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If there's a silver lining to the current trend of ghastly horror remakes, it's that they call renewed attention to genre staples like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes, movies that were once reviled, but have since found their place in the canon. Perhaps more than any remade title so far, Bob Clark's 1974 Black Christmas deserves the recognition, since much of the language of modern horror films—the first-person "killer cam," the "last woman standing" convention, the calls coming from inside the house—originated within its grisly confines. Not that that's apparent from the abysmal new Black Christmas, which seems to go out of its way to obliterate all the elements that made the original so special. Outside of the premise of a sorority house terrorized by a killer in the attic, the two movies have next to nothing in common.


Before the killing even commences, the first casualty is personality: Clark's Black Christmas had a clear leader in Margot Kidder, whose sarcastic imperiousness not only put her in charge of the house, but brushed away the threat to everyone's peril. In the new version, the girls are more or less differentiated by hair color, which helps disguise which ones are more likely to survive, but doesn't give the audience any stake in their survival. When a former resident of the house escapes from an asylum and comes home on Christmas Eve, the sorority babes barely have time to shower before the peeping, strangling, and skull-hammering begin in earnest.

To help pass the time, writer-director Glen Morgan adds an ugly heaping of gothic backstory, which explains away the killer's psychology through scenes of child abuse, murder, incest, and cannibalism. At one point, it introduces an inbred resident of the house, only to leave that tasty plot point hanging on the vine. One of the original film's clever innovations was that the women had no reason to leave the house; sure, there was a missing person or two, and they were being pelted with heavy-breathing phone calls, but the threat seemed to be coming from the outside. So every time a character unwittingly climbed the stairs, the audience squirmed in anticipation, which is one of the oldest hallmarks of suspense. Here, it's just another witless trip to the slaughterhouse.

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