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Case Number 11164

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Black Christmas (Unrated Widescreen Edition)

Genius Products // 2006 // 92 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // April 9th, 2007

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All Rise...

Judge Brett Cullum is holding out for Blaxploitation Christmas: Candy Cane.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Black Christmas: Special Edition (published November 27th, 2006) and Black Christmas (Blu-Ray) (published November 21st, 2008) are also available.

The Charge

"That sucks, everyone should be home for Christmas."—Melissa Kitt

Opening Statement

In a sad turn of events, Bob Clark, who made the original Black Christmas, was killed along with his son by a drunk driver in the first week of April 2007. One of the nicest things about Black Christmas (Unrated Widescreen Edition) is that we get to see him talk about his seminal horror one more time in the extras. He was on the set of the new project frequently. Seems the director of this remake, Glen Morgan (who directed the remake for Willard), had a ton of respect for Clark and what he achieved in his 1974 original. You can't deny the legacy of Bob Clark, and it's nice to see him honored on this DVD. It's almost worth checking out for that reason alone.

Will fans of the original find this remake satisfying? I would guess "mostly not" judging from the poor box office reception during it's appropriately timed December run. And yet there is something interesting going on, although the new vision fails ultimately. The director, Glen Morgan, seems unsure of himself where he was assured in his inventive Willard reimagining. But this isn't a completely brainless remake, and the DVD helps you realize how much thought went into this movie even if it comes off misguided. Black Christmas (Unrated Widescreen Edition) is an interesting case where the supplemental material may help viewers appreciate a seriously flawed film.

Facts of the Case

It's Christmas, and a group of sorority sisters prepare to head home for the holidays. Problem is they reside in a house where a son went nuts and killed his entire family one dark, high, holy day. And wouldn't you know it? This is the year Billy the killer escapes from his Christmas light-decorated cell at the local asylum. He's heading home to share his special brand of holiday spirit. So one by one the girls will face a madman determined to make sure nobody gets home to unwrap presents. But wait a second, because it seems there's more to the story than meets the eye. Billy might have some living family after all.

The Evidence

While I was watching this new vision of Black Christmas I had a hard time divorcing myself from critical analysis. I never escaped into the movie because I was too busy ticking off inconsistencies. There are major plot holes and tons of unanswered questions. It's nowhere near as lean and mean as the original. It's overstuffed with too many characters, a hackneyed back story for the killer, and one too many unrealistic plot twists that make you groan incredulously. It's yet another mishandled remake of a horror classic destined to join The Wicker Man (2006) and The Amityville Horror (2005) as bad ideas that never should have been done. Rather than delivering a straight ahead remake, the director felt he had to put his own stamp on the material and add to the mythology.

The biggest issue is giving Billy a back story, which kills any menace. We never needed to know why all of this was happening back in 1974, and leaving a killer a blank canvas is infinitely more scary than fleshing out a problematic childhood. In this retelling we find out about an abusive childhood and Billy's jaundice, which gives him yellow skin (that made me think of the "Yellow Bastard" character from Sin City too much). We're supposed to feel sympathy for him as a poor, mistreated child. We get to know the killer way too much, so he's not a terrifying figure. It's a fatal flaw to spend so much time investigating this character the audience is supposed to dread. It creates a strange sympathy for him in place of anything nerve jangling.

Another major problem is the rest of the cast is forgettable. They play one note, and all too often it's simply "bitchy sorority girl." The assembled bevy of television actresses who are about to get hacked up include Michelle Trachtenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Katie Cassidy (who got her start on a three episode arc of Seventh Heaven), Kristen Cloke (Millennium), Lacey Chabert (Party of Five), and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Wolf Lake). The movie doesn't let us identify with any of them, and you could care less who lives or dies. I think they get dispatched in the order of their shows getting canceled. It's always obvious who's next, since it's the girl who goes off alone (despite knowing a nut job is loose in the house looking to kill them). Black Christmas follows the age old horror rules to the letter, and we're past finding these formulaic clichés scary. Andrea Martin (SCTV) had a role in the original, and she appears in the remake as the house mother. Her comedic side is all too easily visible throughout the proceedings; she seems out of place in a slasher flick.

