Black Christmas – Review
On Christmas Eve, an escaped maniac returns to his childhood home, which is now a sorority house, and begins to murder the sorority sisters one by one.
It’s the 4th of December. That means more from our Awful Advent 25 Days of Christmas Horror feature. Behind door 4 of our proverbial horror calendar is something truly terrifying.. The 2006 remake of Black Christmas *shudder*. Man was this movie ever panned when it released? People absolutely hated it. The 2019 remake received an even more violent bashing. I guess some things just shouldn’t be remade.
Taking the plot of the original 1974 version of Black Christmas. The 2006 remake attempts to build more on the backstory of the antagonist. Feeling like much more of a gore fest that the original. This version has some truly violent moments. Recently, the movie seems to have had something of a renaissance. User reviews are improving and people seem to have warmed to it a bit. Maybe it is due to the release of the 2019 version? Perhaps that has reminded people of how bad this could have been? I am not sure as they are both pretty fucking awful.
Naturally there is no explanation needed regarding the Christmas theme here. It fits perfectly, is set on Christmas eve, and is full of Xmas references. Anyways, let’s take a look. As always, I will give a quick spoiler free breakdown of the movie. Feel free to skip that if you like.
We’ve been on a bit of an end of the year run of themed features. We had K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween in October. We had a Fall Themed Horror movie month for November, Now It’s December and that can mean only one thing. It’s Awful Advent. We are reviewing a new horror for each of the days leading up to Christmas. That’s not all, we will also review a bonus movie for Christmas day itself. 25 horror movies to make your December just that little more frighteningly festive… Or should that be festively frightening? I am not sure, whatever.. It’s going to be scary.
The catch? All of the movies must be set around or feature Christmas. Movies based on a specific Christmas theme are even better. Christmas and horror have always gone hand in hand. There are tons of movies to look at and I expect you can probably predict a few right now. With that being said. Check back every day of December for something new.
Black Christmas – Synopsis
Black Christmas starts in the house of Sorority Delta Alpha Kappa. Sorority Sister Claire is sitting in her room. While writing out a gift tag for her sister Leigh, played by Kristen Cloke, she suddenly hears a sound. Walking over to the closet to investigate. Claire realises it is probably just air from the vent moving clothes around. She goes to sit back on her bed. Suddenly an unseen person puts a bag over her head and stabs her through the eyes with a fountain pen.
Back in the main room of the house. The sorority sisters are passing out presents. A 15 year long tradition dictates that Billy gets his present first. Billy turns out to be a convicted murderer who lived in the house years before. We are taken to the local asylum where he is locked up. He attempts to get out of his cell every Christmas Eve so he can return home. The sorority sisters have bought him a present ever since. House mother Ms. Mac is has placed herself in charge. Ms. Mac, played by original Black Christmas actor Andrea Martin, tells them to go find Megan.
Megan is upstairs in her room watching a sex tape of her and an ex. The girls knock on her door and tell her to come down. Upset by the tape, she tells them to “fuck Christmas” so the girls leave. Megan suddenly hears a noise coming from the attic. She heads up. While there, she spots the body of Claire sitting in front of the window. Megan, out of nowhere, is violently attacked and murdered. Back at the asylum, it becomes clear that something has gone terribly wrong. This time, Billy might actually make it back home for Christmas.
Christmas Slasher Horror
Slasher horror seems to be the perfect genre for Christmas scares. There are a really decent number of movies featuring this theme. The problem is, most of them are just not very good. Directed by Glen Morgan, Black Christmas aims to pile onto that number. Taking the very self contained and chronologically quite tight story of the original. This version takes us back in time to learn more about our antagonist. Apparently suffering a difficult childhood. We are offered a villain with a sympathetic backstory. What we are also offered is buckets of blood and gallons of gore.
Featuring some fairly decent practical effects. There are a number of different ways used to dispatch of the girls in the movie. Some are interesting, some not so much. For the most part, however, the kills look good. The special effects team did a good job with the practical stuff. Black Christmas feels very fitting as a Christmas movie. There is plenty of buzzing green and red lighting. The tinsel is everywhere and the set design lends a sense of festivity to the movie.
Glen Morgan’s Black Christmas feels like a very different movie from it’s predecessor. Despite aiming to keep some of the feel of the original. This movie is far more brutal and the pacing is a lot faster. The 1974 version was content to bask in its incredibly well forged mood. There was no real need to force random kills every five minutes. The movie was plenty tense enough without it. 2006’s Black Christmas, however, has a large cast. Morgan kills these girls off with an almost metronome like rhythm. This is a slasher for viewers with 5 minute attention spans.
