apparent reason) Agnes is in league with her father/brother despite having been disfigured by him. As if the proceedings weren’t absurd enough already, it’s painfully obvious that the character of Agnes is played by a musclebound man. About the only drama going on is that Kelli (Katie Cassidy) is having to deal with Kyle (Oliver Hudson), an unfaithful scumbag boyfriend whose eventual death is cause for celebration rather than despair. The only cast member from the 1974 version who makes an appearance here is Andrea Martin, this time playing house mother Mrs. Mac. Other than Mrs. Mac, the only character who retains the same name is Clair. When she goes missing (having been Billy’s first victim), a family member shows up looking for her, this time her older sister. Too many of the death scenes are lumped together, and it leaves us without some of the more appealing characters for far too much of the film’s final act. And speaking of the climax, the scenes in the hospital (present only for an extra “boo!” moment and chase sequence) can’t help but feel tacked on.

Depending on whether you are watching the US or the international version, certain death scenes are different, as is the ending. Either way, it seems pretty clear this movie wasn’t made with a sequel in mind, and that’s probably a blessing in disguise. The only moment of humor comes in the US version of Melissa (Michelle Trachtenberg)’s demise. She gets scalped from behind when a pair of ice skates is hurled at her head, the skates being a reference to the actress’s previous film: Disney’s “The Ice Princess.”

It’s really impressive, the depths of mediocrity to which 2006’s “Black Christmas” sinks. While the movie’s plot differs wildly from the original, certain key elements of the 1974 film are cherry-picked and thrown in out of context with reckless abandon. Puzzling is how everyone involved was able to package this ugly mess, put a bow on it, and present it as something other than what it is. In all the promotional material, much is made of how this movie is really suspenseful and creepy and not at all like the standard gorefests that audiences have become used to… except that’s exactly what this is. Taking a line from the original, one of the two “making of…” featurettes tucked away in the special features of the DVD is entitled “What Have You Done?” As fitting a question as any.

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    You have convinced me NOT to see this remake. Good grief. Well written, as always, by the way!

    • Thank you! Yes, you would be wise to stick with the 1974 original, which is one of my top ten favorite horror films. With the cast assembled here, it should be a better movie. Because of them, in spite of its EXTREME awfulness, I have managed to see the ’06 version multiple times.

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