Note: this review contains TOTAL SPOILERS.
On the one hand, director Glen Morgan was smart in not going for a straight remake of Bob Clark’s elegant little 1974 shocker, and while it’s clear from the DVD’s standard making-of featurettes that Morgan & Co. had fun making the film, it completely lacks the class and compelling characters of the original.
At the 2004 Nuart theatre screening where Clark answered some audience questions regarding the origins of the killer’s background in the ’74 film (excerpted in the 2008 DVD from Critical Mass/Anchor Bay), Clark gave the vague reply that Billy didn’t treat his sister Agnes very well, and left it as murky as the killer’s own filmic appearances: we never see his face, nor learn much more than he’s deeply disturbed, and is taking his rage out on the new folks living in his old house.
Morgan figured focusing on Billy’s abused childhood was the key to re-imagining Black Christmas, so now he’s a boy loathed by his birth mother because he’s literally a yellow-skinned child that reminds her of her kinder, gentler husband (who’s not yellow, but normal).
Eventually, mom and her sleazy lover kill Billy’s dad, and when the couple notice the boy's watching them bury the body under the house, mom chases him to the attic, where she locks him up. A few years later, when her lover is no longer able to satisfy, she commits incest with Billy, and gives birth to Agnes, an ugly girl that Billy grows to loathe because she’s the apple of mom’s eye.
On Christmas Day, Billy escapes, kills the lover, wrecks Agnes’ eye, and kills mom, after which he takes a cookie cutter and bakes her skin in a very fancy oven. When the cops arrive, they find Billy having skin cookies and milk.
Now, this new background has a mordantly amusing edge (Shirley Walker’s sick and twisted excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcraker are brilliant), and it’s supposed to be in line with Morgan’s more overt balance of black hunour and horror, but there’s really no suspense when each ocular trauma (more ridiculous than Fulcian) inflicted upon Billy and Agnes’ victims becomes grosser, and also duller. There’s also no reason as to why the eyes must be ripped out, so if the multiple flashbacks that make up ‘Billy’s Story’ were excised from the film, one would see there’s so little story holding this dud together, the whole movie would collapse from lack of plot.
More interesting is why Morgan decided to unofficially make a gory re-imagining of Bad Ronald (1974), a weird little TV movie make the same year as the original Black Christmas, where a sympathetic mother hides her son in the attic of the family house to prevent the police from arresting Ronald for his accidental killing of the neighbour’s daughter. Ronald is left in the attic when his mum doesn’t return from an operation she failed to survive, and the youth continues to live in the walls of the house, even when a new family moves into the place. Billy, like Ronald, knows every crawlspace in the dorm, and uses his ‘knowledge’ of the home to move up/down/around and spy on the pretty maidens.
Billy’s done some amazing things to the dorm home, though. He’s cut peep holes in the bathroom floor tiles (wouldn't the house cleaner have noticed the floor was coming apart?) as well as the ceilings, and he can pop out a pin holding up a poster and peer at the girls (even though the laws of gravity would quickly cause the poster to peel down and droop).
Shorn of the flashbacks, Morgan’s script is just a dumb body-count tale with bitchy girls (including Party of Five’s Lacey Chabert), a dumb dorm mom (played by Andrea Martin, who acted in the original film), and seemingly leftover jokes from Morgan’s Final Destination [FD] sequels.
The humour that worked in the FD franchise fall flat here, and the obsessive visual attention on objects falling and maybe/maybe not being a part of a character’s imminent demise also feels out of place when the real threat isn’t a chain of moving objects, but Billy and/or his sister volleying kills (and heads) to complete a Christmas tree in their attic adorned with eyeballs they chose not to eat.
It’s gory and graphic, but stupendously dumb, and that alone makes Black Christmas, Morgan’s second remake after the dull Willard (2003), one of the worst of the recent ‘cult film re-imaginings.’ Of the three endings shot and included in this unnecessary 2-disc set, neither provides any satisfaction.
With seven credited producers, four co-producers, and five executive producers in charge of this lemon, this effort has no reason to exist beyond luring a younger audience away from Bob Clark’s original in video stores, and that’s a crime even the original Billy would’ve taken personally.
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan