Black Christmas (2006)


The years 2006 to 2010 represent the great horror re-making. Every franchise that money-grabbing scum producers could get their hands on was given a fresh coat of paint – so we had “Friday The 13th”, “Halloween”, “A Nightmare On Elm Street”, “My Bloody Valentine”, “April Fools Day”, “Children Of The Corn”, “The Hills Have Eyes”, “Day Of The Dead” and “Prom Night”, among others (“Dawn Of The Dead”, “Fright Night” and “Silent Night” coming just outside this period, too). It’s not surprising, given its strong cult fanbase, that the fantastic 1974 original “Black Christmas” would get the same treatment, but would it fare any better than the list above? (Hint: only “The Hills Have Eyes” is worth a damn).


The more I think about the original, the more I like it. The atmosphere is superb and the ambiguity of the ending was perfectly judged – director Bob Clark had to fight the studio to leave it that way. Perhaps the simplest thing to say about this 2006 version is that it feels like no-one gave enough of a damn about any aspect of it to fight for anything. Or, to get another stupid analogy out of the way, it feels like some drunk guy watched the movie and related the details to this one’s scriptwriter, who…had a severe head injury before he could start work.

Crystal Lowe (Lauren), Andrea Martin (Ms Mac), Lacy Chabert (Dana), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Heather) and Michelle Trachtenberg (Melissa) star in Glen Morgan's BLACK CHRISTMAS.

Crystal Lowe (Lauren), Andrea Martin (Ms Mac), Lacy Chabert (Dana), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Heather) and Michelle Trachtenberg (Melissa) 

Let’s see. From the very beginning, this movie assaults your intelligence. We see a hospital for the criminally insane, with a guy in a Santa outfit able to wander in because a door was accidentally lodged open with a carton of milk – justifying his presence, he says he was just in the childrens’ ward. Really? A hospital for the criminally insane with a childrens ‘ ward attached? Billy (the resident of this hospital we’re interested in) has fashioned a shiv from a candy cane, sucked to a precise point, killed a guard with it, killed Santa, stolen his outfit and escaped. There’s no way! I am prepared to bet every penny I’ve ever earned that it’s next-to-impossible to kill someone with a candy cane. And this is the smorgasbord of stupid they choose to start the movie with.


Unlike 1974’s, which expected its audience to be able to think, this just gives you everything right on a plate. Red herrings are introduced only to be found with their brains bashed in a few minutes later, and the twist is almost insultingly easy to spot. But anyway. The plot is very roughly the same as the original, with Christmas approaching, and a sorority house empty of all but the last handful of stragglers. In another similarity, they hired a decent group of young women – Michelle Trachtenberg, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Katie Cassidy and Lacey Chabert are the main cast, but there’s also Andrea Martin, the only member of the original cast who wanted to return, as the house mother.


Billy escapes and heads back to his old home, as every boring killer in every boring movie does – seriously, how played out is “killer escapes from psycho ward?” The dramatic tension, such as it is, revolves around murders being committed while Billy is still locked up, so who’s the murderer? Dun-Dun-DEEERRRRR it’s a stupid reveal, when it finally comes. Because the stuff from the 1974 version with the police and the telephone exchange (“the call is coming from inside the house!”) was exciting and interesting and people liked it, it’s been replaced with…nothing. Well, not quite nothing – we do get an extended bit of backstory for Billy, the escaped killer, talking about his family and how he was raped by their mother and is his own sister’s father, and so on. Just that nasty, pointless, bleak stuff that horror movies insert in place of a plot sometimes, although at least it wasn’t given to us in the form of a complete prequel! But other than that, we’re pretty much stuck in the sorority house throughout the movie, with a storm keeping the police busy elsewhere and everyone’s phones being out of juice or whatever.


Let’s talk red herrings and “the boyfriend”. You may remember Keir Dullea’s rather tightly strung performance as the pianist boyfriend who wanted Jess to marry him and give up her own hopes and dreams. Because, again, that’s a plot with some resonance to it, it’s been replaced by Kelli’s boyfriend, who’s a townie and far far too old for her (he was 30 at the time of filming, but looked 35, she’s supposed to be in her late teens), filming a sex tape with one of the other sorority girls. He’s never anything but suspicious from his first moment on screen, and he joins about half the cast in behaving in ways that make no sense, just so the movie can have a ton of red herrings. Is it the odd looking girl who shows up in one scene, hands over a glass unicorn (a murder weapon from the 1974 movie) as a present and then leaves? Is it the elder sister of one of the missing girls, who’s apparently a former member of the same sorority even though the house mother doesn’t remember her? No and no, and a lot more no’s as well.


It became so bad towards the end that I wondered if, perhaps, it was a joke; as the two killers are burned to death, only to be put in bodybags and taken to the morgue, where they both miraculously revive. BORING! They’ve had a pretty easy time of it, though, as the entire cast has subscribed to the “quick, let’s split up!” method of surviving a slasher movie. And this is without a doubt a slasher, absolutely chock full of close-up gore effects and eyeballs being pulled out and so on. Because the most iconic image in the first  movie was the woman with a bag over her head, that now becomes the killer’s preferred method of dispatch, even when it makes no sense…you know, clueless garbage by people who are utterly afraid of having a single original thought.


