Black Christmas (2019)


Snow angels aren’t necessarily a good thing when there’s a killer on the loose.

(2019) Horror (Blumhouse/Universal) Imogen Poots, Aleyse Shannon, Lily Donoghue, Brittany O’Grady, Caleb Eberhardt, Cary Elwes, Simon Mead, Madeleine Adams, Nathalie Morris, Ben Black, Zoë Robins, Ryan McIntyre, Mark Nelson, Jonny McBride, Lucy Currey. Directed by Sophia Takal

 

In the #MeToo era when we are beginning to turn away from tropes and customs that have proven to be historically damaging to women and that have contributed to a culture of rape and toxic masculinity, it is interesting to consider what remakes of classic slasher films would look like through that lens. Now, wonder no longer.

As Hawthorn College approaches the winter break, sorority sister Riley (Poots) – a quiet girl who had been sexually assaulted three years earlier by a member of a frat – prepares to celebrate the holidays with her sisters in the Mu Kappa Epsilon sorority; activist/feminist Kris (Shannon) who politicizes absolutely everything – student/athlete Marty (Donoghue) and sweet-natured Jesse (O’Grady). As their sisters head home for the holidays, there’s a bit of tension as the girls perform a pointed song at a notorious talent show at their brother fraternity DKO that holds their feet to the fire for their antics. This doesn’t sit well, to say the least.

Meanwhile, young Lindsay (Currey) is stalked by a masked figure while walking home in the dark on a well-lit street. Let’s just say Lindsay won’t be opening any presents this year. And as the girls are stalked and murdered one by one, the rush to find out who is behind the disappearances of the girls with no help from the campus police, who are sure the girls have taken off to be with boyfriends, is a life-or-death venture.

Takal, who co-wrote the script with April Wolfe, inspired by the 1974 original (which was also remade in 2006), has given the film a definite feminist slant which may make a certain segment of horror fans a bit uncomfortable. The tone can get strident at time, but it brings up some salient points about the portrayal of women as targets. The problem, though, is that in pointing out the inherent misogyny of slasher films, they utilize the trope of attractive young women being stalked and terrorized before being slaughtered. It seems at best a bit cynical and at worst pandering to the core demographic of horror movies. They seem to be defeating their own purpose.

That said, Takal made sure that the film trimmed enough to receive a PG-13 rating in order to appeal to young women who might not necessarily be horror film fans, but this is something of a tactical mistake. The movie lacks any kind of edge or bite that a little gore might have provided. It is curiously bloodless; a co-ed who’d been stabbed through the chest with an icicle and is then dragged through the snow leaving a kind of macabre snow angel behind her, bleeds not at all. That doesn’t fly. It doesn’t help matters that none of the murders are particularly inventive, contributing to the film’s overall blandness.

The movie is a bit of a hot mess – the introduction of a supernatural element in the denouement is unwelcome and a bit of a cop-out – but there are some fine actresses here, even if their characters aren’t particularly well-fleshed out. The dialogue also sounds a lot like conversations college-aged women might have – ot that I’m privy to any conversations of college-aged women. This is a horror movie whose heart is in the right place, but is ultimately failed by poor execution.

REASONS TO SEE: Points for taking on the patriarchy.
REASONS TO AVOID: Pretty much standard slasher fare.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a goodly amount of violence, sexual content, profanity, teen drinking, and a plot element involving a sexual assault.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The address of the sorority house is 1974 Elm Road, a reference to the year the original Black Christmas came out.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, HBO Max, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/27/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 39% positive reviews; Metacritic: 49/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Sorority House Massacre
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Six Days of Darkness in yo’ face!

Sorority Row


Sorority Row

Most sorority sisters will tell you that a sorority house is just a series of excuses to dress up in lingerie.

