Black Christmas (2006) Review
It was the night before Christmas...or before the Christmas break. In a sorority house, a handful of girls are celebrating before leaving for home the next day, looking forward to the break but by the lights on the Christmas tree, the open bottles of wine, exchange presents and share memories of the previous term. The house is filled with laughter, in between the girls - Melissa (Michelle Trachtenberg), Dana (Lacey Chabert), Heather (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Kelli (Katie Cassidy) - and their older guardian Mrs Mac (Andrea Martin) but soon the conversation turns to a Christmas night many years before, when serial killer Billy Lenz murdered his family in that same house. The story turns even more grisly when it is revealed how Billy cut chunks from his mother, cooked them and ate them! The laughter in the house is now tinged with nerves. But it would be more nervous still if the girls knew what was happening not so many miles away...Billy Lenz has just passed a note to the guard in his psychiatric hospital and it reads, "I will be home for Christmas!"
I sometimes have a tendency to doze through a good many films. That is probably entirely obvious given my reviews for this site and may be my admitting something that many of you have suspected for the last few years but I genuinely surprise myself when I come upon a twist in a film. Mostly, movies with a twist leave me the kind of dumbfounded look that a cat wears when shown a Rubik's Cube. A kind of what is that...and can I eat it? Yes, I worked out what Rosebud was, that The Village was set in the woodlands not far from modernity and that Bruce Willis was dead - Willis gets shot within the first five minutes and the kid claims to see dead people...it couldn't have been any more obvious - but mostly I'm caught in something like a daze until sleep, hunger or the need to pee gets me off the sofa.
So when I say that even I worked out the twists in Black Christmas within the first twenty minutes, that's not a good sign. Of course, being a slasher movie, one tends to look a little more closely at the action than might otherwise be the case. Friday The 13th set in motion a chain of horror movies wherein the person who the audience suspected of being the killer actually wasn't, it being a close family member instead. Black Christmas carries on this tradition and handles it with so little subtlety that even the most backwards members of the audience will find themselves pointing at the screen and grunting in a, "There's two of them!" kind of way. Like a social services ticklist for the investigation of rural communities, Black Christmas does incest, murder, madness and cannibalism, all in flashback and with the intention of generating some sympathy for the killer Billy Lenz.
With such a thin tale to tell - sorority girls get killed by, it would seem, exactly the same method throughout - Black Christmas presents a back story for Billy Lenz, letting us see something of his home life and suggesting why he might turned out as he did. These flashbacks portray a very unhappy home life, particularly at Christmas time, which culminates in his mother having sex with him on a rocking chair. Not exactly what I would have asked Santa for either but Billy, whose skin is a bright yellow due to a rare liver disease is shut away like the monster that he is. It's quite the leap of imagination to see how jaundice, for that is all it is, requires the patient to be locked in an attic for eighteen years but such is the life of the Lenz family. Eventually, he escapes, which is where the Christmas Eve killings come in. He gets locked away and, years later, escapes once again to carry on his killing spree. However, I don't really think that any audience really cares for knowing why a slasher does what they do. There's always incest, child abuse, alcoholism and the like, which leaves Black Christmas very little different from a hundred or so other films that have preceded it. There's a comedy waiting to be made in which victims of incest, abuse, alcoholic parents and eighteen years of solitary confinement form a self-help group to do whatever it takes to avoid becoming a serial killer with particularly issues as regards their mother.
When the killer does strike, it's by a method in which the victim has a plastic bag placed over their head, in which is cut two holes. Through these holes the killer gouges out their eyes. Lovely...but not accompanied with quite enough screaming to suggest the kind of pain that must come with having one's eyes pulled out. Lacey Chabert and Michelle Trachtenberg certainly suffer the kind of indignities that would have me with my stout, masculine heart screaming with such ferocity to suggest I was giving birth, whereas they sound rather muted, as though not having actually heard the shout of, "Action!" There are other little twists and turns to the story but none of them very interesting. A sorority sister finds herself looking an a sex tape of herself that was uploaded to the Internet but the film does nothing with this, other than suggest that she's one of low morals and will, therefore, be there early doors with the bin-bag-and-eyeballs. Various characters call in, introduce themselves and add to the backstory a bit but the film can do nothing with them but kill them. There's the very modern-day talk about the pagan origins of Christmas - yule log being an ancient fertility symbol, baubles being ancient pagan symbols for testicles, Cliff Richard being the ancient pagan character who would smite the land with magick each Christmas - with none of the girls actually looking or sounding as though they enjoy Christmas. Which is fair as if there's one Christmas they'll remember for all the wrong reasons, it's this one.
