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Michelle Trachtenberg

Michelle Trachtenberg - "Black Christmas" Movie - Boston.com Review

Ty Burr

Wednesday 27 December 2006, by Webmaster

Christmas, coeds, and a killer on loose. Nothing new here.

’Black Christmas,’ a remake of the 1974 sorority-house slasher film, stars Kristen Cloke, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Michelle Trachtenberg, and Katie Cassidy.

Because it wouldn’t be the holiday season without counterprogramming, here’s "Black Christmas," a Yuletide slasher movie in the blood-drenched tradition of "You Better Watch Out" (1980), "Silent Night, Deadly Night" (1984), and the heartwarming serial-killer-snowman opus "Jack Frost" (1996).

You’re right, there are no new ideas, even if the TV ads for today’s movies are better at scaring the kids.

Actually, this sorority-house slasher flick is a remake of the granddaddy of the genre, 1974’s "Black Christmas," which was directed by Bob Clark before he went on to fashion a proper holiday classic in "A Christmas Story." The original starred a young Margot Kidder, Olivia Hussey, and Andrea Martin before the latter went on to comedy fame as a founding member of SCTV, and was notable for a killer who was never identified.

All right, history lesson’s over. How’s the new one? About what you’d expect from a director, Glen Morgan, who wrote the "Final Destination" movies: silly, obvious, clumsy, and just gruesome enough to keep jaded genre fans from angrily throwing popcorn at the screen.

These movies tend to be way-stations for young actresses on the way up or down, so we have Katie Cassidy (daughter of David Cassidy, "Partridge Family" fans) as Kelli , the most squeaky-clean member of Delta Alpha Kappa; Michelle Trachtenberg ("Ice Princess") as sensible Melissa; Lacey Chabert ("Mean Girls") as rich princess Dana.

They and a handful of other horror-movie types (slutgirl, nerdgirl, lunchmeat) are stuck in the sorority house on Christmas Eve during a storm. Their housemother is played by — surprise — Andrea Martin, returning to the scene of the crime with a perfectly straight face.

Tough luck for them: I t used to be the home of deranged killer Billy Lenz (Robert Mann), and he has just busted out of the Clark Institution for the Criminally Insane. Also: Someone’s creeping along the crawlspaces of the house and yanking unsuspecting coeds to their doom. Could it be Agnes (Dean Friss), who’s both Billy’s sister and daughter?

Yikes — have a little incest with your Christmas ham? Because the horror-movie rules have turned rigid over the years, "Black Christmas" can’t stick to the eerie low-budget simplicity of the original. Morgan has to come up with a back story about the killer’s abusive childhood, but he has enough trouble keeping one story line straight, let alone two, and the busy editing further confuses matters.

The movie’s one idea of wit is to score scenes of carnage to classic tunes from Tchaikovsky’s "The Nutcracker" — " Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," " Waltz of the Flowers," " Arabian Dance" (which has always sounded a little creepy, if you ask me).

The rest is formula, from the strictly unnecessary shower scene to the door left open for a sequel in the final scenes. Is it too much to hope for "Hanukkah at Horror House" or "The Kwanzaa Killer"?