BLACK CHRISTMAS (2006)
Directed by Glen Morgan
Produced by James Wong and Glen Morgan
Written by Glen Morgan
Director of Photograpy Robert McLachlan
Music by Shirley Walker
Cast: Michelle Trachtenberg, Lacey Chabert, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Katie Cassidy, Andrea Martin
2006/95 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
2.35:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from Dimension Home Entertainment DVD
There's an old saying in Hollywood which states, "You're only as good as your last movie." In other words, no matter what your reputation has been, the success of your most recent work is all that matters. So, let's say that your last film was a remake which opened at number 8, only made back 1/3 of its budget at the box office, and essentially went unnoticed by the public. One would have to assume that studios wouldn't be beating down your door. Thus, you would have to have a lot of balls to helm another remake. That's exactly what director Glen Morgan did with his remake of BLACK CHRISTMAS, a film which is not only an insult to the original, but an insult to intelligent horror films as well.
BLACK CHRISTMAS is set in a sorority house on Christmas Eve. Instead of going home for the holidays, many of the girls have decided/been forced to stay at the house. As the film opens, we meet Kelli (Katie Cassidy), Melissa (Michelle Trachtenberg), Lauren (Crystal Lowe), Dana (Lacey Chabert), Heather (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Megan (Jessica Harmon), Clair (Leela Savasta), and Eve (Kathleen Kole), as well as their house mother, Ms. MacHenry (Andrea Martin). We learn that the house was once home to Billy Lenz, a young boy who witnessed his father's murder, was subsequently tortured by his mother, and eventually went on a killing spree. Billy (Robert Mann) was tried and sentenced to a mental institution. While the girls are trying to make the most of their Christmas Eve, Billy escapes from his cell. Soon, the girls begin to disappear one-by-one. Has Billy returned home to continue his murderous ways?
BLACK CHRISTMAS comes to us from writer/director Glen Morgan, and producer James Wong. This pair has worked together since the early 90s, switching off roles as writer, director, and producer. Their early work was in TV, witch series such as THE X-FILES, SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND, and MILLENNIUM. They then branched out into feature films with their impressive debut FINAL DESTINATION. A common thread running through everything that Morgan and Wong do is that it's usually intelligent and classy. Even their science-fiction/action film THE ONE, with Jet Li, offered the viewer an unusually dense story for that kind of film. Thus, it's shocking just how stupid a movie BLACK CHRISTMAS is.
Bob Clark's 1974 original BLACK CHRISTMAS is often cited as being the first modern-day slasher film, as it predates HALLOWEEN by several years. (While one could say that slasher films first appeared in the 60s, BLACK CHRISTMAS is the first to have a holiday theme.) And of course, HALLOWEEN is often accused of spawning a plethora of imitations which were simply brain-dead movies filled with death scenes. And that's exactly what Morgan has created with his remake of BLACK CHRISTMAS. The characters are interchangeable and they die at a pace in the second act which makes it difficult to keep track of what's happening. Despite any good intentions by the makers of BLACK CHRISTMAS, the movie exists only as a killing machine and nothing more.
Again, Morgan and Wong have a reputation for being great writers (go back and look at the detail put into FINAL DESTINATION), but BLACK CHRISTMAS is simply a mess. The movie throws eight sorority sisters at once, and yet does little to differentiate between them. Thus, in the latter half of the film where someone says something like, "Where's Claire?", we're forced to say, "Who's Claire?" That fact aside, the characters all act as if they've all just met for the first time and for some reason, already hate one another. Oliver Hudson appears in the film, presumably as a red herring, but calling every woman in sight a "bitch" (even your current girlfriend), simply makes one an asshole, not a murderer. Morgan's wife Kristen Cloke appears in the film as the sister of one of the sisters (wow, that was awkward) and her presence only adds one more unlikable character to the mix.
The biggest story problem has to do with the murderer. I can only assume that one of the movie's big plot twists is the fact that there are two killers. I'm not spoiling anything here because we witness a murder BEFORE Billy escapes from the institution. So, if we were supposed to be shocked by the presence of two murderers, then someone messed up in the editing room. As for Billy, besides being a serial killer, the big surprise about this character is that he has jaundice. Yes, his skin is yellow. And this is scary because...? This may have made an impact with Nick Stahl's character in SIN CITY, but here, it only made me wonder if something was wrong with my TV.
1974's BLACK CHRISTMAS is a classic which solidified the "trapped in the house with a killer" idea and got an incredible amount of tension and suspense from the situation. 2006's BLACK CHRISTMAS is an incredibly stupid movie which sullies the reputation of the original. This remake uses some familiar motifs from the original, such as the glass unicorn, the attic door, and the rocking chair in the attic, but it's utterly lack of sophistication rob it of any merit. The movie contains a surprising amount of gore and some very disturbing violence, but instead of making the film more visceral or shocking, this only serves as an example of the lengths the filmmakers would go to distract you from there idiotic script. I hope that I can find the receipt, because this is one Christmas present which is going back.
BLACK CHRISTMAS slides down the chimney onto DVD courtesy of Dimension Home Entertainment. The film has been released in two separate versions, one widescreen and the other full-frame. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer looks very good, as the image is clear and sharp. This is a very colorful movie, despite the dark subject matter, and the festive reds and greens look great. The action is always visible during the dark scenes. The picture showed a trace amount of artifacting, but otherwise looked fine. The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provide clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, as are the subwoofer effects. The surround sound was a bit too subtle for my tastes and was never fully utilized in the action scenes.
For this review, the Unrated DVD was screened. This 95-minute cut runs some 5 minutes longer than the theatrical cut. I haven't seen the theatrical cut, but it's easy to spot which eye-gougings and skin peelings were cut to get an R rating. The DVD contains a few extras. There are 7 DELETED SCENES which run about 7 minutes. Most of these are simply extensions of scenes which already appear in the film. There are 2 alternate death scenes which are quite graphic. The DVD also has 3 ALTERNATE ENDINGS, one of which I simply didn't get, while the other two show a different twist on how the film ends in the theatrical version -- neither of which is impressive. "What Have You Done?: The Remaking of BLACK CHRISTMAS" is a 28-minute featurette which opens with a discussion of why the film was remade with comments from Morgan, Wong, and the late Bob Clark, and then offers a great deal of behind-the-scenes footage and comments from the cast. "May All Your Christmases Be Black: A Filmmaker's Journey" (26 minutes) starts as a profile of Glen Morgan, where he speaks openly about the failure of WILLARD, but then it becomes a featurette focusing on the actors and how some of the film was shot...until it then comes back to Morgan. Very weird.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2007. ©