Billy Lenz never had a chance to be normal. Born with yellow skin and caught in the middle of his parents’ deeply dysfunctional marriage, he is only truly loved by his father. Continually abused & dismissed by his heartless, chain-smoking mother, his life completely changes when the man she’s having an affair with makes her a widow.
After witnessing the burying of his dad’s body under the front porch of his family house, Billy is chased up the attic. A combination lock keeps him up there for years until one fateful night when the troubled young man reaches his inevitable breaking point.
That’s just part of the crazy back story for this updated version of Black Christmas, a horror remake that’s equal parts silly & grotesque, not to mention nonsensical and extremely dumb.
25 years after the traumatized Billy decided to end his torture on Christmas, he’s locked away in a mental asylum doing what he always did in the family attic: silently rocking back & forth in a wooden chair. As Christmas 2006 approaches, he lays a rather simple trap for a dopey security guard who pays the price for walking into his cell without back-up. (Can you really stab someone to death with a sharpened candy cane?)
Meanwhile, his old family house has long since been transformed into a sorority house. As house mother Andrea Martin (who previously appeared in the 1974 original) and a few of the sisters prepare to exchange gifts (one of which is for Billy who they stupidly think is dead; it’s a useless superstition to keep them safe, you see), someone has already started killing some of them off. Unsurprisingly, it takes forever for the survivors to figure out what’s actually going on.
The movie tries to swerve us by insinuating rather dishonestly that a couple of supporting characters are the possible killer. Kyle (Oliver Hudson (yep, Kate’s brother)) is dating Kelli (Katie Cassidy). During an early conversation in his car, he tells her, “I’m your family now,” a variation on Billy’s strange catchphrase.
Plus, he’s a kinky motherfucker. He made a sex tape with one of Cassidy’s sorority sisters, the same tape the other woman just happens to be watching on her laptop (before getting offed by the real murderer) in the same room Kyle just happens to suspiciously sneak into later on during one of numerous, predictable False Alarms. (Was he going to break up with her even though he claims she’s an ex?)
Then, there’s Eve (Kathleen Kole), the seemingly out-of-place, bespectacled sister who wraps her gifts in newspaper, just like Billy’s dad did for his presents. But it’s not just any newspaper. Oh no. It’s newspaper that contains old articles about the Lenz family murders. Her one and only appearance prompts a ridiculous, misleading flashback.
Billy’s mother is fucking his stepdad on the top of the staircase when he suddenly falls asleep before they’ve finished. Angered by his impromptu snoring (guess he wasn’t feeling the ride), she turns her attention to the noise she hears up in the attic. While up there, as usual, she finds Billy rocking back and forth aimlessly in his chair when she suddenly disrobes. The very next scene shows a newborn baby with the very helpful graphic, “Nine months later.” Just in case you didn’t get that disturbing connection (which actually comes across as unintentionally cheesy), horndog Kyle helpfully spells it all out again for you when he’s discovered by the surviving sisters coming out of the other woman’s bedroom.
That’s around the same time Kyle’s embarrassing sex tape secret is discovered in a very funny scene that leads to more embarrassment when he admits there’s more than one tape.
But let’s return to the flashback for a minute. The new addition to the Lenz family is Agnes, a Neanderthal-looking gal who is treated way more humanely than Billy which makes absolutely no sense. (She unwraps a Christmas gift from mom, something Billy never got to do as a boy.) On this particular Christmas night, he somehow escapes the locked attic, briefly taunts his mom on the phone and kills everybody except Agnes, another puzzling moment. Instead, he just takes out one of her eyes and puts it in his mouth. After strangling his mother with Christmas lights, he still feels a bit peckish. So, as the cops arrive to survey the bloody crime scene, he’s savouring some freshly cooked mom meat. (And yes, it tastes like chicken, apparently. During the asylum scene, they serve him actual poultry because it reminds him of her. Who knew abusers could be delicious?)
