Black Christmas feels more like a campfire story told to scare children than a motion picture meant to terrify adults. By the time it finishes explaining the back story and universe within which it presides, you’ll have thought of more terrifying deaths for the characters in your mind. In fact, stop watching Black Christmas at the 45 minute mark and go straight to bed, and you’ll have more interesting dreams than the images contained within the second half of this film.
Ostensibly a remake of the 1974 slasher of the same name, Black Christmas is a film that takes place almost entirely in a sorority house during a terrible winter storm that ensures that regardless of what happens, nobody can leave and the police won’t get there until well after the running time has come to a close. The plot: A killer is on the loose, of course. His name is Billy, and he has been locked in a prison/asylum/whatever for the last couple of decades. Cheekily, the sorority girls dedicate a gift to Billy, “in his memory,” since this was the house in which he grew up and suffered through a painful childhood.
We get a great deal of flashbacks that make sure to reinforce exactly how awful Billy’s childhood was. We learn that he was born with yellow skin and was hated by his mother as a result. Inbreeding also becomes a topic of conversation, as his mother, well, is a really terrible person. Anyway, there are a bunch of sorority girls and they’re going to be terrorized and hopefully eventually killed, so hopes our serial killer. And the audience, presumably, because how many people go to a slasher movie to see the innocent (or not so innocent) protagonists get away?
You know how the film works from here. There are a bunch of pretty girls, and most, if not all, of them will get killed in the end. The only problems facing the writers are (1) figuring out how to get the characters to the area in which they will die and (2) which creative way should they be killed.
There’s not a whole lot of creativity to the kills, which is a bit of a shame. Slashers need to at least provide one or two memorable moments, but thanks to the low budget — and perhaps a lack of talent behind the camera — most of the kills either happen off-screen or involve a plastic bag and a head. Sure, some of the things that are done to the bodies after the deaths are pretty gruesome — eyeballs are removed and sometimes eaten, for one — but that’s much easier to accomplish. At least one of the deaths is incredibly stupid, and while I’ll remember it — a death by falling icicle — it doesn’t mean anything especially because it happened independent of the killer.
The slasher is perhaps one of the only genres where having a lack of character development can be seen as a good thing. When one or two of the people have strong characterization, you can always assume that they’ll make it right to the end of the film. Black Christmas has almost no development for anyone, which means it’s essentially a free-for-all. Anyone can die, and anyone does.
With that said, Black Christmas is rarely scary, and while it does initially build some strong atmosphere, it fails to capitalize on that and instead relies on jump scenes and excessive gore to attempt to frighten us. It’s a film that startles, although it telegraphs these moments so poorly that you’ll see when almost all of them are about to show up. And when the plot finally concludes, you’ll have sat through something a more convoluted and confusing than any slasher has the right to be. Seriously, even with all of this exposition, Black Christmas still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Admittedly, this is a film that looks good — or at least, looks different. There’s no real purpose behind the numerous canted-angle shots, the main stylistic device used by director Glen Morgan, but at least there’s something different about the film. Otherwise, it probably wouldn’t even be worth discussing, save for calling it another poor remake of a horror (cult) classic — even if that remake has little to do with the original except for the basic premise.
It’s hard to say that any of the actors do a good, or bad, job, because there’s so little for all of them to do other than look pretty and then look dead. Oh, and they have to occasionally looks scared when they think the killer might be close by, or cry when one of their “sisters” gets killed. They’re all working with such a limited screenplay that it’s impossible to fault any of them for turning in a subpar performance. Not that many of them do — they’re all perfectly fine given the material — but there are a couple, whose names I don’t even know since the characters’ names didn’t matter, that were terrible.
Black Christmas isn’t a good movie. It doesn’t have many fun or creative kills, and it’s a remake of a classic slasher film that really didn’t need to be remade. It’s a pointless movie that, while not terrible, certainly isn’t worth spending the time to watch, even if that time is only 85 minutes. While it has an interesting style, it’s a dull, overly convoluted slasher that you have no reason to watch.