In John Waters' FEMALE TROUBLE juvenile delinquent, Dawn Davenport knocks over the Christmas tree onto her mother because she doesn't get cha-cha heels. Her mother cries, "Not on Christmas, Dawn! Not on Christmas!". Well, not only have the Christian groups been shouting the same thing about this remake, but horror fans have long been fearing the worst. And, yes, with the BLACK CHRISTMAS redux their fears have been realised. Glen Morgan's remake doesn't so much just push the original into the Christmas tree but also stamps all over it with great big cha-cha heels - and then sends it a turd in abox for good measure. Make no mistake, as a remake of THE defining proto-slasher this is an absolute travesty. However, what it is is actually a very enetertaining and gloriously ridiculous slasher flick. Who'd have thought it?
Firstly, Morgan certainly made good on the promise of ripping away any mystique the killer Billy had in the 1974 version. In the remake we get the full back-story, right from “Baby’s first Christmas 1970”, where Billy’s Mom tells the boy’s kindly father in no uncertain terms that this wasn’t the child she wanted. Billy was born with jaundice – a condition that makes his skin yellow – and is only seemingly introduced to signify him from the beginning as being an “other” (following in the not so grand tradition of the slasher flick and psychological horror film in placing the blame for psychopathic tendencies on physical malaise). It probably goes without saying that Billy’s childhood is not a happy one – it is full of cruelty, murder and incest. Finally, in 1991, Billy, now a grown man (and handsome pretty boy to boot – albeit a yellow one!), snaps and kills his Mother and Step-father, as well as maiming (but not killing) his younger sister, Agnes (by bagging her head and gouging out one of her eyes – in the same method he saw his Father being killed). The police drag him away to the mental institution after they find him eating ‘skin’ cookies he’s made from his Mother's corpse - all washed down with a glass of milk.
This story is shown in the several lengthy flashbacks that pepper the first half of the film (and, if truth be told, hamper the flow of the present day action). Billy’s old house is now the Alpha Kappa sorority house, filled to the brim with buff teenage girls (all apart from the obvious red-herring with bottle topped glasses (not to mention collage of Billy in her bedroom!) that makes the other girls think she’s a bit weird). This gaggle of “rich bitches” is presided over by the house mother (Andrea Martin) (who was in the original BLACK CHRISTMAS). They run the gamut of drunken (obviously a nod to Margot Kidder’s character in the original), virginal, horny, sweet, troubled and just plain cookie-cutter fodder. None of them give bad turns, but neither do they particularly distinguish themselves from each other – so dabs on final girl status is open for grabs.
It’s Christmas Eve, and a major snow storm is blowing outside, meaning that many of the girls won’t be able to get home from Christmas. Instead, they are staying up to give each other presents. Bizarrely, one of the house’s Christmas traditions is for one of the girls to buy Billy a gift (even though they think he’s dead). Quite why they would celebrate a famous murder in the house is just one of the many things you’ll need to suspend you disbelief in this film for.
Now, it is really no spoiler what-so-ever to let you know that this redux has two killers. Even Agatha Christie with Alzheimer’s could work that one out. One of the sorority sisters is bagged and has her eyes gouged during the opening credits, long before we cut to the Clark Sanatorium where Billy has been incarcerated for the last 15 years. It’s here that you really realise that Morgan really never had any intention of truly matching the intensity or the scares of the original, instead the redux paints itself very broadly with (pitch black) comedy asides and visual puns. Having said that, Morgan has the sense to know that what he’s really making is a horror film with a wide vein of black comedy – so he keeps the horror horrific (in some cases very horrific) and the comedy dead pan. Needless to say, Billy makes good of his promise to escape – utilising a sharpened candy cane and knocking off a lecherous Santa Claus (just for the extra anti-festive flavour).
