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Black Christmas

Directed by Glen Morgan

Written by Glen Morgan and Roy Moore

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Starring Katie Cassidy and Andrea Martin

Classification: 14A

Rating: *

It just wouldn't be Christmas without certain familiar sights - evergreens strung with coloured lights, stockings hung over a fireplace, sorority sisters fleeing for their lives. The last has been a part of the season since 1974, when Black Christmas became one of Canadian cinema's most cherished gifts to the world.

Shot in Toronto, Bob Clark's nasty thriller about a sorority house terrorized by a deranged killer on Christmas Eve was both the first horror movie to undermine the holiday's reputation for goodwill and an archetypal slasher flick. Its sleazy innovations were repeatedly pilfered over the years, most notably in John Carpenter's tribute to a less jolly holiday, Halloween.

More evidence of Black Christmas's influence could be found in many more movies that used co-ed-filled houses as sites for misogynistic mayhem (think Sorority House Massacre). And though Clark neglected to put his killer in a Santa suit, his oversight would be corrected in the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise of the eighties and nineties.

Ever since, children have awaited the arrival of Saint Nick with a greater sense of trepidation.

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Given the Hollywood vogue for resurrecting cherished horror movies, a remake of Black Christmas was as inevitable as it was redundant. Lazy, perfunctory and free of tension, the new version will satisfy neither the admirers of the original nor anyone looking for a gory respite from seasonal good cheer. Director Glen Morgan - a former X-Files writer-producer who hatched the cheerfully vicious Final Destination franchise with partner James Wong - fails to reinvigorate the much-imitated material. Instead, he offers a feeble and incoherent array of idiotic slasher-pic clichés, the Christmas-fied carnage being oh-so-wittily set to the strains of The Nutcracker Suite.

The update's one innovation may be the jaundiced skin of the killer - perhaps victims of liver ailments will be inspired to protest against Black Christmas's callous equating of aberrant pigmentation with murderous impulses, much like albino groups did over The Da Vinci Code. Flashbacks reveal how young Billy Lenz (Robert Mann) slaughtered his abusive parents one Christmas Eve, going so far as to make Christmas cookies from his mother's flesh. Years later, the sorority girls now living in his house are plagued by a series of disappearances and creepy phone calls that - as every horror fan knows already - are coming from within the house.

A resolutely unremarkable bunch, the sisters are dispatched with little difficulty and less flair. Only the sole member of the original cast, Andrea Martin, makes much impression. (Another connection to the first film is that this also was shot in Canada, this time in Vancouver.) Gore-hounds will be mildly appeased by the shots of freshly excised eyeballs and icicle accidents, but even on that level, Morgan's remake is disappointingly timid. If only he had skipped the stale psycho-killer shtick and filled his version with man-eating reindeer, axe-toting elves and a mutant Mrs. Claus, this might have been a Black Christmas to remember.

Opens Christmas Day

Special to The Globe and Mail

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