As befits the season, Black Christmas is a movie filled with good cheer, a merry travesty of all the season is supposed to mean, with a killer in a Santa suit, candy and gifts used as weapons, and an evergreen prettily decorated with dismembered body parts. The plot is structured carelessly and follows no particular narrative logic, and the characters are all cardboard-thin, but anyone with a fondness for the slasher genre and a truly sick sense of humor will find it a welcome break from the season’s familiar family-friendly crap. In this remake of the 1974 quasi-classic, the girls of Delta Kappa Alpha are mostly dispersed for the holidays, with only a few stragglers and the sorority’s housemother around for the annual Christmas party and, naturally, to be picked off one by one.
The cast is full of familiar faces, particularly for fans of the genre, including SCTV’s Andrea Martin (who was in the original Black Christmas) as the housemother; Katie Cassidy, from the recent When a Stranger Calls remake; Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Crystal Lowe, from Final Destination 3; Michelle Trachtenberg, from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”; Lacey Chabert, from “Party of Five”; and Kristen Cloke, from the first Final Destination (Cloke is also married to the film’s writer/director/producer, Glen Morgan). It’s helpful that the faces are recognizable, as that’s just about all we have to differentiate the characters. There are eight sorority sisters to keep straight, each with no more than one identifying characteristic, if that: Clair (Leela Savasta) is the one with the fraught relationship with the 12-years-older half-sister she barely knows; Heather (Winstead) is smart and cynical; Lauren (Lowe) is a bitchy drunk; Megan (Jessica Harmon) is still hung up on her ex-boyfriend, who’s now dating Kelli (Cassidy), who doesn’t know he and Megan were together.
Morgan was a writer and co-executive producer for “The X Files” (where he co-wrote such classic episodes as “Home”) and other science-fiction shows before co-writing the first and third of the Final Destination trilogy and writing, directing, and producing the 2003 remake of Willard. He clearly loves sci-fi and horror, and he has a knack for coming up with images and plots that are grisly and disturbing while still being funny in a sick, sick way. His goal in Black Christmas is not to individualize the girls and make you care about their fates, as writer Roy Moore and director Bob Clark did in the original, but to fill a sorority house with nubile victims and knock them off in ways that make us gag, then laugh, then gag at the realization that we’ve laughed. Or something like that. It takes a pretty perverse sensibility and a fair desensitization to violence and gore to titter at, say, a man making Christmas cookies out of his dead mother’s flesh, but for those who’ve seen the old genre tropes played straight a thousand times, it’s a welcome change of pace.
As far as the film’s narrative, though, what Morgan has to offer isn’t much more than a slightly fresher spin on familiar material, and that with dialogue that is often willfully (I hope) bad. The plot of the original Black Christmas became one of the fundamental slasher templates, and he’s done little to reinvigorate it, aside from tossing in a confusing and largely unnecessary backstory for the killer — one that recapitulates both overfamiliar killer-backstory elements and some of Morgan’s own pet themes. His talent shows, rather, in his visual imagination and in his ability to balance the film’s horror and its humor. Morgan is never satisfied with a straightforward camera setup or with a simple asphyxiation — not when he can shoot from a disorienting diagonal and give you an asphyxiation, eye-gouging, neck-breaking, and impalement all at once. It’s a heady mix, and one that I only grudgingly admire, but for slasher-movie fans, Morgan’s devilish inventiveness is nevertheless well worth fighting the holiday crowds at the multiplex. Just, for the love of God, leave Grampa and the kids at home.
Jeremy C. Fox is a founding critic of Pajiba and a member of the Online Film Critics Society.You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.
Black Christmas / Jeremy C. Fox
Film Reviews | December 24, 2006 | Comments ()