BLACK CHRISTMAS (Glen Morgan, 2006)

Black Christmas is the middle film in what is sometimes called the “Black Christmas series” – three films that actually have very little to do with each other, except that they bear the same title, one made in 1974, one in 2006, and one in 2019. The original was made in 1974 and widely panned, but has since been revived as the proverbial “cult classic” and hailed as one of the earliest slasher movies – it was released on the same day as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and is considered an influence on the making of the Halloween series (crazy killer, young women, buckets of gore). The remake in 2019 presented a completely different story and character list.

I am reviewing the middle, 2006 movie not because it’s the best of them, but it is the only one featuring CANNIBALISM, which is what this blog is all about. Also because I needed something uplifting to review on Christmas Day, 2022.

The films all involve a group of co-eds (young female college students for those of you who don’t speak American) being slaughtered by a serial killer. The 1974 film was about to be released for television in 1978 but was withdrawn because serial killer Ted Bundy had just murdered two young co-eds sleeping in their sorority house on the campus of Florida State University in Tallahassee. Bundy had started his killing spree in 1974 before being captured in 1975, incarcerated and then escaping, and there is some speculation that the film was based around his brutal murders, and that he in turn, might have been motivated to escape and return to his pathological ways by the imminent TV release of the film. The film may also be partly based on the exploits of Ed Kemper, who killed his family and then a number of co-eds in 1972-73, although his M.O. was to offer them lifts as they hitchhiked which, as we all know (I hope), is a very bad choice of transportation.

But Bundy was not a cannibal to the best of our knowledge, and nor was cannibalism mentioned in the 1974 film. Ed Kemper did admit under truth serum to slicing flesh from the legs of his victims and eating it in a casserole, although he later changed his mind and denied it. So Kemper, who is still locked up the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, may well have been an inspiration for this 2006 version. It is a very loose reimagining of the 1974 film, with the added frisson of child abuse and a bit of paedophilia, as well as incest and cannibalism – the taboos that Freud described as “the two original prohibitions of mankind”. Director Glen Morgan, who wrote several episodes of X-Files and The Twilight Zone reboot, is not skimping on any taboos in this one.

It starts off with a murder of course, then moves swiftly to an asylum for the criminally insane (a nice nod to Hannibal’s residence through all of Red Dragon and most of Silence of the Lambs, and quite a bit of the third season of Hannibal too). Here we come across Santa Claus, as you’d expect in a movie called Black Christmas, and we get the back story on the dude who killed his family many years ago, and is, we expect, going to kill lots more people before this movie drags itself to a gruesome end.

The asylum caterer, a very careless man who lets the high security door get jammed open with a carton of milk, says they are giving him a special Christmas dinner.

“It tastes like chicken, because it’s chicken. It’s the closest we could get to how Mom used to taste.”

Billy Lenz is clinically insane, so that may explain why he thinks his Mom tasted like chicken (humans are red meat, and most cannibals claim the taste is like pork or veal). Anyway, he scoffs his chicken/Mom substitute through the feed-hole on his door, pockets the candy cane as a handy weapon, and we are told that he tries to escape each year; he wants to go home for Christmas. And the Delta Alpha Kappa co-eds, whose sorority house at Clement University in New Hampshire is Billy’s old house, are not going to enjoy his visit.

Well, we don’t have to sit through all the jump scares, because they are just slasher gore with no one getting eaten (as far as we can see). There are some amusing rants against Christmas though. The girls know the history of the house, and their “Secret Santa” ritual includes someone having to buy a present for Billy each year. It’s a pagan sacrifice to ward off evil spirits on Christmas.

“What Christmas shit in this room resembles anything Christian, huh? It’s all neo-pagan magic. Christmas tree – a magical rite ensuring the return of the crops. The mistletoe is nothing but a conception charm. Fifth century Christians jacked a Roman winter festival – twelve days in December where the nights were long – and the Earth was roamed by the demons of chaos.
And fucking Santa Claus? This fat voyeur that watches you all year long to make sure you live up to his standards of decency, before breaking into your house? And that is different from what Billy did – how?”

So what, we wonder, did Billy do?

“Billy Edward Lenz was born with a rare liver disease that gave him yellow skin. His parents hated each other. The mother hated Billy. He was not the child she always wanted.”

When Billy is five, on Christmas Eve, his mother tells him the Russians shot down Santa.

He then witnesses his mother’s new boyfriend kill Billy’s father, who is the only one who ever loved him. Realising he saw it all, they lock Billy in the basement (did they see Tommy?), where he spends his time rocking (as in, in a rocking chair, not engaging in popular music).

When he is twelve, his mother, frustrated by her new husband who falls asleep mid-coitus, climbs up into the basement, drops her gown and reinstates the original meaning of “rock and roll”, adding incest to insult and injury. Not to mention paedophilia. This show has it all!

So Billy has a sister and a daughter and Mom has a granddaughter and a daughter, and step-dad is still snoring through copulation, so everyone lives happily ever after.

Just kidding – nine years later, Billy has been driven insane by isolation, while his sister/daughter is doted on by his mother, who constantly tells her “you’re my family now”:

Billy escapes from the attic and disfigures his eight-year-old sister by gouging her eye out, and then eating it.

Much of the terminology of love and sex derives from cannibalism. When we tell a child “I could eat you up” or (at a different time and place presumably) perform oral sex on a lover, we use the metaphors of cannibalism.

Billy murders his mother and her sleepy lover, and the cops find him eating cookies made out of his mother’s flesh. There’s a cookie-cutter involved, and a hot oven. Not sure where he got the recipe.

The rest is pretty standard slasher stuff, with some inventive deaths, but at least Billy has qualified as a cannibal, and it’s about time, because we’re 36 minutes into the film by now. If you can’t be bothered watching the whole thing, there is a trailer at the top of this blog that covers a lot of the good bits, plus a whole lot of other stuff that never made it into the movie, apparently filmed at the insistence of the distributor, Dimension Films, run by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who have, between them, much expertise on matters of horror, family discord, and the abuse of young women.

Look, if you want an entertaining slasher with lots of gore, you might like this. From the point of view of Cannibal Studies, the film is interesting mainly as an example of revenge cannibalism – eating the rude and abusive, like Son or Titus or even Sweeney Todd. Also, horror movies timed to coincide with Christmas are very often based on some aspect of revenge, such as The Twelve Deaths of Christmas, also featuring a cookie-cutter used to make people-bread men. It’s a fascinating genre, in which the audience is offered the opportunity to sympathise with, or at least understand, the act of cannibalism as homicide and anthropophagy justified by grievance.

Not so much with Billy. The sorority sisters are treated the way humans treat animals contingently labelled as “vermin” – they are swarming around his house, and he exterminates them but, significantly, he doesn’t eat them. His Mom and his sister/daughter, though, they’re family, and the only way to keep them with him, restrained, constrained and compliant, is to eat them. It’s Billy’s version of love.

Merry Christmas and Gory in Excelsis to all my readers!

The full movie is available (at the time of writing) on YouTube:

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