Thursday, December 14, 2017

12 Horrors of Christmas: 'Black Christmas' (2006)

Back in 2010, I wrote a series of posts on Christmas movies, including a handful of Christmas-related horror movies. When I wrote about the 1974 proto-slasher classic Black Christmas, I mentioned that I could probably fill an entire month with just holiday horror. That might stretch things a bit thin, but for this holiday season I figured I could cover the Christmas-appropriate number of 12 yuletide horror movies, starting, fittingly enough, with the 2006 remake of Black Christmas. Part of the ongoing trend of remakes of any horror property with a remotely recognizable name, the new version of Black Christmas keeps the same basic plot (a killer terrorizes the members of a sorority during the Christmas break) while adding in a lot more gore and extraneous back story.

Both of those are pretty standard tactics for horror remakes, and pretty much everything about this movie is standard-issue for a mid-'00s horror movie, including its cast of former and future stars, led by current CW superhero favorite Katie Cassidy. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Lacey Chabert and Michelle Trachtenberg are the other recognizable faces as the sorority sisters of Cassidy's Kelli, and Andrea Martin, who played one of the college students in the original, shows up here as the sorority's house mother, in a nice little nod to the past. Martin's comedic talents are mostly underused, though, and while the younger stars are all solid performers, none of the cast members particularly stands out. Mainly they go through the familiar slasher-movie motions, as a mysterious killer picks them off one by one.

That killer may be Billy Lenz (Robert Mann), former inhabitant of the sorority house and current mental institution inmate, who killed his mother and stepfather years ago. Writer-director Glen Morgan, a genre-TV veteran, includes a lot of flashbacks to Billy's origin story, but they only clutter up the narrative, facilitating a climactic twist that is mostly underwhelming. The gory kills are sometimes creative and fun, but a lot of the blood and guts seem gratuitous, and the various sorority sisters are mostly interchangeable, even as the story goes on and the killer whittles down the numbers. Kelli gets a subplot about her relationship with her boyfriend (Oliver Hudson), but that's mostly just a tool for Morgan to set up red herrings.

Morgan creates an impressive visual style for a Christmas horror movie, bathing nearly every shot in the garish red or green glow of Christmas lights, almost like a Dario Argento version of a holiday tale. He doesn't go quite far enough with the Christmas iconography to make any kind of commentary on the holiday, though, and the story never amounts to anything more than your basic slasher beats. After the requisite fake-out vanquishing of the killer, it ends anticlimactically, with the killer's entire saga closed off, as opposed to the eerily ambiguous ending of the original. Morgan shouldn't have to tell the exact same story that's already been told, but his updates only make the movie less distinctive. While the original pioneered a genre, the remake is just a generic follower.

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