Black Christmas (remake)

Horror fans are mighty peculiar when it comes to remakes. They cry foul at every change made to the original, from important things like the motive of the killer to the tiniest detail like a character’s name. However, if a remake stays true to the original, they will just bitch and moan that it’s the same movie and why bother? Apparently, the moral is “Just don’t remake movies,” which is fine, if you want to forget The Thing, The Fly, The Blob….

All in all, this reviewer doesn’t care if a remake isn’t as good as the original. The original is still there. It makes a lot more sense to judge a remake the same way the original was judged: ON ITS OWN MERITS. If the remake pales, fine. If it doesn’t, that’s fine too. A decent horror movie is a decent horror movie, remake or not.

In the case of Black Christmas remake, there is even more scrutiny and (ultimately) undeserved venom thrown its way than usual. The original is notable for 2 things: One, it kickstarted the slasher genre (sorry, Halloween fans, Black Christmas did a lot of the same things first, if not necessarily better). And two, it never revealed the killer’s identity or motive. However, for the remake, this is not an issue. Glen Morgan and James Wong, who also were responsible for the Willard remake as well as the entertaining Final Destination series, decided that this time around, we will know exactly what Billy and Agnes were up to.

The basic story is pretty much the same. It’s Christmas, and a group of sorority sisters who for one reason or another are not with their families, are holed up at their sorority home along with the house mother, here played by Andrea Martin (who was one of the sisters in the original, a nice little homage). And there’s a killer in the attic who leaves disturbing phone calls.

And that’s pretty much the extent of the similarities. Morgan and Wong do not really recreate the original’s characters, though Crystal Lowe’s Lauren is similar to the original’s Margot Kidder character. Instead they cast and wrote each of the girls to be a lead, so that we are not sure who will be the ultimate heroine. Throw in a jerk boyfriend and a few other red herrings, and condense the story into one night, and there you have it, a remake that neither recreates or completely bastardizes the original.

In 2004 Dawn of the Dead was remade, and while it was vilified before it was even shot, most fans will admit it’s a pretty good movie. And again, it did precisely what a remake should do. It took the basic concept and a few beats and made it into something new. Why should the idea of “Zombies in a mall” only be used to tell the story of 2 news folks and 2 swat team members who make the mall their home? Now we have two movies with that concept, both with their own strengths and weaknesses, both enjoyable films. It’s the same case here. Morgan and Wong have their strengths (dark humor, over the top gore, etc), and they adapt the basic concept of a killer inside a sorority house at Christmastime to play to those strengths. Why should it matter that they are explaining who Billy is? It’s a different movie than the original. The identity of the killer in Bob Clark’s film is not made any more or less clear because 32 years later someone decided to make a new version.

Now, the film is not a legendary film like The Thing or The Fly remakes were, not by any stretch. There are still problems, the main one being (this is slightly spoiler material) that there are two killers, which is supposed to be a surprise, but since there are two deaths at the house before Billy even escapes from the sanitarium, that’s sort of obvious right from the start. Also, there are too many girls, and while they are all extremely easy on the eyes (this may be the “cutest” cast ever assembled for a film), two or three of them easily could have been removed entirely. But it’s not like the original is flawless either. Also it should be noted that this film is being released by Dimension, and, perhaps as a Christmas gift to fans, for once did NOT edit out all of the violence/gore to make it a PG13 film, nor did they render the film incomprehensible by editing out anything “slow” (i.e. story).

In the end, it’s a pretty good modern slasher. There’s no self-referential humor, there’s no annoying pop stars playing sassy friends, and no obvious re-editing. Instead, there’s gore, a few decent creepy moments, and some well implemented dark humor, which is more than you can say for most slashers of the past decade.

If you love the original, this film’s existence is not going to change that, so please let the remake bias cease and start judging a film on its own merits. You can still hate it, but hate it for being bad, not for sharing a title and concept with another film.

Official Score