Black Christmas

Even if it’s defended as counter-programming, “hip” or whatever else you want to call it, I fail to see how it can be a good idea to release a horror movie on Christmas Day, much less a resoundingly bad one like the “Black Christmas” remake. I know there have been recent precedents (Darkness in 2004, Wolf Creek last year), but at least those weren’t based on any holiday. The new version of Bob Clark’s 1974 thriller, considered by some to be the first slasher film, will work out your neck muscles with all the head shaking generated by its half-hearted plot, silly or stupid dialogue, choppy editing, ludicrous kill scenes and generalized absence of logic, architectural and otherwise.

Clark’s film isn’t spectacular, but it does have crafty shots from the killer’s point of view, disturbing phone calls, fleshed-out characters and a creepy “evil will carry on” ending (anyone interested in Clark’s career should check out the latest Rue Morgue magazine for a fabulous interview and recap of his work). The new movie, desperate to reach 80-something minutes, tacks on a puzzling, violent and perverted back-story for Billy, making him an unwanted child who was locked in the attic for years (?!?). Billy’s cold-hearted mother never loved him, killed his real dad, raised a daughter with another man and gave her the attention he never had, so one day he got mad and killed his mom and her new lover. This is all told through one mediocre flashback upon another. In the present day, Billy escapes the asylum and goes back to his childhood home, now housing a sorority (?!?), presumably not to launch into a Christmas carol. Michelle Trachtenberg (EuroTrip), Katie Cassidy (When a Stranger Calls), Lacey Chabert (Mean Girls) and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Bobby) are among the girls who have to suffer through the indignities of the script. From that point, it’s the usual game of who will survive the longest. Bored by the many ineptitudes spouted by the characters, I started looking at the film as a Royal Rumble and rooted for favourites to stay alive a little longer, but even that approach led to disappointment.

Most everybody looks like they can’t wait to get out of this doomed, won’t-be-on-the-resume project. Andrea Martin, the quietest sorority sister in the original, is painful to watch and looks downright embarrassed as the house mother, while Oliver Hudson is the token boyfriend that gets angry so he can be a suspect, sort of. And even though she’s certainly not alone, Kristen Cloke has nothing to work with as an older sister of one of the girls (does the tone of dark eye shadow means she’s snobbish?). The film is directed and written by Glen Morgan, who gave us the interesting oddity that was Willard in 2003. No scene in his “Black Christmas” comes remotely close to the virtuoso sequence in Willard where the cat is left to fend for himself in a house full of rats, and the film fails to commit to a specific tone: at no point is it self-conscious enough to be amusing or dark enough to be disquieting.

The large house (as well as the solid screenplay) of the 1974 film at least kept alive a suspension of disbelief that allowed you to think someone could indeed hide in the attic. Nothing like that here: there’s no feeling of time or place about the house. Billy seems to pop up at various unsuspected locations at will, and one specific way in which he indulges his voyeuristic tendencies is too ludicrous for words. The fixation on eyeballs could have worked in small doses, but it turns out it’s just an easy license for a few gory shots, none of them remarkable. The film is by no means worth spending your hard-earned money on, but I’ll be fair and mention a few moments that stand out positively: the first shot of Billy’s peeping eye, which is a nice nod to the most iconic shot of Clark’s movie, and the neat ending (let’s just say for all the deaths he caused, in the end it’s no Merry Christmas for Billy either). Small comforts, people. One of these good moments is over in the blink of an eye, while the other means the ordeal is over and you can go back to more interesting things in your life. At some point, the security guard at the mental hospital tells an especially depressing Santa that “this ain’t no place for Santa Claus. Not on Christmas.” That much I know: any room showing that movie ain’t no place for the discerning moviegoer, not on any day.

Review by Jean-François Tremblay