Gruesome Kills and Disturbing Themes
The kills here are absolutely gruesome. We have eyes being pulled out and eaten. Heads are removed. Necks are stabbed. It is a brutal movie and, again, nothing like the original. Added to this are some disturbing themes that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Reddit confession topic. Incest, child abuse, neglect.. It’s all there. This is a seriously fucked up movie and it absolutely relishes that fact. It is as if the makers read a book called “Creating Controversy 101” and applied every sentence.
There is a distinct feeling that the director was trying to shock the viewer. Everything feels incredibly forced and a bit awkward. It is to the point of being farcical at times. Certain scenes that are supposed to be “disturbing” come across as almost comical. A few scenes, in particular, are delivered with such a sense of grandeur. It is as if they were supposed to be deeply upsetting reveals. They are done so poorly and happen so often, however, that the effect is lost.
Black Christmas constantly engages in scene one-upmanship. It goes on throughout the film. It is as if each kill is trying outdo the last. This doesn’t make for a good horror. It certainly doesn’t make for decent scares. The thing that made the original Black Christmas so scary was its patience. Nothing was ever forced so you never knew what was coming next. The killer could strike at any moment but rarely did. In this version you are expecting the killer to emerge every couple of minutes. You are surprised when somebody isn’t brutally annihilated. It’s a bad move and, again, caters to short attention spans. There is nothing wrong with this but at least give the rest of us something to chew on.
Horror for Teens
One thing really stands out about the way this movie is made. It is the fact that it feels like something of a sleepover movie. The gross out moments, the eye eating, the themes. It’s all just done in such a way as to entertain teens. While this is not a bad thing. Black Christmas doesn’t manage to entertain the rest of us as well. Watching the movie. You can almost imagine a group of girls shouting in disgust at what is happening. You can picture them turning away from the action on screen in hysterics. I could imagine my mates in school talking about this movie and its kills. It is just very much a movie for young horror fans.
The original Black Christmas had a multi-layered plot. We had a number of potential suspects and possible motives. Many of the kills were not shown on screen. It wanted you to think and attempt to work out the mystery yourself. Even right up until the end it kept you guessing. This version of Black Christmas does none of that. It goes absolutely miles out of its way to offer exposition. It wants the viewer to be in no doubt as to who is responsible.
Sure, it throws a little twist in here and there and a red herring or two. The twist could be seen from a mile away, however. Most people will likely realise what it is straight away. It’s there more to give the viewer something to feel good about. This is not a nuanced story, it requires no thinking at all. It’s a story to enjoy when you are a bit drunk or a bit hyper on skittles and mountain dew.
Doomed to Fail?
Developing new versions of beloved movies is no easy task. Fans are ready and waiting, pitchforks in hand, to shit all over the remake. It is no surprise that directors often attempt to go in a completely different direction. It is somewhat strange that Bob Clark was actually involved with the making of this film. The director of the 1974 original had co-producer credits. Despite this, the tone and feel of the film is completely different.
Director Glen Morgan is known for working on a couple of the Final Destination films. It’s no surprise then, given this fact, that he wanted to make something that appealed to that audience. Perhaps it was in the back of his mind that remaking Black Christmas was doomed to fail. Maybe he just wanted to go with something entirely different. Either way. I think younger people might enjoy the absurd violence and disgusting themes. I think they would be more forgiving of the movie’s flaws as well.
One thing I did really like about this version of Black Christmas is the cinematography. Robert McLachlan puts together a really nice picture that looks extremely festive. The lighting, in particular, is fantastic. Glowing reds, greens, purples and pinks highlight the Christmas theme. The bright colours put a spotlight on the contrast between the setting and the events taking place. It’s a very nice looking film with a lot of interesting shots.
A Decent Cast Does an Okay Job
Black Christmas has, if nothing else, a pretty decent cast. Featuring Andrea Martin, star of the original 1974 Black Christmas, as Ms Mac. Many of the actors here were all over the place in the early 2000s. Glen Morgan brought along a few of his Final Destination girls. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kristen Cloke and Crystal Lowe all feature heavily. Katie Cassidy, star of the When a Stranger Calls remake, stars as Kelli. Michelle Trachtenberg is also here and plays Melissa. It’s a pretty decent cast that is very fitting for the time period. They are all okay but have very little to work with. Naturally, they are absolutely nowhere near as good as the original cast.
Line delivery can feel awkward at times. The cast seems to lack any sense of chemistry. They really don’t make a particularly believable group of friends. I think they could have used some extra time together getting to know each other. Martin tries her best as Ms Mac but nobody can replace Marian Waldman. There are a few scenes where you can see that Martin is paying tribute to her former co-star. I still enjoyed her performance, however, and its nice to see someone from the original cast.