(2009) Slasher Horror (Summit) Briana Evigan, Leah Pipes, Rumer Willis, Jamie Chung, Audrina Partridge, Carrie Fisher, Julian Morris, Margo Harshman, Matt O’Leary. Directed by Stewart Hendler

The slasher movie is a time-honored tradition that usually involves a mysterious, hooded or masked maniac, lots of women in lingerie, bikinis, miniskirts or nothing at all and a series of grisly but imaginative murders. The 1983 opus The House on Sorority Row combined all of these elements and while not a classic of the genre, was certainly one of its better moments.

Flash forward to 2009 and an all-new rendition of it, mostly starring ladies from television shows (Audrina Partridge from “The Hills,” Leah Pipes from “Terminator: The Sarah Connors Chronicles”) or low-rent movies (Briana Evigan from Step Up 2, Jamie Chung from Dragonball: Evolution) with daughters of the famous (Rumer Willis – daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, Evigan – daughter of “BJ and the Bear’s” Greg Evigan). It would seem to be a winning mix.

The sisters of the Theta Pi sorority at Rosman College (the original party school) decide to pull a stunt on the cheating boyfriend of Megan (Partridge) by convincing him that the date rape drug they supplied him with had caused an overdose, after which they would have to dispose of the body. This takes place at a sorority house party in which ingénues in lingerie stage beer chugging contests, pillow fights in a scenario that could only take place in the fevered imagination of an adolescent male who yearns for the opportunity to see a bare breast up close and personal – or the mind of a cynical Hollywood screenwriter who is catering to him.

The prank goes horribly wrong when the panicky frat boy, wanting to make sure the “dead” Megan is truly dead, shoves a tire iron into her chest with lethal force. The shocked sisters are bullied by Jessica (Pipes), the queen bee of the crew, to toss the body down the mine shaft (which was what they had convinced the frat boy they were going to do in the first place) and Never Speak of This Again to Anybody. Yeah, right – as if. Cassidy (Evigan), the brainy one who has the closest thing to a moral center at first refuses but is peer pressured into reluctantly agreeing to it.

Months later as the group prepares for their graduation party, they begin to get text messages from the victims’ cell phone. Could it be Megan – back from the dead and seeing revenge? Or maybe her creepy sister, who has turned up unexpectedly?  In any case, sisters start turning up sliced and diced by a mysterious hooded figure wielding a tire iron. Now that’s what I call a party.

The clichés are abounding here, and director Hendler doesn’t seem much disposed to straying beyond them. Mostly, the girls have little to do but wear clothes that say less college sorority girl and more slut and scream periodically. While I admit it’s nice to see Carrie Fisher onscreen (as the feisty house mother whose best line is “Do you think you scare me? I run a house with fifty bitches in it!”), the part is so very beneath her. You’d think that Princess Leia would be able to get better parts.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Carlos – this is a slasher movie. Nobody goes to see it for the acting – their target audience just wants boobs and really clever murders, the more gruesome the better. While there are plenty of boobs, where the movie fails to deliver is on the murders. The payoffs are rarely there and even the build-ups are pretty lame. Yes, a couple of the murders are nicely done but the bulk of them are rather anticlimactic. That’s not a word you want to use when describing a slasher flick.

The fact that the movie was profitable is owed more to its low production cost rather than its quality. A word to prospective producers of slasher movies; think how much more profitable your movies would be if you threw a well-scripted, well-executed movie with exciting murder scenes on top of the breasts and lingerie? This movie demonstrates that the market is there for it. Now we just need some filmmakers to deliver on it; unfortunately, these didn’t.

WHY RENT THIS: Some nice scares and a couple of really well-done murders. It’s nice to see Fisher onscreen, even though it’s in a role that’s clearly beneath her.  

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The concept has been done to death and the movie doesn’t particularly bring anything new to the table. While there are a few good scares, mostly it’s just gruesome.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of violence, plenty of gore, sexuality and nudity, foul language, teen drinking – pretty much the whole gamut.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rosman College, the setting for the movie, is named for Mark Rosman, who wrote and directed the 1983 original and is an executive producer on this film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $27.2M on a $12.5M production budget; the movie was profitable.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: The Mechanic (2011)