Movie Review: “Black Christmas”

I have thought about writing a review of Black Christmas for years now. The film was released in 2006 and it left a very real, but vague impression on me in my youth. I didn’t remember it as good, per se, and, lo and behold, no one else seems to have either. I can distinctly remember an old binder of burnt discs and the name “Black Xmas” written out in black Sharpie, owned by a distant relative who we’ll all pretend didn’t rent videotapes for a very illegal reason. I never wrote about it though. Mostly because I always wanted to review the film for Christmas and the stars never aligned in a way that could make that happen. The irony that I would one day be watching the film again for free on IMDb TV isn’t lost on me.

Something I hadn’t remembered about Black Xmas, however, is exactly how goofy of a film it truly is. The slasher film directed by Glen Morgan has an array of names you’ll likely recall, names like Katie CassidyMichelle Trachtenberg, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead, for instance. Set days before Christmas, Black Xmas tells the story of a group of sorority sisters who are stalked and murdered in their house during a winter storm.

This sounds like classic horror fodder, and, for all intents and purposes, it is, but, man, they aren’t half-baked with their Christmas (cookies) themed approach. Some of the dialogue is beyond melodramatic, and I can accept some of it as dark humor, but I can’t accept all of it. For instance, there is a scene where our antagonist Billy wreaks havoc, killing a woman, then, using a cookie cutter on her back in-order to make skin cookies. A policeman comes by and sees Billy snacking on his very realistic Gingerbread men. I can accept that was intentional, honest to God camp. But, what I can’t accept is all the other scenes delivered dead-seriously. It is a film that feels as equally in on the joke as it is not, and there is both a charm and serious detriment to that. It feels inconsistent and kind of like a mess, but it isn’t without its charm. Critics referred to this film as bereft of humor, and I’d argue it has real black-comedy in its soul, but that it can feel like it can feel tonally inconsistent to where its difficult to understand how you’re supposed to feel. I wasn’t surprised to learn the film experienced significant studio interference in its production.

Early on, the film is flashback heavy and convoluted, unveiling character traits and developments that might’ve been cool if done better, but otherwise felt like unpolished scribbling in their current form. After that, it falls back into standard slasher territory, and although that isn’t by any means groundbreaking or different, its simpler, more straightforward direction salvages much of the film.

The acting is decent. As said, there are some names involved who’d either put out successful horror films before then or went onto have fruitful careers, and while they can’t exactly knock it out of park with what they’re given, they’re capable and elevate the material. I’ve read some single the women’s portrayal as a highlight of the film, saying they transcend stereotype, citing cussing, drinking, and so on, but I think those individuals are offering the film a little too much credit.

The camerawork isn’t bad either, with a solid production akin to a lot films of that era. I always think of it as the music video era, with films like House of Wax and Friday the 13th squeezing a bunch of music into their runtime whether it fit contextually or not. Some of the shots were inspired, if, once more goofier than intended, like when Billy is under the floor while one of the girls is showering, checking off the producers’ perverted desire for nudity, while genuinely creating a unique Psycho-esque scene. Some of the production is heavy-handed, and/or cringe-y. In a small pet peeve, I absolutely can’t stand the chicken-scratch Joker-esque font they chose for the film, which is the same font I’ve come to associate with a million-and-one bad films set in an asylum.

The score is busy and a little overbearing, but also thematic and par for the course, it’s loud, abrasive, and always hard at work to try and crank up the tension and suspense. I wouldn’t argue it succeeds at that, but what it does do is create a sort of new age classical vibe to it, feeling a lot like the slashers of yesteryear brought to a contemporary (and by contemporary, I mean a decade and a half ago. Jesus.) light. Again, for better and for worse.

By the time Black Christmas ends, it offers a lot to digest. It wasn’t a dull film, but it wasn’t a good film either, really. I could single-out a handful of ideas I liked, a couple of scenes I thought were well-shot, and some bloody kills that looked particularly bloody, but it doesn’t add up to something I can recommend revisiting or seeking out. It isn’t the worst slasher film I’ve seen by any stretch. It has too much entertainment value and style for that, but it does have a lot of problems and inconsistence that weighs it down considerably.

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