Black Christmas (2006) Review: Jaundice Jeopardy!
Updated: Apr 17
Dir: Glen Morgan
Release Date: 2006
“On Christmas Eve, an escaped maniac returns to his childhood home, which is now a sorority house, and begins to murder the sorority sisters one by one.”
We here at The Bad Movie Cult love the original 1974 version of Black Christmas from director/producer Bob Clark.
It's a true underrated gem of the slasher genre and one of its founding fathers alongside Psycho from Alfred Hitchcock, Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (both released in 1960) and 1971's seminal Giallo film A Bay of Blood AKA Twitch of the Death Nerve from one of the masters of Italian horror, Mario Bava.
It used the urban legend of 'The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs' set against a festive backdrop to great effect and is the first slasher film to be set during a holiday period whilst also being the first that used teenagers as it's main protagonists. These aren't your standard stupid teenagers either. You find yourself genuinely caring about what happens to these people thanks to intelligent, fleshed out characters with real life problems. This is all helped of course by a great cast including Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea (Dave from 2001: A Space Odyssey), John Saxon and future Lois Lane - Margot Kidder.
Well hold on a second, I hear you say. This review is about the 2006 version not the original!
You are correct, but I think as with all remakes its important to know the source material so as to get a full view of what was achieved before it and what they expanded on to necessitate a remake in the first place.
Some remakes do it very well,
John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) and David Cronenberg's The Fly (1986) spring to mind.
Some remakes do it not so well.
2013's Evil Dead. I'm looking at you. Don't think I have forgotten about you as well, A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)
Black Christmas falls into the latter.
Bob Clark produced this remake, also marketed as Black X-mas for some reason, and a brief glance at the the cast list included Michelle Trachtenberg (Eurotrip), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs The World) and Lacey Chabert (Mean Girls). Not your usual no-name actors you associate with this type of horror remake (even the girls I haven't mentioned you will probably know from other things on sight) and their performances should at least be up to standard if nothing else so I was hopeful this would be half decent.
I was wrong. So so wrong...
We start off at the sorority house, with a girl doing some calligraphy in her bedroom. She checks inside her wardrobe after she hears a noise but finds nothing. She sits back down only to find some bastard has stolen her pen.
A plastic bag is thrown over her head and the missing pen is stabbed through the bag into her eye! First death clocking in at just over two minutes.
Get use to the whole eye trauma thing by the way. It happens a lot in this film. Unlike the original, the one thing you cant say about this version is it isn't gory. There are some graphic death scenes in this.
Title card comes up and off we go to the asylum for the criminally insane...
We see an orderly doing a shit job of handing out milk and cookies to the locked up residents as a milk carton falls off his trolley and keeps the main door to the ward open, We get gloved hands opening the door followed by black-booted feet stalking the orderly down the hall. Who could it be? You guessed it.
Turns out he took a wrong turn on the way to the children's ward and wandered in here with us.
Is it common to have a children's ward in an institute for the criminally insane?
If so, is it common to have the children's ward so close to the adults ward?
Anyway, this gives us a chance to meet Billy!
One of the great things about the original is the fact you know nothing about the killer, we're not even sure if his name really is Billy, he just shouts the name down the phone and the role is uncredited at the end. The only sight you see of him is his creepy peeper staring out at you in the iconic Barb/Margot Kidder death scene and again later when Jess spots him staring at her through the crack of a door.
What do we know about him from the original? He can make one hell of a phone call and he's lethal with glass ornaments. That's pretty much it.
The lack of motive makes it scarier and gives you the feeling that this could happen to anyone at any time just because you answered the phone or a guy walks past your house and decides to invite himself in.
Skip ahead 32 years and Black X-mas falls into the same trap that Rob Zombie's Halloween did (reviewed on this site by Ken B Wild right HERE). It feels the need to expand on the killer and his backstory.
Billy gets a first, last and even a middle name! No more guessing who he is or throwing an effective red herring boyfriend character in like the original (though they still attempt it).
Does the backstory of Billy add anything the original movie didnt have and would leaving it out detriment the remake? If the answer is no to both of these questions then just leave it out. I don't feel a personal attachment now or in fact feel sorry for Billy after seeing it (which, much like Zombie's Halloween, is the aim here I think). In fact it gets rid of anything remotely terrifying about him with one simple alteration.
They turn his skin yellow. Yep. Bright fucking yellow. Turns out William Edward Lenz has a liver disease. Is this the first horror film to use jaundice as a scare tactic? Write in and let us know!
