Written and directed by: Glen Morgan
Starring: Katie Cassidy, Michelle Trachtenberg, Lacey Chabert, Andrea Martin, Robert Mann
At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs
Running time: 84 minutes
Rated: R (strong horror violence and gore, sexuality, nudity, language, blatant "Nutcracker" abuse)
One and a half stars
By Ty Burr
Because it wouldn't be the holiday season without counterprogramming, here's "Black Christmas," a Yuletide slasher movie in the blood-drenched tradition of "You Better Watch Out" (1980), "Silent Night, Deadly Night" (1984), and the heartwarming serial-killer-snowman opus "Jack Frost" (1996). You're right, there are no new ideas, even if the TV ads for today's movies are better at scaring the kids.
Actually, this sorority-house slasher flick is a remake of the granddaddy of the genre, 1974's "Black Christmas," which was directed by Bob Clark before he went on to fashion a proper holiday classic in "A Christmas Story." The original starred a young Margot Kidder, Olivia Hussey, and Andrea Martin before the latter went on to comedy fame as a founding member of SCTV, and it was notable for a killer who was never identified.
All right, history lesson's over. How's the new one? About what you'd expect from a director, Glen Morgan, who wrote the "Final Destination" movies: silly, obvious, clumsy, and just gruesome enough to keep jaded genre fans from angrily throwing popcorn at the screen.
These movies tend to be way-stations for young actresses on the way up or down, so we have Katie Cassidy (daughter of David Cassidy, "Partridge Family" fans) as Kelly, the most squeaky-clean member of Delta Alpha Kappa; Michelle Trachtenberg ("Ice Princess") as sensible Melissa; Lacey Chabert ("Mean Girls") as rich princess Dana.
They and a handful of other horror-movie types (slutgirl, nerdgirl, lunchmeat) are stuck in the sorority house on Christmas Eve during a storm. Their housemother is played by -- surprise -- Andrea Martin, returning to the scene of the crime with a perfectly straight face.
Tough luck for them: it used to be the home of deranged killer Billy Lenz (Robert Mann), and he has just busted out of the Clark Institution for the Criminally Insane. Also: someone's creeping along the crawlspaces of the house and yanking unsuspecting coeds to their doom. Could it be Agnes (Dean Friss), who's both Billy's sister and daughter?
Yikes -- have a little incest with your Christmas ham? Because the horror-movie rules have turned rigid over the years, "Black Christmas" can't stick to the eerie low-budget simplicity of the original. Morgan has to come up with a back story about the killer's abusive childhood, but he has enough trouble keeping one storyline straight, let alone two, and the busy editing further confuses matters.
The movie's one idea of wit is to score scenes of carnage to classic tunes from Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker" -- "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," "The Waltz of the Flowers," "The Arabian Dance" (which has always sounded a little creepy, if you ask me). The rest is formula, from the strictly unnecessary shower scene to the door left open for a sequel in the final scenes. Is it too much to hope for "Hanukkah at Horror House" or "The Kwanzaa Killer"?
About Movie Nation
ContributorsTy Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.
Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.
Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.
Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.
Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
Glenn Yoder is an Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.
Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer for Boston.com.
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