There are things to like about Black Christmas. Some of the gore is very well done, if tending towards the eyes a bit too often, which might have been shocking if not done so frequently. And it also suggests the human body is a bit of a delicate thing that can be skewered by all manner of household items, including having a skull pierced by a normal, everyday, not-steel-tipped umbrella. The actual look and feel of Christmas, murders notwithstanding, is quite well done. Glen Morgan has a nice eye for the details of the holiday and there's plenty of suitably festive music, lights and decorations to make this a Christmassy kind of treat. There's an attractive warmth to the picture and I couldn't help but think that if they hadn't bothered with the murders, serial killer and incest/murder/etc. of the backstory, it would have made quite a nice little festive movie. Maybe some reindeer in it, Santa too, which might not sound particularly terrifying but, frankly, neither is this.
Unusually dark even for a horror film, Black Christmas is often illuminated only by the lights on the Christmas tree, over the fireplace and hanging from the front porch. Everything, therefore, looks very red, something that isn't helped by the amount of blood that soon spatters over the walls but the DVD generally does fairly well by Black Christmas. The muted lighting doesn't leave very much room for detail, which leaves the film looking as though it was made for television. Again, the film is claustrophobic in its portrayal of the action, which also leaves it looking cheap and the DVD, though there are moments when it looks fine, is often just about getting by with the picture. The print is in good condition and there's very little to say about scratches or blemishes - I certainly didn't notice any - but the DVD does just look rather ordinary.
The DD5.1 is a bit of a disappointment. Far too often, the film simply falls back on a couple of creaking footsteps, a strange thud or the swish of the killer but the actual DVD presentation doesn't do very much even with this. Almost all of the action is presented front and centre with too little use of the rear channels and certainly not enough to unsettle the audience, who, like me, was hoping for a lot more it's-behind-you moments. Otherwise, the dialogue and voices of the cast, although far too keen on the idea of psychos of no fixed gender saying creepy little things in a nursery rhyme sing-song, is presented clearly, although the range is sometimes lacking with the screaming and violence not being anywhere near loud enough.
May All Your Christmasses Be Black (26m33s): Director Glen Morgan spends the first five minutes of this feature re-living his post-Willard depression, saying that the thought his days as a director were over when it failed at the box office. Unfortunately, this overshadows his work on Black Christmas, which often leaves him looking unsure of himself and being guided by the offscreen hand of Dimension, who want more murders, more gore and many more jumpy scares where Morgan wants much less of each. Even though this feature eventually moves away from Morgan, in the same kind of way as you or I might move down a train carriage from anyone else suffering from a I-could-been-a-contender bout of misery, there's an odd feel to it, far too much of Dean Friss, who plays Agnes and who is apparently living out a fantasy of being an actor, even to showing us his on-set scrapbook. I tended to feel a bit of pity towards Friss, much like I would towards meeting someone for the first time who, in a dull monotone, would go on to show me his collection of street maps of British cities. There's also too little of the other actors in the film or of the sweet little Christmas design to the film, which is the most effective part of the film.
Deleted Scenes/Alternate Endings (9m57s, 14m36s): With a slasher movie, I always get a sinking feeling when the DVD presents an Alternate Ending, which is, frankly, always going to be a oh-no-they-re-not-dead! moment when the killer magically comes back to life in spite of having no head, being thoroughly disembowelled and in the vacuum of space. And so it proves with these three Alternate Endings, proving there is no possible means to stop a killer returning from the dead in a variety of ways and being killed all over again. And again. And again. The Deleted Scenes don't add anything to the finished film but nor are they any worse than the scenes that made it into Black Christmas, allowing a lot more scene-setting to take place
What Have You Done? (28m03s): Fans of the original film might find themselves asking that very thing but this looks at the two films, mostly concentrating on the remake but including an interview with Bob Clark, the director of the original who died earlier this year following a car crash in Los Angeles. As such, there's much more heart to this feature than to the actual film, not least in Glen Morgan's apparent honesty in being interviewed as opposed to the by-the-numbers plotting of the film.
Finally, there is a an option to play the film with the US Theatrical Ending, which is included here as an extra but which is a little different to how our country's cut of the film ends.