Our first bit of Billy's back story comes when the prison officer scares the shit out of Santa by inviting him to poke his head into the cell and have a look at Billy. It's nice that they've let Billy decorate his own room with Christmas lights that blink on and off, pretty sure anything wired like that would be an absolute no-no in a psycho ward but whatever.
Santa reads his name on the door and seems to know everything about him. Billy killed his own family on Christmas you see and Santa points out the small padlock on his door, which the guard dismisses as just a way to make him feel at home on account of how his mother use to keep him locked up in the attic. The guard says that Billy always tries to escape at this time every year. All he wants is to feel at home, especially on Christmas. Which, when you really think about it, is what we all want isn't it? Maybe he isn't such a bad guy after all?
The creepy orderly returns and puts a small plate of cookies, candy canes and chicken (???) on the side for Billy to grab. Santa winces at the fact the chicken looks like shit.
"It's the closest we could get...to how mom used to taste." Says the orderly.
So it seems he is a cannibal as well as being yellow. Quite a stretch from the original character. Unless the orderly meant his own mother but lets move swiftly on.
We cut to a couple in the car and the girl says she's spending time with her sorority sisters this Christmas to which the boyfriend tells her that he is her family now all creepy like, he then uses the phone and gives a sinister look out the car at her as she heads to the house. This would probably suffice as a red herring potential suspect if we didn't already know Billy so not sure why this is included.
Heading inside we meet the girls we will be spending the majority of the film with and whilst you enjoyed being in the company of the girls in the original, watching this they just seemed so unlikeable. This isn't unique to this film and most teenagers in these movies are like this. Give them some jokey/snarky dialogue to fill the screen time until Billy comes back and wipes them out.
On a side note it was nice to see original cast member Andrea Martin return to play Ms. MacHenry which was played brilliantly by Marian Waldman in the 1974 version.
Anyway, back to the asylum and Billy gives the prison officer a little gift through his door. What a great guy this version of Billy is...
Maybe not then.
Here he is in his pyjamas stabbing a candy cane into the neck of the security guard. Looks like the Incredible Hulk's goofy cousin doesn't he? He also kills that Santa guy on his way to freedom, using his Santa suit in order to escape. Add a beard and a hat and no one seems to notice the Santa is bright yellow.
Cut to the teenage girls at their sorority house again. Nice place. Hopefully no yellow skinned maniac ever lived there. We get a sort-of-Barb/Margot Kidder style character, glass of wine in hand, knocking on the door of the girl you saw on the phone earlier. It turns out it was her on the phone to the boyfriend in the car and she is having an affair with him behind her friends back. She seems to be watching her own sextape the two had made for reasons unknown but I suppose you have to give the film props for having some sort of side story for us to try and care about. At least we would if this girl wasn't killed straight away.
She hears a noise in the attic and goes up to find her friend's body in the rocking chair. The creepiest shot of the film and it was lifted from the original. Remakes love doing this and it usually does nothing but makes you want to watch the original again.
We get a scene of the attacker ripping her eyeball out with their bare hands through the binbag that was put over her head and that's graphic as fuck. Not for the squeamish this kill.
Ms. Mac gives us even more backstory about Billy and about how he was born yellow and that because of this his mum hated both him and his dad. She proves this by having an affair behind the dads back and also eventually allowing her lover to kill him, placing a bin bag over his head like we've seen happen to both dead girls at this point. But if Billy is in the asylum, who killed the girls? Maybe we do get a mystery after all!?
We end the flashback with the mum spotting that Billy had seen what they were doing and chases him up into the attic to which she simply locks him up there.
Cut back to present day and we get our first dirty phone call.
These were horrific to hear in the original and still send a shiver down my spine when watching it to this day. The 2006 version is nowhere near as creepy or outright insane and I expected nothing more to be honest. The Scream franchise was still popular back in 2006 and the guy on the phone sounds like he's just doing an impression of that.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead wants to call the police after hearing this but as this is a horror movie Not-Barb takes the piss out of her until Winstead goes to leave and bumps into Eve, a nerdy, glasses-wearing character who gives her a glass unicorn present.
She wishes everyone a Merry Christmas to which they all look at her like she's just taken a shit on the floor.
We're whisked back to Billy's childhood and he's still in the attic on his rocking chair. His mum was having sex with her lover who then falls asleep halfway through so obviously the next logical thing to do is to go into the attic and rape her son.
Merry Xmas everyone...
The mum has a daughter, we guess fathered by Billy and she names her Agnes. The mum decides she doesn't need Billy any more and we head back to the future and to Eve, I guess the movie wants to make you think that the baby and Eve are the same person. She is a total lunatic what with her glasses and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas so its probably true.
