2006 was not a good year for the filmmaking team of James Wong and Glen Morgan. First there was the Wong-directed Final Destination 3. As a return to the franchise that made the pair's theatrical bones, the film qualified as a modest financial success, but was trumped in its opening weekend by the inexplicably popular Steve Martin redux of The Pink Panther, and garnered few fans. At least FD3 had those fans, though. Morgan's re-imagining of the 1974 slasher classic Black Christmas wasn't even allowed that small victory.
Smuggled out on Christmas Day by Dimension Films to no acclaim and no business, Morgan's film was allowed to die as quickly and ignobly as his previous film, the underrated remake of Willard. I wish I could report that the burial of Black Christmas was as undeserved as that of Willard, but this is one of the rare cases in which I have to agree with Dimension – this is pretty awful.
Yet, it isn't nearly as awful as the excitable horror community would have it believed, either. That it's essentially stealing the name of history's first slasher film for a needed whiff of cachet is disheartening, especially since there's little in common besides the plot (which has long since drifted into the halls of cliché) and a couple signature images (the bag over the head, the peeking eyeball). A re-title might have given it a fairer shake in a bad-remake-saturated genre; of course, such a cosmetic marketing change wouldn't have actually made the film any good, but it might have at least allowed space for its meager assets to be noticed.
The perverse sense of black humor that runs through this remake is its chief positive aspect. This Black Christmas isn't so much a horror film as it is a bizarre and bilious comedy in a slasher costume. The tale of a group of housebound girls (sorority members here, as they were in Bob Clark's original) menaced by a psychotic and mysterious stalker, picked off one by one until only the Final Girl (here named Kelli and played by Katie Cassidy) remains, is old hat at this juncture, so Morgan adds sick-minded curlicues and offbeat flourishes in an effort to lengthen attention spans. My favorite joke comes early on, with a shot of a man who thinks he's Jesus in an asylum being told "Happy birthday," but the script's mining of cannibalism (flesh cookies!) and incest, among other things, for gross-out giggles speaks to a demented sensibility worth indulging.
This sensibility extends to the film's death scenes as well. Those watching Black Christmas solely for gore will find little in which to be disappointed, especially in regards to the unrated cut on the newly-available DVD. The red red krovvy flows like a river after a spring thaw; vicious stabbings are the order of the day, but there's also decapitation, dismemberment, impaling, an unexpected brain avulsion, and enough eyeball violence to make Lucio Fulci wet himself. Say what you will, but Morgan's Black Christmas is everything we've been told a late-wave slasher ought to be – mean, nasty, callous and willing to cheerfully dispatch anyone in horrifying ways.
It's in the getting, though, that one realizes how pitiful and unsatisfying the "ideal" slasher film is. The flavor-of-the-week actresses who essay the unfortunate sorority sisters (including Michelle Trachtenberg, Lacey Chabert and Mary Elizabeth Winstead) are given no distinct personality traits by Morgan's script with which to set themselves apart from their compatriots. This is, on some level, out of necessity, as nearly all of these girls are going to die and emotional investment presumably would be a waste of running time. Thus, the film becomes a pure expression of the term "meat movie" – these women are merely walking sacks of meat, fonts for bad dialogue whose purpose is to be ogled and then destroyed.
If the majority of the cast is then filled out by sacrificial zeros, the scales are rebalanced by giving way too much characterization to rampaging maniac Billy. A good third of the film is spent explaining his back-story when a five-minute campfire story would do just as well. Billy's horrendous upbringing, detailed as thoroughly as it is, puts the viewer in the odd situation of being pushed to sympathize with a character that is clearly not intended to be sympathized with. Morgan's decision to follow this is puzzling – we don't need to care about our slasher characters beyond caring about how well they can swing implements of death. While I can appreciate the perversity of a film which explains its psycho and leaves its protagonists blank, such a gambit destroys any sense of proportion or pacing. Especially since said back-story is parceled out in increments throughout the film's first forty-five minutes.
Given the deficiencies in characterization and storytelling, all we have to go on is the gore and the humor, and the latter goes south halfway through when it curdles into flouncing desperation. (Ooh, a deadly ice-skate! A randomly fatal icicle! How, um, not clever at all.) There's also a god-awful dénouement set in a hospital that couldn't scream "re-shoot" louder if it had a bullhorn attached to it. The 2006 Black Christmas is ultimately empty-calorie entertainment, a cinematic blood-filled Twinkie. Like a Twinkie, no amount of justification for its consumption can stop the empty feeling afterwards. This isn't a film to watch – it's a film to lose in a brain fog.