The original Black Christmas (which is an underrated classic) came out in 1974. Roughly 30 years later, a group of hollywood execs realized that it was ripe for a reboot. What we got was a movie that was received so poorly the director (Glen Morgan) literally retired from his job for good. But, was it really that bad? Is this bonkers sorority sister holiday slashfest really that much of a lump of coal? Check out our spoiler filled review below. Don’t feel like reading? Check out our also spoiler filled podcast.
Reviewed by: Mark
Thirty something years ago, a husband and wife unhappily welcome their first child into the world. Meet, Billy Lenz, a boy who has some type of liver disorder that makes him look like that Yellow Bastard from Sin City. We’re talking glow-in-the-dark levels of liver condition. She murders her husband and relegates him to the attic to make sure no one knows about her crime. Eventually the mom moves on to another man. He can’t satisfy her, so she turns to her son for some entirely unacceptable shenanigans that results in a sister-daughter situation developing. After a few more years of being kept in the attic, Billy snaps. He kills his mother and goes full cookie-cutter-cannibal, cementing himself as a famous psychopath and landing his sister-daughter Agnes in custody of the state.
Now jump to modern day, and the sorority sisters (including Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Michelle Trachtenberg) that remain in the house for the the holiday break are celebrating with a secret santa. As they round up the stragglers for the event they realize that a few of their own are missing. As the search continues they also begin to receive relatively unsettling phone calls.
Meanwhile on the other side of town at the local high security insane asylum the now adult Billy Lenz lures a guard into his cell and stabs him to death with a mouth-sharpened candy cane. Don’t act like you haven’t fantasized about whether or not that would work. On his way out he murders a few more people for good measure, and sets his heading toward his old home.
What follows is basically a shooting gallery of sorority sisters getting picked off in various highly-violent ways, including a glass unicorn stabbing that hearkens back to the original film. Before long it’s revealed that these girls are not only being attacked by Billy, but also by his sister-daughter Agnes who has joined forces with him to enact violence. Once all but two of the sisters (one current and one legacy) have been killed, a standoff is forced that leaves Agnes and Billy in bodybags and lands our hero Kelli (Katie Cassidy) in the hospital. Unfortunately for them, the bodybags were a little premature. Billy and Agnes slip out, and come for Katie in her hospital room. After a final fight Agnes gets her head defibrillated in a scene that fundamentally understands how a defibrillator works, and Billy gets impaled on a Christmas tree. The End. Merry Christmas. May your days be merry and bright.
What the Movie Does Right
There is some very earnest insanity injected into this movie manifested as both physical prop-based absurdity and some of the strangest line readings you will ever hear. On the prop-based side you get things like icicle impalings, ice skate slicings, candy cane stabbings, and the climactic Christmas tree impalings, just to name a few. If you’re one for the spectacle and creativity of deaths in a slasher, then you will find holiday cheer in at least one of these. On top of that, you get some seriously off the wall line readings including one of the girls talking about her Nascar daddy. I can’t really capture the magic of the dialogue in text, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.
The cast is also incredibly solid. You have the previously mentioned trio of Cassidy, Trachtenberg, and Winstead that are always a charm to watch. But you also have Andrea Martin who played Phyl in the original Black Christmas returning to screen as the house mother. Kristen Cloke and Lacey Chabert also round out the group of sisters. Take a step back and look at that list for a second. That is an A+ lineup of talent no matter how you slice it.
Lastly, this movie did something that we don’t often see that is the number one thing that other movies should do. They shot a bunch of counterfactual scenes and used them in the trailer. If you can find the original trailer you’ll find that it is chock full of scenes that are not in the movie and often directly oppose things that happen in the narrative. That allows the marketing team to put out a trailer that tells you what the movie is about, but also doesn’t spoil the actual movie. Assuming these shots aren’t prohibitively expensive, every movie should do this.
What the Movie Does Wrong
I know that I led off with the insanity that this movie brings to the table as being a good thing, but that’s a double edged sword. This movie is very tonally inconsistent and described as “schizophrenic” by its creators. You get scenes of slapstick slasher horror mixed in with scenes where a mother rapes her imprisoned and deformed son. If you have a short memory, that might not spoil the movie for you, but everyone else is going to have a very hard pill to swallow.
On top of that, you get a level of brutality that can get pretty disturbing. In general the kills in this movie have that comic-violence level that you are probably looking for in a schlock fest like this, but then you have this recurring motif of plucking and eating eyeballs that can get super cringey in a bad way. Topping that off is the cookie-cutter human-bacon scene that I do not care to ever see or think about again. I guess you could argue that is the basic essence of horror, but I would argue that there’s a delicate balance to be made here that maintains a level of entertainment without turning viewers away.
Lastly, the characters here are some of the least believable people you will ever see on screen. Yes, the performances are all pretty stellar when taken as self contained monologues, but if you stop to think for a second that these people all live together and are supposed to be friends it falls apart instantly. Additionally, what is the motivation of Billy and Agnes to kill these girls? It’s not revenge. It’s not that they just want their house back (because then why go after them in the hospital). Sure, they’re insane, that’s fine, but what focuses their murderous rage so directly on these women?
Story: 3.5 - This is the biggest issue with this movie. The characters behave in unbelievable ways. The villains have no discernable purpose. The whole conceit around their isolation is this storm-of-a-century level blizzard that somehow keeps the police from coming to help, but also doesn’t seem to bother Billy at all. This is a poorly-made-sweater movie… if you pull on just one thread the whole thing will unravel.
World-Building / Immersion: 5 - I’m going to start this off by admitting that you will probably come in lower than my score on this one. There’s some part of my lizard brain that really enjoys these brainless ultra-violent slasher types, and that is certainly augmented by the sheer star-power of this cast. However, the weakness of the story does hinder this category, and couple that with a few moments are actively repulsive to watch and you get something that is worse than your average movie.
Scare-Factor: 5.5 - This is your standard slasher fare with some additional eye-horror and cannibalism thrown in. You probably won’t have nightmares from this one, but you’ll certainly get some screams out of folks that don’t watch much of the genre.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 6 - On balance these are pretty good. The lighting is well done, and there’s a solid soundtrack underpinning the plot. For the most part the blood and guts look good, the fire looks real (which is to say, I’m pretty sure it is real), and the snow looks decent despite probably being filmed on a soundstage most of the time. The issues arise from the CG that they use for seemingly no reason. This is best exemplified by a peeping-tom esque eyeball that they superimpose onto the floor during a scene that is included in the trailer linked at the top of the page. There is no reason to do this, and it might be the single worst use of visual effects I have ever seen.
Overall: 6 - My earlier comment about my lizard brain also applies here. I actually am inclined to say that I like this movie despite it’s fairly egregious tonal problems. Yes, it has significant problems that some people may be incapable of getting past. Luckily, I am not one of those people. If you put this one on for us to watch again I would not be upset.