Black Christmas

      Comments Off on Black Christmas

Glen Morgan’s remake of Black Christmas (1974) approaches the earlier film by Bob Clark in much the same way as Rob Zombie approached his remake of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). For Morgan Black Christmas (2006) is a chance to explain the incoherent explicit phone calls that torment the sorority sisters in the first film. Creepy lines like “you’re my Christmas cookie” that are spoken over the phone are revealed in flashbacks to be quotations of the killers’ abusive mother. While this renders the characters of Billy and Agnes as more fully developed characters it strips them of their greater meaning.

What was genius about Bob Clark’s film that inspired Carpenter’s Halloween is that he never bothered to explain the motivations behind the serial killer and his various idiosyncrasies. Billy and Michael Myers, with their minimal backstories, exist not only as boogey men but as social and political abstractions. The schadenfreude that these mass murderers offer audiences both reflect and are representative of the systemic violence in our society; be it misogyny, poverty, trauma, or even fear. The original Black Christmas and Halloween are films that operate within a patriarchal value system with antagonists that signify the most extreme and depraved fantasies such a system has to offer.

The counter balance to this fantasy is represented by the female protagonists who also double as potential victims. Bob Clark’s film focuses on these women and develops them not just in an effort to cultivate various red herrings but to give their deaths more impact. Morgan’s version of Black Christmas opts to go another route entirely and disregards the fact that by allowing the sorority sisters to exist as fully formed individuals/characters his film would have had a greater dramatic urgency. Instead Morgan privileges the killers with screen time at the expense of the sorority sisters. In the 2006 version of Black Christmas the predator is of more value than the victim.

Before Glen Morgan made Black Christmas he re-made another cult classic from the seventies, Willard (1971). Morgan’s approach to his film Willard (2003) is comparable to his Black Christmas in how he focuses in on the psycho-sexual subtexts of the original and brings those themes to the surface in the remakes. This doesn’t make the film anymore complex or interesting than the originals, it simply makes them different. To accomplish this aim Morgan has to sacrifice certain elements in order to accommodate a new program.

In Black Christmas the biggest change that Morgan makes is to introduce the killer’s sister as an accomplice and wolf in sheep’s skins. This muddies the plot significantly presumably to fill the void of all the discarded material from the original film regarding tracing the phone calls. What Morgan’s Black Christmas loses is a sense of the “unknown” and an urgent feeling of jeopardy. In Morgan’s hands Black Christmas exits the slasher vein of the lone maniac as in Halloween and enters the realm of the family of killers as seen in Friday The 13th (1980) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) .

Gory, gross, pulpy and cheap, Black Christmas (2006) is a lackluster updating of the original classic. I haven’t seen the latest remake of Black Christmas and I’m not sure I want to now. On a personal note, I found Michelle “Dawn Summers” Trachtenberg’s death far too gruesome and a bit scarring.