Black Christmas. 2006. Dir. Glen Morgan.
Starring Katie Cassidy, Michelle Trachtenberg, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Lacey Chabert, Kristen Cloke, Andrea Martin, and Crystal Lowe.
Rated 18A. 84 minutes.
I’m a fan of certain horror remakes. There are some films which really benefit from being remade, whether it’s because the original needed updating or just simply due to the fact the remake sometimes, not often though, adds an extra element to its predecessor. It isn’t only because I really love the original Black Christmas that I don’t enjoy this remake; I’m fine with a favourite being remade. For instance, I love the original Halloween and still really personally enjoyed Rob Zombie’s reimagining, even if it wasn’t for everybody. So there’s no bias when it comes to remakes for me. I just don’t particularly find the 2006 version of Black Christmas a very good modern horror movie, and it’s not a great update of the original either.
The new Black Christmas gives the killer a more expanded personality. He isn’t just an unidentified slasher here. We start with Billy, who here is seen as having yellow skin because of a childhood illness, living in an insane asylum, locked away. When he was young, he had a very troubled childhood, from neglect to sexual abuse. He then murdered his entire family during the holiday season, which leads to his confinement. Naturally, on Christmas twelve years later, Billy escapes, heads back to home, which is now a sorority house, and begins a whole new killing spree.
Right away, the movie is confused as to where to move, what to be, how to do anything. We get an initial scene showing one of the sorority girls being murdered, after which the title screen pops up. Afterwards, the plot moves onto Billy and him being in the asylum. This really doesn’t do the film any favours. Not saying you have to hold viewers by the hand, but this opening bit really confuses things. In the original, “Billy” is meant to be very mysterious, and there is real suspense tied up in his identity. This remake starts off with all intentions of making it clear who the killer is because the whole film is about his back story really, this time around.
What bothers me is that there’s a real mix up with these opening scenes. They should be the other way around. I understood the plot just fine. Regardless, it’s just mismatched to have the killing of the sorority girl before we witness Billy’s escape from the asylum. Sort of starts saying “let’s make this killer a mystery”, and yet immediately following this first scene we move back to “let’s explore this killer’s identity”. I don’t think this should confuse anyone really paying attention, I just think it’s bad filmmaking and poor writing.
One significant aspect missing from this movie is the good humour of the original Black Christmas. While they did their best including Andrea Martin as the new Ms. Mac, and having a couple of the ladies try their darnedest to emulate the brilliantly funny Margot Kidder role from the original film, there just really isn’t any of the dark comedy present here. A few people have said this one is actually funny while the original is a serious, sombre horror film; I totally disagree. This movie tries to be funny, but really just comes off as a lame rehash of the first. Without the black humour (if you can find it let me know – I’m still searching), this new Black Christmas is just dismal, and not in a gritty, interesting way.
My biggest problem about the whole movie is the fact it really moves in too many directions. While there are the aspects concerning Billy which change drastically from the original, there are many other moments the film tries so hard to stick with the 1974 classic. For instance, there’s the introduction of the crystal unicorn statuette here – in the original it was an ornament on one of the girl’s bureaus, the new one has it being presented as a gift. I just don’t see why this was included. There are much better pieces of the original Black Christmas they could have mined for homage. Instead, they choose to dredge up really tiny, useless bits. I just don’t see why this, as well as a couple other instances, were made a part of the film. I can get with the reappearance of the smothering scene; they even added an extra eyeball gouge and such to make it really nasty. There’s just no sense to me including such trivial bits of the original here in a really minor way. One minute they’re trying to trample their own path with the story, next they’re clinging to nonsensical moments which don’t do anything to further the plot.
Even further, the whole expansion of Billy’s character is just really tired. Oh, can’t think of anything new? Just sexually abuse the killer, give him a weird deformity. Not enough? He’s a cannibal, too. I mean, I love when remakes can try to give new life to an old character, but this is just really played out writing.
One thing I don’t get is Billy’s skin – why does it have to be yellow? That goes past being campy, in every way, and dives straight into the territory of silliness. It just felt as if the filmmakers couldn’t decide on how pitiful to make Billy, so they heaped on molestation, abuse, forced confinement, and the granddaddy of them all: essentially a never ending condition of jaundice. Overkill in my opinion.
In the original, I was really creeped out by the killer; not simply from his being unseen in the shadows and such, but also the fact there was mystery surrounding him. I can get with a killer’s origin story if it works, however, in this remake I was really just completely uninterested in the killer; he didn’t creep me out, and I found myself not even able to get a laugh out of him (which could have been at least partly a saving grace). They really fumbled this re-imagining of Black Christmas with the back story for Billy. What had potential is squandered right in front of our faces in just about ever single scene containing the killer. Not to mention everything else.
I think, on a positive note, the best thing here are the kills. Even though I don’t like the placement of the opening scene in the overall film, I do think it’s a jarring one, as we’re not really expecting such brutality right off the bat. It’s a really great death scene. While paying homage to the original Black Christmas, it ups the ante on the brutality. If only this could have saved the entire film. There are some excellent gory bits thrown into the mix. Unfortunately, nasty murder scenes are not solely enough to save an entire horror. You really need more. But there’s definitely enough depravity in the kill gags to please a few horror fans. Not the best (as in most savage) I’ve seen, yet definitely a couple of them included are worth seeing with your own eyes.
I can’t give this movie any more than 1 out of 5 stars without groaning. Maybe it doesn’t even deserve that, but I’m rating it as such anyways. Tonally, this movie is a real mess. The plot itself is mostly similar to the original Black Christmas, while the main addition to the story is a big explanation of Billy and how he came to be an awful, sick individual. If the origin hadn’t been turned into something really campy, without any good or effective bits of camp, I would be able to get with it. But it does go for campy and does so badly. There’s too much of an off-balance feel to this remake. Then the ending! Good lord, is it ever terrible.
Some think the film is good. Most seem to think otherwise. I can’t say this is good, or that it’s particularly worth watching. The original Black Christmas was spectacular. This could have gone under a different title, changed the characters names, and been its own movie. Instead, they decided to brand this as a remake of the classic 1974 slasher, and really shoot themselves in the foot. It is a remake, albeit a really loose one. You can’t deny it because Bob Clark produced it and Glen Morgan got his blessing to explore the Billy character, which was something he did not or could not do with the original. So it’s a remake – and it is not a good one. Some remakes I really could recommend, but honestly – skip this one, stick to the original, or find another horror movie set during Christmas – you’ll thank yourself later.