Another 'creepy' call is someone whispering down the phone, much to all the girls shock the caller is repeating comments the girls themselves had made earlier and at this point in real life or a half decent movie, everyone would get the fuck out of there down to the police station as they do in the '74 version.
But its 2006 and they have caller ID now! no more waiting for calls to be traced by the police and it shows the call had come from the girl previously killed so they all let one of them go off alone through the dark house (why is it so dark? Ms. Mac has got herself a health and safety nightmare in waiting here. Turn the landing light on girls at least!) to try and find her.
The boyfriend from the car pops out her room all suspicious looking and is seemingly trying to delete the sex tape on the computer before his girlfriend sees it. The girl participant in it looked horrified at its existence in a previous scene and the boyfriend was willing to break into the house to delete it so who actually shot it in the first place? Never answered.
He does however join in with the re-telling of the Billy Lenz story what with him having lived in the town all his life and yet another flashback shows young Billy hiding in the Christmas tree as his sister is opening presents. He manages to ring the house phone and the mum answers. He repeats the 'My family now' line the mum had said previously. We end up with Billy eating his sister's eyeball, stabbing his mum's boyfriend through the eye so the eyeball pops out the back of his skull which shits over all sorts of eyeball physics before finally killing his own mother by strangling her with xmas lights, beating her to death with a rolling pin and cookie-cutting her flesh off her and eating it with a nice glass of milk. Billy get put in an asylum and Agnes gets sent to an orphanage minus one eye (so probably not Eve then).
It's a classic family Christmas story. I didn't check if this was lifted from It's a Wonderful Life but I'll let you do the honours of confirming that.
Back at the sorority house and the sister of one of the murdered girls turns up as she hadn't heard off her all night similar to the dad from the first movie. There's some bullshit with an eyeless doll as a gift from Billy to the girls and Not-Barb starts throwing up because she drank too much wine.
The girlfriend eventually sees the sextape and they all kick the cheating boyfriend's ass out the house whilst Not-Barb takes a shower under the watch of someone who somehow has managed to create a peephole under the tiled floor.
I'd be more interested in how they managed to do that than whatever is going on in his film.
She gets put to sleep by her housemates and Lacey Chabert gets put to sleep by the killer indefinitely with a garden tool under the house after she decided to crawl under there hoping to put the lights of the house back on (???)
Another call, this time from Lacey Chabert's phone and the voice on the phone just reminds me of the guy from Scream again. They all run outside and see creepy-glasses Eve is dead in her car thus negating any reason for her being in this movie.
Then and only then, after three disappearances and a beheading do they decide to call the police who tell them it will take two hours to get there on account of the snowstorm even though the boyfriend seems to be able to come and go as he pleases (literally) and the sister of one of the murdered girls managed to turn up ok.
Ms. Mac doesn't need anymore convincing to know that this has to be the work of everyone's favourite eye-gouger, Billy Lenz! Ms. Mac tells them all to get their shit cause we gots to go, bitches!
As its a horror film at least three of the girls want to stay. One of them even says it would be safer in the house!?
Oh, well. You tried Ms. Mac! Not hard enough, as it turns out as whilst she is de-icing her car windscreen and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is sitting in the passenger seat waiting for her to finish, Ms. Mac sees a yellow eye peeping out at her followed by blood splatter from inside signifying Winstead's death.
The award for stupidest death goes to Ms. Mac who flies backwards from the car after this and dislodges an icicle from the roof that falls down and through her head.
The sister and the cheated-on-girlfriend spot the car hasn't left yet and off they fuck to see if everything is ok leaving Michelle Trachtenberg to be killed with an ice skate by either Agnes or Billy in a long blonde wig.
It seems Billy only killed Winstead and the two guys at the asylum and Agnes killed the rest. No idea the need to add a second female killer and Billy's yellow skin still hasn't come up as a plot point. Unless he hides in some pissy snow from now until the end of the movie I'd say it's a pointless add on.
Not-Barb is next as the kills come thick and fast. The film manages to add a molestation scene in her passed out state before giving us a shit version of the glass unicorn death scene and I'm looking at the clock praying for this to be over soon.
The girls find Not-Barb minus her eyes (again with the eyes!) and the boyfriend who just loves breaking into the place, appears out of nowhere and they all assume its him who's been killing everyone. The girlfriend for some reason decides to ring one of the girls phones and it starts ringing from the attic. We get a shot of the ceiling for ages and the phone's light somehow appears through the roof. No idea why that would happen or why this would suffice as evidence the boyfriend didn't do it but who cares at this point?
