It is incredibly hard to attain only the most rudimentary type of viewer objectivity when one's cult movie is involved. Subject of an everlasting debate among great cinema fans and less great fans alike, the question of whether yes or no a film possesses its own level of intrinsec quality, and should not only be judged as to how it pleases a particular individual, is still a topic that puzzles me and countless others. To gain the necessary detachment, I waited for more than a year before revisiting this critically-panned motion picture that I absolutely adored before, during and after its release, and for increasingly obscure reasons at that. Maybe I was just a sick fuck. Maybe I still am.
As of now, you should be able to guess that this review of Glen Morgan's 2006 Black Christmas remake is a highly subjective take on a film that maybe, probably, surely doesn't deserve such an exhaustive analysis. Or does it?
Alright, to most people, the answer to that question is a big no-no. ''It's just a crappy slasher'', they all say. On those regards, 'they' are absolutely right. Because, make no mistake, Black Christmas IS just a slasher film, and it cannot (and doesn't) pretend to be anything else. And make no mistake, it is unmistakably crappy, too-- and even if the final product almost begs to be considered as a campy, fast-paced cheesefest than an actual horror thriller, the DVD's 'Behind the Scenes' features reveal that the original intent was to make an actual, y'know, 'scary movie', but with 'traces of typical genre humor'.
I frankly don't know where to start. I'll get rid of those inevitable comparisons to Bob Clark's 1974 original, which was (and still is) a deliciously creepy and unsettling pulse-pounder, even thirty-plus years after its release. Spawning a long wave of hit dead teenager films (and notably inspiring John Carpenter's Halloween), it is also nearly the complete opposite of this new millenium reboot. Besides the setting and a few similarities (read : references), both are very different entities that might have similar goals, but still proceed on marginally separate ways to reach them. I am referring, of course, to the good ol' heebie-jeebies-- scaring the shit out of an audience. It's not the new version's biggest flaw, that definite un-scariness, but it drags the end result down-- a lot. It has no clue how to maintain tension. It has no clue how to provide sustained thrills. It has no clue to be scary. To some, that's the worst possible crime any retelling of the 1974 version might commit.
But hey, plenty of those kinds of films have gotten away with that particular lack of spookiness. If the Friday the 13th films had been known for their genuine eerieness (and not for their unrelenting sleaziness and death porn), I think we'd live in a radically different world today-- and I do mean that. But nope : those films have had their fair share of success because they provide cheap, splattery thrills. They are enjoyable because they offer nothing more than vile, voyeuristic moments of nastiness without ever pretending all of this is happening for real. *insert commentary on following birth of torture porn subgenre here* Nevertheless, Black Christmas 06 is, to at least a considerable fanbase, an entertaining romp even if it wasn't meant to be in such a tongue-in-cheek way.
And here's where I feel like throwing a few flowers on the stage : it is, at least to me and the degenerates of my kind, not boring. Clocking just under 90 minutes, it is structured well-enough to let several events happen under one roof (the sorority house), mostly at the same time, and not make the whole thing draggy or confusing. Girls talk in the living room, girls exit the house, girls are killed in their rooms, girls argue, drink and vomit, girls sit down and listen to prolonged flash-backs of who the hell mysterious killer Billy Lenz was-- all simultaneously. Even when one knows what's gonna happen and when, there is nothing that really blocks the plot from advancing and the jolts from jolting. In a vast majority of typical slasher films, there are usually a few patches where it's all too obvious what's gonna happen, who's gonna die next and whythefuckamIwatching, etc. In this one, there's not much time to think about how bad everything is, except of course when it's over.
My, oh my-- yes, indeed, there is plenty to cover in terms of pure, unabashed incompetence : asylum scenes that just plain suck nuts, dialogue that ranges from the charmingly goofy to the monstrously inane (there, a nugget : ''Here's the key to Billy Lenz : he just wants to feel at home''), a cloying soundtrack full of dun-dun-DUNS, mediocre acting and a stitched-together feel (the epilogue particularly stinks of last-minute reshoots). For the latter, you can immediately put the blame on the Weinsteins and their Dimension-like crap orders (''We want more gore! We want less talking!''). For the rest... well, let's say that this time I had to face how horrible most of it is. Even with redeeming qualities like beautifully lit interiors, those frighteningly amusing flash-backs and the bloody, exciting attic climax, there's just not enough to outweight all the shitty ideas that prevents it from tipping into traditionally 'watchable' territory.
The nitpicking could go on and on, just so you know. Even the cast, a largely feminine ensemble full of familiar faces for horror buffs (like Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michelle Trachtenberg and Andrea Martin) are a least a couple of notches below what they are usually capable of. It's no help that their characters are also underwritten, one-dimensional rich bitches (a personal fave moment : not one but THREE girls are introduced by sighing & rolling their eyes upwards, consecutively). Even Katie Cassidy's not-that-obvious Final Girl role is given too little to do before the mayhem begins. Only Karin Konoval, as Billy Lenz's chronically fucked-up mother, plays the part according to the finished product's actual tone, and to great effect at that. While we're there, I could also mention how unexplainably fascinating the wordless role of the 'opening sequence girl' (that means dead meat), played by Leela Savasta, came across to me.
So, yes, I rated it three stars-- although there's no way in hell this could ever pass for three-star quality entertainment. It's a very dumb, very hokey film made by smart people who have already shown better work (Morgan's previous effort, the tremendously underrated Willard, is a shining example) and will inevitably show better again. I know how terrible Black Christmas 06 is, and I know how much people were frustrated by its idiotic features, that's for sure. Here we go : with as much detachment as possible, I ended up concluding that... objectively, this is not a film that's done well at all. Glen Morgan's Black Christmas is... a bad film.
But you know what? I love it, and not in some ironic way. I love this film. I love its tiny little bright spots, I love its anonymous mediocrities, and I love its huge chunks of crappiness. I really, really love this film-- and for someone who's seen a dangerous amount of jaw-dropping crap spectacles (especially among that genre), a lousy remake that actually made me downright fall in love with it, even for no good reasons, is enough to make me want to celebrate.
Merry Christmas, motherfuckers.