Did you ever watch Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974) and wonder if this would be better if we only knew who Billy was? Or why he was particularly angry at the girls of Delta Alpha Kappa? Maybe you watched it and thought Billy should suffer from severe jaundice, causing him to become as yellow as the snow you shouldn’t eat. Was your greatest criticism the fact that nobody, not one single person, had a freakish eyeball fetish, going as far as to use them as ornaments? Well if it was, then boy do I have a film for you!
Loosely based off the original masterpiece of menace and one of horrors seminal slashers, Black Xmas (Christmas’ edgier cousin) accounts a night at a sorority house days before Christmas. It’s a house that carries with it a lot of history, having been the scene of a family murder at the hands of Billy (Robert Mann), a jaundice ridden boy who was neglected after his mother (Karin Konoval) murdered his father. He’s a child (played by Cainan Wiebe) who lives in the attic and uses crawlspaces to get around, observing life through the many glory holes that litter the dilapidated home. There’s even an incest subplot that sees Billy’s mother conceive a yoing girl (I did say loosely based) who is eventually locked away at the same mental ward as Billy after he takes out her eye and murders his mother and her lover. Now, twenty some odd years later, the sorority sisters who reside in the house are being picked off one by one, until they must confront the house’s sordid history.
Comparing Black Xmas to its older, scarier and more refined sibling isn’t something one should particularly do, unless they feel inclined in discovering the massive holes it stabs in its plot and characters. This is a remake that has audacity, which, quite frankly, I applaud. It acknowledges its roots just enough to grow, and by the time it’s able to stand on its own, it’s off running, shaking things up. It’s a film that doesn’t want to fit in, understanding damn well that there’s a fan-base out there, willing to accept it for what it is.
Unfortunately, I’m not that fan.
Watching Black Xmas, it feels uncertain whether or not the director, Glen Morgan (Willard), cherishes Bob Clark’s masterpiece or loathes it. Perhaps he feels dissatisfied with its lack of entrails (this version has that), its unassuming and ambiguous killer – who is left unrevealed and unharmed – or its severe lack of eyeball collecting (this version has that too!)
Now, I mention eyeballs because it oddly plays a significant part in Morgan’s version, as they are plucked left and right from our sorority sisters. It feels like a loving tribute to Daryl Hannah‘s one-eyed assassin in Kill Bill (2003), until another eye is plucked, then another, and another. It gets to the point where seeing is believing, as our two killers begin decorating a small balsam fir with gooey, dripping eyeballs. It’s a fixation for Billy who in turn inflicts it on his sister by taking one of her own eyes; a motif that never quite finds a home within Black Xmas.
There’s so much slaughter – a surprisingly applaudable smorgasbord of gore to make you rethink Christmas seconds – that it requires multiple killers, a reveal that shows itself within the first few minutes.
Our films Claire (Leela Savasta) is bagged and stabbed, only to be left propped up by the attic window, replicating the originals iconic imagery. Except its apparent that Morgan doesn’t want to idle on old ground, never quite returning to that haunting vision of a dead girl, her mouth and eyes agape as her rocking chair rhythmically sways back and forth. No, Morgan is more interested in creating red herrings out of our sorority sisters (who all seem to hate each other, in their own loving way) while setting up Billy, who just so happens to be all grown up and still looking like the meanest highlighter in the classroom.
Breaking out of the nearest mental asylum – because every college campus is located next to one – Billy makes his way to his old stomping grounds, further indicating that someone is in fact, already in the house. The twist comes in revealing who the second killer is, or whether Billy is possibly our sister’s savior, which fills Black Xmas with interesting angles. Unfortunately, we’re treated to a backstory that reveals baby Billy and his seemingly horrendous upbringing.
It’s a peek through a glory hole of history that feels overwrought with Rob Zombie level hugs and kisses, dismissive of any emotion other than disgust – which if you’re into, Merry Christmas!
Billy’s mother murders his father – the only holiday bulb that hasn’t gone out on him – then because her lover is a bit too drunk to fuck, rapes him in order to have a child, revealing an atmosphere that would make Jesus weep. If that wasn’t enough, Billy then gouges out his sister’s eye, kills his mother and takes a cookie cutter to her flesh, baking off some treats before letting the cops roll up on him, flesh cookie still dangling from his lips.
All the while our sorority sisters bicker, fake smile, text and chase tequila with wine, falling prey to multiple killers, (which may or may not include Kelli’s (Katie Cassidy) repulsively leering boyfriend, Kyle (Oliver Hudson) – who just so happens to be sleeping with another Delta Alpha Kappa). There doesn’t seem to be any truly likable characters outside Kelli and Heather (because Mary Elizabeth Winstead can do no wrong), as the films 80 minute run time doesn’t quite offer enough opportunities to find any. Our victims sit around a Christmas tree, waiting for their housemates to gather, waiting for the night to pass, and waiting for a better situation. In hindsight, we too find ourselves doing just the same.