There's something off with the themes and how they are handled. The killer has a fascination with eyeballs—each victim has at least one popped out in every death sequence. It gets old and looks fake. Black Christmas has a truly dark, angry streak towards Christmas and its traditions which surfaces too readily during the film. I lost count of how many times someone urges to "f—K" something affiliated with the holiday. Christmas songs are used endlessly, and there's even a monologue by a character that debunks the idea that the decorations are Christian in origin. The abortion debate from the first version is replaced with a ton of nonsense about family and privacy. Added in haphazardly is a Paris Hilton-style sex tape which doesn't amount to much. The director claims in the extras he is trying to make a grand statement about the Republican ideals of focused families and surveillance, but it fails to be clearly articulated. There's a lot going on, but it comes off messy and convoluted where the original was sparse and tight. I could identify certain elements and guess why they were there, but they aren't used effectively. It all feels well made with a lot of respect for the source material, but somehow that kills it by saddling the film with an old school pace and new material that bloats it.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Surprisingly, once I viewed the special features the movie seemed better formed, or at least well-intentioned. The DVD from Genius Products helped me appreciate what the filmmakers were trying to achieve by allowing them to talk about their ideas. The "behind the scenes" featurettes are insightful, including interviews with all the major players. We hear how much they respect the original, and each person articulates what they were thinking as they approached the material. There are two featurettes which last nearly thirty minutes each, and neither contains the fluffy, electronic, press-kit-banter usually found on Dimension horror films. This supplemental material should be mandatory viewing; it is more engaging than the feature. Seven minutes of deleted scenes don't do much other than add character beats and an astonishing three endings to look through.

The technical end of things is admirably executed; Black Christmas comes off without a hitch. Even though the film is overly dark (often only lit by Christmas light or flashlight) the transfer pays great attention to color and black levels. There is no edge enhancement nor digital noise. The surround track adds to the creepiness while playing every Christmas cellphone jingle and musicbox treatment of "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies" clearly.

Copies of Black Christmas in America and Canada are prominently labeled by the alternate Black X-Mas with a huge "UNRATED" banner (under the US promotional title meant to be less offensive to religious groups). I'm always skeptical and curious when the studios claim something is better untouched by the MPAA. So what's added? The running time has been extended by seven minutes from what was seen theatrically, and there are definitely moments of extended gore. Several sequences are given more or alternate footage. Here's what we get according to IMDb's "alternate version" information, with names removed to combat spoiler issues (though there are still spoilers, so beware):
• There is an extra shot of someone under the bed in the opening scene.
• When a guard is killed in the insane asylum, there's an extra shot of someone climbing up from under the bed, an extra shot of blood dripping from the guard's neck.
• In Megan's death scene, there is an inserted view of the weapon someone stabs her with.
• The phone call scenes are more brutal, using harsher language.
• There's a completely new scene that shows Lauren's death on-screen. In the new sequence, what looks like a couple of figures sneak in the room while Lauren's asleep. A hand starts touching her under the covers and Lauren wakes up and sees the glass unicorn on her night stand. She tries to stab someone with it, but nobody's there. Then someone grabs Lauren by the throat and stabs her with the unicorn in her eye.
• When Kyle is killed, there is more blood gushing out of his head.
• At the ending, there is an extra shot of Leigh standing next to a closed door in the hospital hallway and we see someone walking past it in the shadows, foreshadowing that something bad is going to happen.

Closing Statement

This remake of Black Christmas is overextended and less effective than the original. In the 1974 classic, Billy is kept mysterious, and could even be several characters in the film. For 2006, Billy is a jaundiced psychopath, and we're given his cannibalistic back story in great detail. Director Glen Morgan tries to scribble his own signature over a horror cult classic, but in the end he mucks things up through his stylish design and urge to reveal far more. At least we get a good idea of exactly where he was going in the well produced extras, and I appreciated the thought he put in to the process. Too bad it doesn't work better, but at least we now know what he was aiming for. His heart was in the right place, but the box office take of Willard inspired him to try too hard to make this one full of illogical jump scares. He does contribute interesting ideas to the horror genre, but in the end this one's a cautionary tale about how not to make a slasher film. Still, the DVD is well produced and will provide better viewing than what appeared briefly in theatres.

The Verdict

Ho-ho-ho horrible remake of Christmas classic—but with its heart in the right place. This team is ordered by the court to stay away from the remakes, and head back to original stories.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 92
Audio: 92
Extras: 98
Acting: 64
Story: 72
Judgment: 83

Perp Profile

Studio: Genius Products
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles:
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Genre:
• Horror

Distinguishing Marks

• Deleted and Alternate Scenes
• 3 Alternate Endings
• "What Have You Done?: The Remaking of Black Christmas" Featurette
• "May All Your Christmases Be Black: A Filmmaker's Journey" Featurette

Accomplices

• IMDb
• It's Me Billy: Fan Site








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