Another 'My family now' phone call and the movie spoon-feeding you the fact Billy and Agnes are the killers is followed by the boyfriend going for the Guinness world record attempt at 'Number of times leaving a house in one night' by suggesting they all leave whilst they still can.
Now, listen here.
There is the sister who showed up an hour into the film who hasn't died for some reason. There is the cheated on girlfriend who we assume will be the Final Girl at this point as she's the only one with even a vague attempt at character building and there is the piece of shit boyfriend who surely has to die. Everyone else is murdered and yet the girls STILL don't want to leave the house! Instead they head off to the attic to confront the killers.
I think the movie is still trying to make you suspect that the boyfriend has something to do with it even though its spelled out at the beginning as soon as you see Billy Lemonskin in his cell that the boyfriend wont be the killer in this and he uncharacteristically offers to go up the attic first.
This goes against everything we've known of the character. Why would he do this? Turns out its so he can get dragged up there and stabbed in the head by Agnes.
The boyfriend red herring is slowly built through the whole of the original movie and done very well. This was shit. You cant have Billy and Agnes feature so prominently and still try and make the audience think the boyfriend did it. This film has insulted my intelligence nearly as much as Billy's liver has insulted him.
The boyfriend gets his eyes removed and Agnes eats them as the girls scream and the sister finds out she's made the trip for nothing as her sibling is dead in a chair with a bag on her head (impressive the sister knows its her with that thing on). She falls halfway through the roof and we get the girlfriend trying to help her up as Agnes gives us a tour of the place. We got all the dead girls minus their eyes of course! We also have a Xmas tree complete with eyeballs as decorations adorned all over it.
Eve's head is the star on top of the tree and again I was wanting a scene of how Agnes got it to stay up there.
The sister eventually falls completely through the ceiling and the girlfriend manages to simultaneously set fire to the place and stab Agnes in her fake eye with a serving fork. Agnes tells her that "My daddy's here"
Sure enough Billy appears and we see he's got there in a snowstorm in just his pyjamas, not even shoes. Say what you want about him but he's a tough S.O.B
Some fighting happens where you cant see anything and it ends up with girlfriend, Agnes and Billy falling into the space between the interior and exterior walls. Luckily the sister breaks the wall open the rescues her leaving Agnes and Billy trapped. Luckily as they fell they somehow bought the fire and Christmas tat from the attic with them and the girls throw some convenient paint thinner in there to turn up the heat.
The girls escape out the front door and this film mercifully draws to a close.
Just kidding it carries on of course!
Cut to the morgue and the assistant is wheeling two black bagged bodies in and starts moaning about having to work on Christmas. Luckily he doesn't have to work too long as Billy pops up from the bag and kills him with a bone saw.
We see that the girlfriend is in the hospital and that the sister is there with her. Obviously she doesn't give a fuck about her own sister being dead or being with her family after this tragedy and whilst the girlfriend goes to get an x-ray, the sister goes for a wander roudn the hospital for some reason before coming back into the room, mistaking Agnes for the girlfriend and gets her neck snapped.
Well, she lasted longer than the character had any right to so props for that whatever your name was.
The Girlfriend comes back with the nurse and lies down in the bed. As the nurse leaves we find out that the door wont open! The girlfriend notices some blood in the light above and gets the shock pads by the side of her bed ready for when Agnes drops down. The girlfriend manages to electrocute her to death in a shit death scene and Billy drops down from the same hole and chases her around the hospital a bit (where is everyone?) before being thrown off the balcony and landing on an ornament atop a large Christmas tree below.
And that's the end.
It's nothing like the original, its a paint by numbers slasher in the same vein as the Prom Night remake and the Final Destination films, which the director Glen Morgan did a couple of himself. All the teenagers are there to up the body count and all one by one make the same stupid mistakes you see in all these shitshows.
I'm aware that ANOTHER remake has come out recently and maybe we will cover that next year. But for now all I will say is if you're looking for scary film to watch this festive period, stick to the original and give this a wide berth.
Lastly, all of us here at The Bad Movie Cult would like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
FAVOURITE CHARACTER: Yellow Bill aka Billy Lemondrop aka Little Willy Sunshine-Bollocks etc etc...
FAVOURITE MOMENT: Seeing Andrea Martin return from the original.
FAVOURITE LINE: "My Family Now" - said by Agnes, a lot. I couldn't think of a single other line.
FAVOURITE DEATH: Eyeball ripped out by hand through the bin bag, Nasty stuff.