Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Hollywood Messes Up a Canadian Classic

Early slasher cinema will be forever indebted to Bob Clark's Black Christmas, a low-budget Canadian film starring Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder. And yet - Hollywood went ahead and screwed it up in a reckless attempt to remake and modernize the story, clumsily relying on the foundation of Psycho.

(Beware of Spoilers)

Sadly, Glenn Morgan’s 2006 remake of Bob Clark’s 1974 film Black Christmas is not a terribly coherent film. In a messy effort to do too much, the film does too little - it loses the essence of the first one which was all about the actual terror of suspense. Here, Billy’s extensive backstory crosscuts throughout the plot, exposing a set of reasons why he is incapable of functioning ‘normally’ in society. Moreover, the theme of sexual harassment, overly present in the original is played down by having the calls no longer be perverted, and yet Billy as a voyeur becomes a major theme. Meanwhile, the film seems to try to use the themes of voyeurism and the breakdown of the family to create an intertextual relationship to Psycho

Subequently, the film is no longer explicitly about the vulnerability of women as there is no sexual harassment (save for the one scene in which Billy secretly watches Lauren shower as an obvious and out of place homage to Psycho). Instead, it becomes more traditional in its exploitation of the bad mother/good mother myth through its use of the virgin/whore dichotomy, albeit updated to embroider the good mother/virgin (Kelli) with feminist characteristics such as rationality, and authority and vigor when necessary. By the end however such characteristics are subdued when she is taken home by her mother in a traumatized state. Somehow, she becomes just another victim.

The recurrent victimization of women in slashers has been discussed by many, including William Schoell who asserts that this tactic is connected to the fact that the idea of women needing protection is simply “ingrained in the public consciousness”, and is therefore unlikely to ever go away. Ultimately though, Billy’s violence becomes a consequence of his life and psychosis rather than being explicitly about women as it was in Clark’s version. Instead, violence is all he knows. This is another example of the way the film may be thought of as borrowing from Psycho

Speaking about Hitchcock’s film as a pre-cursor to the slasher, Clover notes the significant conventions as follows: “the killer is the psychotic product of a sick family, but still recognizably human; the victim is a beautiful, sexually attractive woman; the location is not home, a terrible place...”. Unfortunately, Black Christmas certainly lacks both the cinematic and narrative sophistication of Hitchcock’s film. Instead, major themes such as voyeurism, consumption, and the virgin/whore dichotomy, seem to be simply thrown together in a blender with little to no use of critical thought. 

Despite the story being founded on Clark’s original ideas about the character Billy, the film is seriously lacking anything that resembles finesse. It’s all about the spectacle of the wet death (a phrase by which Isabelle Christina Pinedo describes all post-modern horror), denying the viewer any reason to care about anyone or anything that’s going on. 

In a word, it’s a MESS.

Click Here for my look at the original and why it is such an important film in slasher history