That was a shock. I thought Glen Morgan was better than that.
It's the 2006 remake of the 1974 proto-slasher movie, Black Christmas
. I can't agree that it's worthless, because it's not. It's pretty solid for quite a long time in its unambitious slasher way, but unfortunately after a while you'll realise it's drifting downhill. By the time we reach the finale, it's gone beyond redemption. This is the killer. A finale carries as much weight as all the rest of the movie put together, so of course the morons hated it... although not enough to stop the movie from turning a profit, I notice.
Its problems are straightforward.
1. All the sorority girls have the same slightly bitchy characterisation and the only way to tell them apart is to spot the actresses. "Hey, that's Michelle Trachtenberg! I wonder what the other Buffy the Vampire Slayer alumni are up to these days?" The cast aren't actually bad, but none of them have been given anything to play with. Trachtenberg is slightly more fun than most of them, for what it's worth.
2. The killers are a waste of screen time, despite some enjoyably twisted backstory, and it's impossible to care about anything that happens in the all-action finale. You'll just be watching the moving colour patterns on your TV screen and waiting for it all to be over.
3. Insufficient nudity. Come on, Morgan. You're making a dumb slasher movie about a house full of college girls. Show some initiative, can't you? Admittedly this is a problem with Christmas horror movies in general, since that time of year's all about wrapping up warm instead of stripping off, but you needn't think I'm buying that as an excuse. I also don't care that there was no nudity at all in the 1974 original.
What's particularly disappointing is that this film comes from Glen Morgan and James Wong. I've rated them highly since their standout scripts in the early days of The X-Files, although admittedly they've struggled to reproduce that form in feature films. For instance Wong, who's merely the producer here, recently directed Dragonball Evolution. Yowzers. This film is solid in many respects and for the most part perfectly watchable, even enjoyable, but I'm kind of shocked to see their names on it. Storytellers of their calibre shouldn't be writing half a movie like this. The explanation would seem to be that they were deliberately dumbing down. Glen Morgan's Willard (2003) had failed at the box office, despite good reviews, so this time he was going for "jack in the box scares... which I hate, but the audiences love it."
Willard's another remake, incidentally, but I'm tempted.
Similarities with the original are sketchy. They've borrowed the basic framework of college girls being killed by someone who'll occasionally phone them up, but that's about it. The strongest continuity links are actually meta-fictional, so for instance Andrea Martin comes back to play the house mother and the killer here's called Billy, despite the fact that 1974's Billy was never called that on-screen and we never learned anything about him.
The differences on the other hand are big. Most importantly, Morgan's decided that a 21st century slasher movie can't afford that pesky ambiguity and needs a conventional slasher. Ergo we begin with Billy in an asylum, being sold to us as if he was the latest Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers. Soon he escapes and we find ourselves watching more or less the movie you were expecting from the title. It's way more Christmassy than the original, some of which even made me laugh. The focus is tighter, so we hardly ever leave the sorority house and there are hardly any characters apart from the college girls themselves. Policemen? Never see any. Uptight parent of missing girl? The nearest you'll get is that one of them has a big sister. Children missing in the park, or indeed any sense whatsoever of a local community? Hahahaha, no.
Well, maybe there is a little. One of the characters has a boyfriend who's a "townie". We never met any townies last time, so I suppose that's a step forward.
Thematically it's both muddier and completely different. There's no parent-child theme at all. Instead you might consider looking for themes of voyeurism (c.f. the Santa speech), a sister-focused version of "Family Forever" and the importance of connecting with your family instead of, say, locking them away in the attic for years and having incestuous children with them. The last of those could perhaps be extended to include communication and hence the phone calls, which if nothing demonstrate that mobile phones are rubbish.
In certain ways the remake's better. They have fun with the gore and killings, as you'd expect from the Final Destination
people, so for instance the icicle death and the gingerbread men made me laugh. Also the obviously new backstory for Billy is the most entertaining thing in the movie, in how it's so screwed up. It's funny. That deserved to go somewhere better. I'm not sure what Morgan meant by all those eyeballs, though.
Would I recommend this? No. Is it okay if you can disassociate yourself from the ending? Yup, sure. I quite enjoyed a lot of it, although not in a big way. Incidentally there's a twist that you'll probably work out inside the first ten minutes, which could have been good except that its revelation comes in the underwhelming finale and so means nothing. It's also mildly interesting to reflect that both movies have a big problem with their characterisation of the college girls, but in completely different ways. It's doing what it says on the tin. If you're looking for seasonal slashings, that's what you'll find here. There's a strangling with Christmas lights, for instance. Occasionally funny and most of it is perfectly okay, but also a big disappointment.
"Russians shot his sleigh down. Santa Claus is dead."