Black Christmas is a slasher film of what I like to call the 'speed-demon' variety. Unlike, say, a Friday the 13th film where Jason Vorhees gets a lot of screen-time, often doing a geriatric stroll toward his intended victims in full view of the camera, the speed-demons are not stars: they are disposable villains who must remain in the shadows, anonymous, until they are finally 'revealed' in the third act. The speed-demon is forced to prowl around outside for most of the running time of the film, tending to the cutting of phone lines, slashing tires, leaving calling-cards or other busy work. When it's time to kill, the speed-demon will typically attack with great speed from outside of camera range or burst out of the closet like a Tazmanian devil, slashing a victim into scissor dolls before the camera has time to get a fix on what's going on. Defenestration is also a good tactic for a speed-demon -- one lightning-fast blur of action, and the busty brunette is sailing down toward the pavement, mission accomplished.
Since we usually never find out who the speed-demon is until nearly everyone is dead, the last fifteen minutes of the film must be squared away for a pointless blab-a-thon in which a third-grade sleight, prom date gone wrong or other psycho-forming event is re-hashed in a therapy session at knife-point. Black Christmas mixes this up a bit, providing us with an entire parallel story-line, told in flashbacks throughout the present-day action. It's in those flashbacks that we meet the Lenz clan, who are sort of like a Far Rockaway version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre family. The mother, played by Karin Konoval, not only keeps her teenage son Billy padlocked in the attic at all times, she also rapes him, gets pregnant, and carries Billy's sister-daughter to term. The link between the flashback action in the 1980s and the present is the family home itself, which has, in the intervening years, become an upscale sorority house populated by the likes of Lacey Chabert and Michelle Trachtenberg.
This is a serviceable set-up for a slasher film, though not an original one -- the film is a remake of a 1974 film of the same name. There are lots of good elements to work with: several good-looking sorority chicks in a house with a working shower, one or perhaps a whole family of killers on the loose, and the X-factor of an oncoming blizzard that threatens to cut off all possibility of travel. Unfortunately, director Glen Morgan knows nothing about the horror genre, or filmmaking in general. What he delivers is a splatter-by-numbers effort that never ventures anywhere near a creative spin on an aging genre. The film avoids wedging in unnecessary humor like most horror films since Scream, but it has absolutely nothing new to bring to the table and suffers hugely from problems as basic as camera blocking. The sorority babes spend the bulk of their screentime either sitting upright on living room recliners or standing and facing each other in a close circle -- Morgan obviously didn't know how to shoot them otherwise.
When the killing starts, all the old rules of the genre are followed almost without exception. The killer sticks to blunt instruments or uses the kind of brute hand-force that you would think only a gorilla would have. There are no guns allowed, which is a rule that has always struck me as bizarre. I would wager that neither Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees has ever picked up a gun in their thirty-odd years of random killing. Why is that? Are guns considered a less sportsman-like weapon for a crazed psycho-killer? If you don't think guns can be horror-scary, check out a movie from 1989 called Relentless. It might change your opinion. Another rule that Black Christmas follows to the letter is that the killings must be more or less instantaneous. Prolonged suffering or torture of any kind is known to be severely frowned-upon at the MPAA, and can sometimes get a film slapped with the dreaded NC-17, although some films like The Hills Have Eyes and Wolf Creek have tested this in recent years.
By the time the third act of this film rolls around, you'll either be checking e-mail on your Blackberry, contemplating an unauthorized jump into the theater across the hall playing Casino Royale, or wondering aloud to the person next to you why they didn't choose to remake Silent Night, Deadly Night, a similar but much more horrifying slasher film from the heyday of the genre. In that one, a normal young boy loses his sanity and grows up to be a serial killer after watching a department-store Santa rape his mother. There's no question that between the two originals, it's the one that deserves a re-make. Or why not forgo a re-make all-together and actually write something new? Hollywood is full of talented young writers who would love the opportunity to dream up new ways to creatively torture and kill the kind of sorority girls who wouldn't cross the street to spit on them in school. They just need the chance. Black Christmas is a no-effort, no-surprises, no-nudity, no-creativity, no-fun lump of coal.