Winstead is probably the best of the group but really doesn’t get many lines. Katie Cassidy has the most to work with and does a good job. Crystal Lowe is a pale imitation of Margot Kidder. The rest of the girls are somewhere between fine and forgettable. This is a cast picked mainly for name and looks. Oliver Hudson, as Kyle, was pretty bad. He seems to have a permanent grin and he has literally zero conviction when he speaks. It was a forgettable performance and a wonderful example of Hollywood nepotism.
The script is absolutely ridiculous. The manner in which some of the characters speak is incredibly unnatural. It feels like someone ran the script through Google translate. The girls are plastic caricatures of teens from the 2000s. It sounds like a 50 year old man trying to write believable 18 year old girls. It is so awkward in parts. This is an excerpt actually taken from the script.
I don’t feel comfortable. uh, whatever, like,
invading someone’s privacy like this.
Literary genius. I hope Morgan cringed when he penned that line. It is awful and this goes on throughout. Any gravity is taken out of every situation almost immediately due to the awful writing. This plays heavily into the cast of characters being painfully unlikeable. It’s hard to pick a single girl out of the bunch that you would want to share a conversation with. Let alone a house. The girls come across as if they hate each other as well. It’s not just the girls, of course. The guards at the asylum talk like haunted house hosts at a fairground. Kyle is wildly aggressive and acts like a 14 year old incel despite looking to be in his 30s. It is desperately difficult to give half a shit about any single character in the movie.
Just Pretty Awful
There are so many negative things to point out with this movie. It is easier if I just summarise. Terrible direction leads to a jumbled timeline. There is a real sense of disconnection between scenes. Hilariously stupid and poorly written characters do literally everything wrong. The following is just one example. The girls all agree that they have a better chance if they all stick together. Seconds later, two of the characters leave. They all could have just ran out of the house. Their motivations for staying are stupid. Apparently that fact never becomes as obvious to the girls as it is to the viewer.
A pointless backstory robs a formerly intriguing character of any threat or menace. Morgan’s desire to expand on every tiny detail from the original harms the suspense. He even goes out of his way to explain the content of the original’s phone calls. The result is a genuinely toe curling scene that makes me cringe every time I watch it. A ridiculous and completely needless twist will have you rolling your eyes. You can literally see it coming from a mile away. Half baked red herrings designed to throw the viewer off disappoint. An entirely unlikeable cast of characters frustrate. Terrible writing and a juvenile desire to shock the viewer gets old quick. Above all of these issues, though, is the fact that, despite a high kill count. Black Christmas is not tense, it isn’t atmospheric and it isn’t at all scary.
A Disappointing Ending
The final scenes of the movie are absolute crap. The 1974 version of Black Christmas gets the ending so right. It is dark, nuanced and leaves us with a huge question mark. Glen Morgan’s Black Christmas sits us down with a coffee and slowly explains it to us like we are five years old.
The finale is sort of split into two halves. Both of them are pretty bad and the second half feels entirely pointless. There is one particular revelation that, I am assuming, was supposed to be a “Holy Shit” moment. It falls so unbelievably flat, however. The viewer already knows what is going to happen. The only reasonable response is to roll your eyes. It feels so utterly redundant. Character makeup in parts of the last 20 minutes also looks pretty bad, as well. I am not sure what they were going for with one character specifically. Whatever it was, I am pretty sure they failed.
There is a distinct difference between the ending to this movie and the ending to the original. Fans will notice this immediately. The reason for this is a big part of why I think Black Christmas fails so epically. Morgan felt he needed to expand on the more ambiguous parts of the movie. Morgan was a big fan of the original. He believed he could take the remake to a whole new level, however. In doing this, Morgan took away all of the mystery and suspense that made the movie great. The phone calls are no longer scary. The protagonist is less a shadowy boogieman and more of an X-Files villain. There are far less question marks and far less reason to think about the movie when it is done. It is just very disappointing.
Is it a Knockout?
Glen Morgan's Black Christmas is a fast paced, kill a minute slasher set on Christmas Eve. Based on the 1974 original, this acts as both something of a remake and a reimagining. Featuring a fairly decent cast of well known actors. The kills are brutal and there is a ton of gore. Contrary to the original, our killer here has a face and a backstory. As the film goes on, we learn more and more aboout Billy.
Unfortunately, the movie is plagued by bad direction, terrible scripting, and a constant desire to shock the viewer. It gets old very quickly and the constant escalation of ridiculous themes feels farcical and silly. The entire cast of characters are fairly unlikeable and a returning Andrea Martin can't save them. The ending is terrible and features ludicrous levels of exposition. We get it, you don't need to keep explaining it. Above all else, Black Christmas is not very scary. As a Christmas themed slasher to throw on at a sleepover, this would be fine. Hell, if you just want something silly to put on in the background, give it a try. Don't expect too much, however, as Black Christmas has little to offer.