Because you can visit it as easily as me, I try not to lean too hard on the IMDB trivia section, but there’s a gem in there. Mary Elizabeth Winstead apparently read message boards with people complaining about remaking such an iconic film and had a good old laugh about it. Oh, did you? If only you’d channelled some of that effort into making this film suck less, eh? Thanks Mary! Director Glen Morgan has also disowned it, due to interference from the Weinstein brothers, who wanted ever higher levels of gore. Now, Morgan’s career is pretty odd – he directed one movie before this, which was a flop, then this which was a huge flop, and then nothing (although he’s directing an episode of the new “X-Files” series). He’s presumably much happier as an executive producer of TV, although since working on the X-Files back in the 90s, he’s struggled to find a hit.


It’s just such a pointless waste of a movie. The plot is dumb, and it’s an utterly forgettable / forgotten entry in the slasher revival sub-sub-genre. Watch the original and marvel at how it can be done properly, and let this one sink ever further into obscurity.


Rating: thumbs down


The Thing (2011)

I wonder if at any point during the making of this film anyone went “why are we doing this? Like, isn’t this just a complete waste of everyone’s time?” But, I bet people are just happy to be working making a film, and those questions will only come out when the finished product is revealed. But, we’ve not got to that yet!

“Something’s different about Dave. Maybe it’s his hair, or the new limb growing out of his chest. It’s hard to tell.”

The 1982 version of the film is one of my favourite horror films ever – I still fondly remember my friend Dave, when he worked at the local cinema, getting them to show it one Halloween. I’ll try and avoid making too many comparisons between the two films, although towards the end I think it’s going to become inevitable.


A guy who looks weirdly familiar to me interrupts the science-y work of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and asks her to come to the South Pole. Turns out some mining fellas have found a buried spaceship which has been there for 100,000 years or so, and they need her paleontological skills to identify…an alien! One of the blighters managed to escape from the stricken UFO but has been frozen in place for god knows how long. Well, 100000 years, minus a day or two, I suppose.


So far, so good. Who is that boss scientist fella? Never mind. They bring the alien back to their base and have a debate – Winstead says they should leave it and take it back to civilization to study it, boss scientist says they should take a tissue sample right now. Drilling into it evidently wakes it up, slowly, as a few hours later, while the “we found an alien” party is in full swing, it smashes out of the block of ice, and the main part of the film is ON!!!!


Part of the genius of the 1982 film was the sense of dread, along with the groundbreaking-for-the-time special effects. The alien could transform itself into anyone, so there was always that tension when someone left the room, or the group got split up. Hey, I tried not to compare things too much, but I couldn’t help myself. This film has the same alien, obviously, but he seems to be a lot less clever. I’ll give you an example. Later on in the film, there’s a helicopter which is taking a sick guy back to McMurdo, and one of the people on the helicopter is alien-ed up. Rather than just not alerting people to the fact he wants to eat their entire race, he transforms into his alien self and attacks them, destroying the final method of transportation out of the remote ice-station. Seems a bit stupid to me.


The film then gradually works its way through its multi-racial cast. We’ve got a British guy, a bunch of Norwegians, some Americans, and…the boss scientist! It’s Ulrich Thomsen, from “Festen”! The original Dogme 95 film and one of the most entertaining arthouse films of all time. That’s an interesting career arc for an actor, and the problem that was irritating my mind for an hour or so was solved.


The ending is really silly. One of the alien-infected runs off to the spaceship, to go back to his home planet. Luckily, after 100,000 years buried in the ice, it starts up first time. My mind rebelled at the daftness of this, so I started wondering what the alien’s friends would say when he turned back up at home. “Hey, Vexnarg, remember that 7 space-bucks you owe me?” The poor chap’s wife would give him a hard time, and his boss would probably sack him for crashing the car. The humans manage to prevent the ship from taking off, but one of the survivors is…you’ve guessed it, infected himself! So, the alien changes his mind for some reason (if he infects two people with “alien”, are they both the same person? Dunno) and that brings us to the final confrontation.


It’s difficult to spoil the ending of this film, as the last scene of this film is the first one of the 1982 version (give or take). But even though the makers of the film did their homework, and there’s plenty of careful continuity between the two films, it all seems a bit…silly. It’s another film which relies on people acting stupidly to drive the plot along; and I’m not just saying that as a viewer. If I was in that situation and I was surrounded by people behaving like they did, I’d be all “what? Really?”


The sensitive drama about conjoined twins had changed a lot since the first script draft

So, it’s part-prequel, part remake of one of the most fondly remembered horror films of all time. Is it any good? I think the main thing to say, really, is that it all seems a little pointless. The special effects are pretty fantastic, with the monsters reminding me of “Society”, the upper-classes-are-mutants film from the late 80s. But, absolutely no-one will ever say “well, the 1982 version was good, but 2011’s really knocks it into a cocked hat”. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is lovely, everyone tries their hardest, but the sense which is impossible to shift is that everyone’s time would have been better spent doing something else.


Rating: 2 ice-mutants out of 5


The Thing on IMDB
Buy The Thing (2011) [DVD]