Two nights ago, I took my seat in Theatre 4 of the Regal 16 at the exact moment Black Christmas began. I almost didn't make the show at all- I was far too consumed by playing "Free Bird" on my fake guitar to pay attention to the clock. 15 minutes before showtime, however, I started driving like a supernova and showed up seconds before the title popped up onscreen. As I took off my jacket, I put on my metaphorical oversized novelty foam finger that has "HORROR MOVIES #1!" emblazoned across it as an attempt to cheer on the movie that was just starting. My love of the original Black Christmas hardened my heart against the remake I was about to watch, but I still wanted the movie to rock. Sometimes remakes are...you know...good. I like the Final Destination series an awful lot, and the dudes behind those flicks are behind Black Christmas, so that gave me some hope. I decided to forget the original as much as possible and view the remake as its own entity entirely. Hey, maybe the movie would be fun. Maybe the movie would be scary! Maybe...just maybe...the movie wouldn't suck. Wave on, metaphorical oversized novelty foam finger...wave on.
Sadly, dreams don't always come true. The home team doesn't always win. And in this instance, the finger I ended up waving at the screen was my middle one- and trust me, it wasn't metaphorical.
Simply put, Black Christmas gets everything wrong. Everything. It's too ludicrous to be taken seriously as a horror film, yet not so ludicrous as to be a grody joyride like, say, Final Destination 2. The audience was laughing, but at the movie, not with the movie. All the death scenes were the same (bag over head, bludgeoned with *insert item X here*, take eyeballs), which gets boring real fast. The characters, while paper-thin, were not the archetypes usually found in slasher films. They were all long-haired bitches, their names inconsequential.
I know I've stated this before, but damn I'm tired of movies filled with "friends" who hate each other. Arguments are one thing, but the girls of Kappa Delta Blackchristmasa or whatever the sorority was called are only bitches. They're mean to each other, they insult each other, they call each other names. I should care when they die? And when they all suddenly "band together" in sisterhood to fight the baddie, it's that much more unbelievable.
This time around, we get the full (the much much way too fucking much full) story of the man in the attic, Billy. In the original film, we had no idea why Billy was in the house or if "Billy" was really even his name. Why was he killing these girls? What did those horrifying phone calls mean? Director Bob Clark revealed nothing about the killer except one terrifying eyeball. Glen Morgan and James Wong, on the other hand, give us overacted, nonsensical flashback after flashback revealing the skinny on Billy's rise to infamy.
It seems, you see, that he was born...yellow. Yes, he was born yellow and his shrewish drunkard mother hated him for it, for surely the fact that it's stricken with liver disease is a reason to hate a baby. A few years later, mom kills dad and locks son in the attic. When Billy is "of an age", she visits him in the attic and inexpicably...uh, humps him. Nine months later, along comes little Agnes, Billy's daughter/sister. When Agnes is "of an age", Billy really flips out and kills mom, making Christmas cookies from her flesh. He's committed to an insane asylum and Agnes disappears without a trace.
The house where all these ludicrous atrocities occurred is now a sorority house. It's Christmas and Billy has escaped the asylum- he's comin' home for some killin'!
Are you shaking your head as much as I am at all this? I'm not going to give away what happens after Billy escapes the asylum, but trust me when I say that it gets much, much worse.
The worst sin committed by Black Christmas, in my opinion, is that it's simply not scary in any way, shape, or form. One of the best aspects of the original film was the ample tension in the bare bones plot- there was a killer in the house, unbeknownst to the occupants. Mere fleeting glances of the killer added to the mystique. In the new film, there is absolutely zero tension and even less mystique. We know everything about Billy. We see him all the time- he's got endless Habitrail tunnels all over the fucking house and he shows up in every room. Because he clomps around in the attic all heavy-footed, the girls in the house all know he's there as well- it's just a matter of not getting killed by him.
I won't even go into the fact that casting a male as the adult Agnes (for no apparent reason) resulted in a laughably bad "scary woman who kills". I just won't go into it.
In the original film, the phone calls from Billy to the girls are simultaneously humourous and horrifying. In layered voices that sound as if pulled from a Mercedes McCambridge fever dream, Billy begins with over-the-top obscenities and somehow escalates the induced terror by downgrading the outrageousness to a simple, quietly stated "I'm going to kill you." They're long, terrifying phone calls. In the new film, the characters need to tell us that the calls are terrifying, by claiming that the calls sound like they're coming from a "demon", though that claim couldn't be further from the truth. The calls, like the kills, are brief and bland. Hey filmmakers! Just scare me, don't tell me I should be scared. That distinction separates effective horror from "horror" and can make all the difference in the quality of the film.
Technical aspects of the film take away any potential suspense as well. The death scenes are loud and abrupt. Within three seconds of walking into a darkened room, the character is dead. There's no stalking, there's no spare music, there's no wondering where the killer is lurking. Open door, bag over head, goodnight Irene. While the set direction is appropriate and nice-looking, there's no spookiness to the house- there's no shadows, nowhere to hide; it's all awash in Christmas warmth. That's a realistic setting to be sure, but the onus is on the filmmakers to transform the comforting and familiar into the unfamiliar and frightening, and that's just not done here- there's a notable lack of atmosphere, despite the pretty and elaborate set dressing.
Black Christmas pales in comparison to the original film. This would be forgivable if the film still managed to stand on its own as something enjoyable, fun, disturbing, or anything besides a complete waste of time. If only "Free Bird" were 10 minutes longer...