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John’s Horror Corner: Black Christmas (2006), a prime example of how exposition truly is the death of horror…that, and lousy remakes

July 11, 2013

One of the best horror movies of the year?  What, did this come out on New Year’s Day or something?

MY CALL:  I had fun with it.  Just try to ignore that this is a remake of a classic trendsetter and take this for what it is: an 80s-style slasher movie in which gore is celebrated and a shower scene is simply there to deliver bare breasts rather than to convey a sense of vulnerability and “will she die” tension.  IF YOU LIKE THIS WATCH:  Black Christmas (1974), Halloween (1978) and When a Stranger Calls (1979) were also born in the 70s and do a much better job at building tension and testing our nerves.

In this is a remake of the 1974 classic Black Christmas, the girls of Alpha Kappa are again slaughtered
during Christmas break.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Heather Fitzgerald

Michelle Trachtenberg as Melissa

Katie Cassidy as Kelli Presley

Lacey Chabert as Dana

Our Alpha Kappas include Kelly (Katie Cassidy; A Nightmare on Elm Street, Harper’s Island), Melissa (Michelle Trachtenberg; Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Heather (Scream Queen Mary Elizabeth Winstead; Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer, The Thing) and Dana (Lacey Chabert; Thirst).  To prime the story the girls and their house mother Ms. Mac (Andrea Martin; Phyl of the original Black Christmas) retell the story of Billy the Black Christmas killer, his twisted childhood and his daughter…

This background story spends far too much time explaining why Billy is the way he is much as the Halloween (2007) remake did for Michael Myers.  In fact, any explanation is too much explanation.  Both Billy and Michael Myers were originally scary for the same reason: no one knew why they killed or what motivated them.  They just killed without reason and it was terrifying.  This attempt to justify the killer’s psyche is an excellent example of how exposition truly is the death of good horror.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Another unfortunate fault is that the sorority girls all have very similar personalities.  Sure, one of them gets drunk (probably attempting to mimic Margot Kidder’s lushy debutante role from the original) and another is homesick, but under the surface these characters may as well be spun from the same mold.  Stacking on the faults, this movie even failed to capture the creepiness of the call coming from “inside the house.”  Not because it’s now been done so many times, but because it was too hammed up to be creepy.  CALL “COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE” FAIL!!!

This has a classically perfect set up.  A bunch of attractive college girls are blizzard-bound in their sorority house over Christmas break and an escaped, murderous mental patient who used to live in their house is on the loose.  Through homogenous characters and exposition the story is ruined.  But through brutal, gory deaths an entertaining movie experience was salvaged-for those of us who are in to that anyway.

Billy?  Is that you under that wig? Noooooooo…

The gore is brutal and abrupt.  Our killer doesn’t toy with his victims once they’re within reach.  He’s really quite the dynamic slayer.  Early on he sets the pace when he gauges then tears out an eyeball with no warning from his still-living coed victim.  In fact, eyeball-gore seems to be a pleasant theme, often accompanied by tongue-in-cheek cannibalism.  We also get some brutally prolonged beatings-to-death, lots of stabbing, loads of gore, and some gore-slathered sound-editing to really bring it together.  Some may say the sloppy-squishy sound effects were overdone.  Perhaps…but overdone damned well!  Gorehounds will be pleased for sure.  I should add that the “falling icicle” death scene was hilariously perfect!  The ice skate kill was also pretty damned special. All in all, only the sound editors and special effects folks demonstrated thoughtful approaches to their craft.

Try to ignore that this is a remake of a classic trendsetter and take this for what it is: an 80s-style slasher movie in which gore is celebrated and a shower scene is simply there to deliver bare breasts rather than to convey a sense of vulnerability and “will she die” tension.  I had fun with it.

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