Mary Elizabeth Winstead
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Black Christmas (2006)
17th Dec 06
Traumatised child Billy 'comes home' to sleigh (geddit?) some girls in a sorority house. Kind of like the first Black Christmas, except it's rubbish.
Standing outside the theatre shortly after the end of Black Christmas, I overheard one guy say to his friend, "So, the killer's name is...Agnes. Ha ha ha...", and that, readers, sums this experience up. Let's face it, we're all getting a bit sick and tired (to say the very least) of pointless horror remakes, but this one really takes the biscuit. The idea of taking a well crafted, creepy proto-slasher flick from the 70's and giving it modern day tongue in cheek makeover is as insulting as it is stupid (apart from the fact that it might be the way to make mucho dinero at the box office). Believe me when I say I have to delete my use of the word "fuck" as I write this review, because this movie pissed me off big-time.
Is it just me, or is one of the most effective ways to approach the idea of fear is to present something that is unknown? That's what must have been what Bob Clark thought back in the early 70’s, but here, in 2006, that notion seems to have been ignored. In this version, everything is explained.
Meet Billy. Billy, a victim of liver disease, was horribly abused as a child by his domineering, slutty mum, who ruins his Christmases by telling him Santa won’t bring him any gifts. One night, when Billy witnesses her shagging some sleepy stranger on the stairs, she dismounts, approaches Billy’s room and commits the worst kind of sin with her own flesh and blood. Nice. Thus, a child – Agnes – is born, part Billy and part Billy’s mum. And, as I’m sure you can probably guess, she wouldn’t look out of place alongside Michael Berryman in The Hills Have Eyes.
So, thirty years later, and Billy is back. So is Agnes, but we're not supposed to know that, and if you can't see that coming then you need to take some serious care when crossing the street because one thing this movie isn't is subtle. The sorority house is full of attractive young ladies who appear to be ill at ease getting into the spirit of the festive season; there is arguing, bickering, cheating, and a general sense of badwill omnipresent.
The overall atmosphere isn't improved by the fact that Billy is peering through the gaps in the walls, ceilings and floorboards, working out how he will dispose of the next victim (though you can safely bet it will involve removing their eyes). And when he's not peering through floorboards he is (in the spirit of the original movie) making obscene phone calls from the attic to the young ladies lucky enough to be on his gift list this year. Let’s not forget the Just Before Dawn- style (but without the surprise) revelation of two killers - sister Agnes and brother/father Billy - at large. What a thoroughly nice family they are.
Black Christmas is full of gallows humour, the kind of which is likely to play well with teenage audiences who don't even realise that this is a remake. They also have no idea who John Saxon is, and you know what? They don't deserve to know John Saxon. Or his fantastic jumpers.
If this is the type of 'horror' film that ends up playing well in theatres then it's a sad, sad time for the fans of real horror films; those of us who might want to feel a little uneasy for 90 minutes, as opposed to just thinking, over and over again, "I can't believe how shit this film is."
Final Destination-meister Glen Morgan's almost comic remake shifts focus from the unknown terror lurking within the sorority walls to that of Billy's childhood story, explaining to us exactly why he has turned out like he has. In essence, this is the polar opposite of Bob Clarke's refusal to give us any reason, any motive, and if this is Morgan's intentional shift, then fair enough for the effort, but it fails to work for the exact same reason Blake's back-story failed to work in the remake of The Fog. We don't need to know. In fact, it's better that we don't. Who the hell wants to know why Michael Myers is a maniac? (Let's hope Rob Zombie doesn't tell us!)
Too much information... 'twists' you can see coming a mile off... lighthearted horror in favour of a creepy, downbeat atmosphere... a distinct lack of likeable characters... a weak script... a forgettable soundtrack... no Olivia Hussey... no John Saxon... is there anything to recommend about the Black Christmas remake? For gore-hounds, there is gore aplenty, especially when you consider Agnes's penchant for removing eyes from victims, but again, when you compare this to the lack of detailed bloodletting in the original, this will come down to what the audience wants / expects, and any knowledge whatsoever that this is in fact a remake.
The fact that this is getting a theatrical release is beyond me. Black Christmas is 84 minutes too long.