In the very first scene of the film, a sorority sister named Clair is murdered. Then, later on, we meet her estranged older sister who somehow enters the house without knocking (guess they don’t lock their front door) and, like Eve, is immediately albeit wrongly viewed with suspicion. (She doesn’t share Clair’s last name because she’s married but is going through a divorce.) Wondering what the hell happened to Clair, she refuses to leave until she finds her. (Psst. Her dead body’s in the attic, stupid.)
At some point, the power goes out and wouldn’t you know it, someone has to flick the breaker switch which is conveniently located outside right under the front porch. Poor Lacey Chabert (Party Of Five, Mean Girls) is saddled with this thankless assignment which involves going outside in the cold, wintry weather and not being able to finish her cigarette because of that goddamn melting icicle.
As the numbers of the beautiful & the clueless inevitably dwindle with little hope for relief (it will take 2 hours for emergency personnel to arrive at the sorority house because of the icy roads), it’s only a matter of time before old Billy boy finds his way his back home as he hopes for a family reunion that would give Freud a massive heart attack.
I’ve yet to see the original Black Christmas, one of the most influential slasher films of all time. But by God, it has to be better than this. This absurd retread asks us to believe the following:
- That a kid with jaundice had a dad who loved him & a mom who hated him and they stayed together for years despite intense mutual loathing without once considering divorce.
- That the same mother also raped him, willingly conceived a child with him & lovingly cared for their hideous daughter (played by a man as an adult who looks like David Johansen) while still keeping him locked up in an attic for years.
- That he would spare the life of his daughter/sister, a daily reminder of his rape, during his first massacre.
- That both Billy & Agnes would then go on to become unrepentant serial killers (sorry, spree killers) and enthusiastic cannibals despite having no legitimate beefs (forgive the pun) with their next victims.
And that’s just the back story. As for the sorority sequences, they’re needlessly gruesome & far more routine in nature. In fact, as time goes by, you can start ticking off all the usual clichés one right after the other: hot, naked girl in the shower being secretly ogled by a nefarious antagonist (check); constantly creaking doors & floorboards (check); villain POV shots (check); threatening phone calls from the villain (check); the power suddenly going out never to be turned back on (check); disappearing characters never to be seen alive again while the other characters take forever to discover this (check); a voice of reason urging everyone to stick together which doesn’t actually happen (check); villains who should be dead after being seriously burned suddenly coming back to life just to go after the resourceful-in-a-crisis Final Girl in a hospital (check).
Billy Lenz understandably transitions from victim to victimizer in order to permanently escape his inhospitable home life. He correctly views this as the best and perhaps only way to survive. And that’s where his malevolence should end. But the makers of the Black Christmas update really, really want to shock you. So they turn him into a cannibal, just like his wacked out sister/daughter who does most of the butchering, smothering and gouging in & out of the sorority house.
It’s clear the movie also wants to be darkly humourous at times (there’s a weak reference to Dick Cheney, for example) but I’m pretty sure most of what made me laugh wasn’t supposed to provoke that kind of reaction.
Back to Agnes. What possible motivation could she have to reunite with the rape victim who made her half-blind? Unlike Billy, Agnes wasn’t abused by her mom. Shouldn’t she be, oh I don’t know, terrified of him? (Need I remind you he pulled out her eye and ate it?) Why would she ever want to return to the scene of her disfigurement?
I’ve seen a lot of bad horror films in my life but I have to say I’ve seen far worse than the shameless Black Christmas. Yes, it’s needlessly graphic. Yes, it’s stupid and often laughable. Yes, it’s far from frightening. But the talented cast (which includes Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Michelle Trachtenberg) do their best to prevent it from being even worse. Without fully fleshed characters to care about and original, atmospheric scares, however, they’re left floundering around like fish removed from the sea probably wondering why they signed on for this crap in the first place.
According to the Black Christmas trivia page on the Internet Movie Database, writer/director Glen Morgan proclaimed at the time of its theatrical release that if it didn’t do well, he would probably never direct another feature film again. A decade after it flopped with audiences & critics, he was proven correct.
I’m not upset about that.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, February 14, 2016