I kind of like the concept of opening a horror picture on Christmas day — in theory at least. It adds to the mix and the choices. (Not everyone feels the need to be cinematically uplifted.). Plus, it tends to make for some ancillary amusement when it incites a faction of the public into a frenzy of high dudgeon outrage that such a thing could be allowed. Unfortunately, in the case of Glen Morgan’s Black Christmas there’s little cause for celebration — unless, of course, your appetite for eye-plucking wasn’t quite sated by Gregory Dark’s truly awful See No Evil earlier this year. In Black Christmas, the eyes definitely have it.
For those who aren’t up on their horror history, this is a remake of Bob Clark’s 1974 film of the same title. (Yes, ironically, this is the same Bob Clark who gave us a very different Christmas perennial with A Christmas Story nine years later.) It’s been ages since I saw Clark’s original, and I don’t remember all that much about it, but its impact on the horror genre is hard to forget since it paved the way for every slasher picture to come. In a very real sense, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger are the offspring of Black Christmas. It depends on how you feel about those knife-wielding gents whether you want to thank Clark or slap him around (when you factor in his helming of the Porky’s movies, the scales are apt to tip toward the latter).
In any case, here we are 32 years later in the land of remake-happy Hollywood with a brand new version of the story — to the degree that Black Christmas can be said to have a story. Basically, it simply has a setup and it exists for no other reason than to see a variety of folks hacked, bludgeoned, mutilated and generally subjected to acts of an extremely inhospitable nature for 80-odd minutes. The concept itself is grounded in the realm of urban myth — the escaped lunatic, the helpless victim(s) trapped in the house, the terrorizing phone calls that are found to be coming from inside the house, etc.
It’s not very different from the old chestnut about the teen couple in the car who hear about a hook-handed killer on the loose and beat a hasty retreat from lover’s lane only to find his bloody prosthetic hanging from the bumper. The idea works because it’s so grounded in the commonplace that it’s easy to imagine yourself in the situation. That was the “genius” of the original. The remake, realizing that this is a road well traveled, attempts to up the ante with a convoluted backstory that’s so cheesy you could spread it on a cracker.
The killer, Billy (newcomer Robert Mann), is now a kind of Michael Myers figure (remember the Halloween catch-phrase, “The night he came home”?). He murders his way out of the asylum and returns to his creepy old house — now a sorority house — to take up where he left off when he killed his abusive mother (and made chewy Christmas cookies out of her flesh) and stepfather, yanked out his sister’s eye and mutilated her. As if this — all of which is seen in badly acted flashback — wasn’t enough, it turns out that little sister Agnes (newcomer Dean Friss) is also Billy’s daughter (shades of Chinatown), and no one knows what happened to her.
The fact that the murders of the sorority girls start before Billy makes his escape kind of lessens the mystery on this point, but it hardly matters. This is strictly a body-count flick — and a drearily repetitive one at that, since every murder follows the same pattern right down to the eye plucking (the only question is whether Billy eats the eye or festoons the Christmas tree with it). The film does afford some presumably unintentional humor (though I suspect Shirley Walker’s campy musical score is intentionally funny), and it generates a degree of creepy atmosphere, but it’s not enough to make Black Christmas much more than just another slasher flick that stopped off at the theater on its way to the $5.50 dump bin at Wal-Mart. Rated R for strong horror violence and gore, sexuality, nudity and language.
â reviewed by Ken Hanke