Pretty soon, some of the sorority girls start to think there’s something in the attic, and in time honoured tradition they wander off on their own to investigate. And then the phone calls start … If you’ve seen the original you’ll know that the calls were the scariest thing in it. Quite unlike anything heard before: a cacophony of inner torment spewing forth and pained screams. The famous, “It’s me, Billy.” still send shivers down the spine. The remake uses the same technique – but just less so, and any frisson is considerably lessened. The other disturbing factor of the calls in the original was the swearing – and it’s telling that despite the oodles of gore in the remake you obviously can’t use the word 'cunt' any more. So much for progress! … One nice updating though (especially as that the-killer-is-calling-from-inside-the-house trick has been so over used and abused in the 22 years since the first film’s release) is that the killer uses the cell phone of the girl just killed to taunt the others.
Again, in time-honoured tradition, Morgan’s film has stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy amongst some Christians in the States. To be honest, the remake is much more anti-Christmas than the original – even extending to one of the girls giving a long speech about how the whole thing is Pagan anyway and points out that Santa is just some creepy old man who spies on young children. You’ve also got a severed head on the Christmas tree and eyeballs as baubles! However, it’s always worth bearing in mind that we’ve been here before – even if the fundamentalists have such short memories. Plus, controversy sells tickets – and I would be surprised if Dimension didn’t organise some faux-outraged patrons to march in indignant circles outside a prominent theatre come Christmas Day.
Another controversy, however, is the myriad shoots and reshoots of the film. Now we all know what that means – you only have to look at past Dimension hatchet jobs (CURSED and HALLOWEEN: RESSURECTION spring to mind) to see what a mess too many cooks can make. But, in an unprecedented move, the UK has got a different version of the film than the one opening in the US (something which hasn’t happened since back in the early 80s!). Despite this there are some major pacing problems in a very saggy middle section, which still point to studio interference. Now, I haven’t seen the US version (so bear in mind this review is only of the UK version) – but the fact that it, apparently, has one character brandishing a shotgun saying, “Merry Christmas, Muthafucker!” doesn’t fill me with much optimism! One other change I am aware of is that some of the deaths are shorter or different in the US version – most notably the one that audience wincing when I saw it, where one character has her eyeballs pulled out, and then is dragged along the floor by the killer with fingers in her eye sockets, like a gruesome bowling ball, is missing in the US cut. Incredibly, the BLACK CHRISTMAS redux only has a 15 certificate in the UK (which I heard one ashen-faced patron complaining about as we left the screening!). I don’t want to paint the UK version as an out-and-out gore show, as many of the deaths take place off screen (or are shown as just a geyser of blood splashing up a wall), but there is a pleasing vein of misanthropy running throughout, and it doesn’t matter how strong your stomach is, the sight of someone biting into severed eyeballs is sure to make you a little queasy.
Morgan also can’t help but give a cheeky nod to his FINAL DESTINATION films (you have to wonder why if they made so much money Dimension were hell-bent on meddling), with a particularly daft icicle death.
Ultimately, this redux is an absolute desecration – it’s like doing a tap dance remake of HALLOWEEN (Rob Zombie – NO!). However, if you can forget that this is a rehash of one of the best slasher films ever – not to mention one of the most influential – then there’s lots of fun to be had with it. The basic formula of sorority girls being stalked by deranged loons in their snow-bound sorority house is a slasher movie fan’s dream. The comedic elements aren’t so odd either, if you just remember that Bob Clark (who is executive producer here) is just as famous for the original BLACK CHRISTMAS as PORKIES. However, I can’t help wonder what would have come of the mooted ‘straight’ remake (or sequel) that was talked about a few years ago and would have reunited Olivia Hussey and John Saxon. Guess we’ll never know (unless this makes enough money to warrant a sequel).
My advice for the BLACK CHRISTMAS remake: just turn your mind off and just enjoy the cheesy slayride.
female:2 / male:8
1) Female stabbed in the eye
2) Male killed (off-screen)
3) Female has eyes ripped out
4) Male stabbed in the neck with candy
5) Male killed (bloodsplash seen)
6) Female strangled and then eaten
7) Male stabbed through the eye
8) Female hit in the back of the head with garden trowel
9) Female found beheaded
10) Female killed (bloodsplash seen)
11) Female gets icicle through the head
12) Female has eyes ripped out and dragged along ground by her eye sockets!
13) Female found with eyes missing
14) Male stabbed through the head
15) Male dies from burn wounds
16) Female has neck snapped
17) Female electrocuted