REVIEW

Black Christmas is a horror remake with some interesting ideas disappointingly handled

Black Christmas (M)

Two stars

The original Black Christmas (1974) was one of the earliest slasher films and highly influential. Such tropes as killer's point-of-views shots, "the final girl" and phone calls coming from inside the house would turn up repeatedly in later, and frequently inferior, examples of this horror sub-genre.

That first Black Christmas was atmospheric and mysterious. It was directed by Bob Clark, whose eclectic career ranged from sex comedies (Porky's) to family fare (A Christmas Story).

Imogen Poots as Riley in Black Christmas. Picture: UPI

Imogen Poots as Riley in Black Christmas. Picture: UPI

I haven't seen the second Black Christmas (2006), on which Clark was credited as executive producer. It introduced some new elements, but it seems to have come and gone and been generally forgotten.

Directed by Sophia Takal, who co-scripted with April Wolfe, the 2019 film is a horror movie for the Me Too era, with attack on rape culture, patriarchal dominance and an expression of female power. These promising ideas are not as well developed as they might have been, though: perhaps the pressure to stick within genre boundaries was too strong. In terms of content, the film is a bit of a mish-mash, a somewhat awkward blend of slasher film and supernatural horror with echoes of The Stepford Wives (the 1975 film, not the messy remake). It was shot in New Zealand and has some Kiwi actors in the cast.

There's a creepy prologue with a young woman walking alone on a university campus at night that effectively evokes a woman's fear of having a man walk along behind - is he harmless or a threat? - and the sorority girls have a bit more gumption than some of their predecessors in slasher films. However, they still make some questionable decisions in classic slasher-film tradition.

The film is set on the campus of Hawthorne College where a group of sorority sisters are staying on campus over the Christmas break and are planning an "orphans' Christmas".

Riley (played by Imogen Poots) was sexually assaulted a few years earlier by alpha fraternity bro Brian (Ryan McIntyre) but the college officials didn't believe her report. She gets some measure of revenge by teaming with some of her sisters to perform a savagely satirical song directed at Brian at the frat's Christmas party.

But their glee is shortlived, for as the audiencer knows, someone - or something - in a hooded robe is stalking the women on the campus.

There are a couple of sympathetic males - Landon (Caleb Eberhardt), a nice guy to whom Riley is attracted, and Nate (Simon Mead) the boyfriend of one of the sisters who seems to function mostly as a kind of palace eunuch - but can they, or any other of the men on campus, be trusted? Misogyny seems rife in this college and not just from the frat boys. Another sorority sister is circulating a petition to rid the place of a supercilious professor (Cary Elwes) who's an arrogant proponent of the "dead white male" school of classic literature. Even a security guard is dismissive of female concerns about safety.

The new film has little in common with the original apart from the winter sorority setting and a nod to one of the 1974 film's unusual methods of killing. In keeping with the present-day setting, the creepy phone calls have been replaced by threatening text messages.

Black Christmas has some interesting and timely ideas but doesn't always deal with them very interestingly. It becomes a bit silly in the big reveal and turns into something of a simplistic revenge fantasy.

This third film was produced by Blumhouse Productions whose other horror films include the impressive Get Out and the enjoyable Happy Death Day. Black Christmas, unfortunately, is not one of the company's better efforts. It was edited to remove a lot of the violence and gore so it could be shown to wider audiences in the US and internationally.

While these alterations are generally well done, and it's always refreshing to see horror films that don't rely on gore for effect, there are a few abrupt cuts and transitions.

Black Christmas has some intriguing elements but isn't as effective a critique of toxic masculinity as Get Out was of racism.

This story Bloodless horror lacks sharp edge first appeared on The Canberra Times.