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I Can't Afford to See: Black Christmas

Black Christmas, if you're not aware, is the new "horror" movie which opened on Christmas Day. There's been all sorts of controversy surrounding it, with people being offended by a violent, gory film opening on Christmas. I hate to break it to you, Christians and horror fans alike: it doesn't turn into a real horror film until the last five minutes.

Seriously, up until then it's your average, run-of-the-mill holiday fare. I know the commercials make it seem all creepy and scary, but that's just to sell tickets. What they don't show you is the sing-alongs by the fire and all the awesome family member cameo appearances (Uncle Marc Anthony, anyone?). But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, let me lay out the basic plot.

Trevor Black (Don Rickles) is a retired preacher who's just getting back in town for the holidays after a lost weekend. He and the rest of the family are gathering at the home of Trevor's granddaughter, Peggy (Kelly Lynch), a collector of cursed American Indian artifacts. She and her husband, Cods-Wayne (Patrick Swayze), are expecting the birth of their first child any minute and they want the whole clan to be involved.

To complicate matters, Trevor and his third wife Desdemona (Anna Paquin) have recently divorced, but she still insists on attending the birth. She and Peggy are very close, having been lovers themselves before Des met and fell in love with Trevor. Desdemona also fancies herself a shaman and believes she is the reincarnation of both Buddha and Sir John Gielgud.

The main story revolves around both Trevor not wanting Des present at the birth, and also the tension between Cods-Wayne and Peggy, as Cods suspects the baby is not his. Peggy, it turns out, has been spending inordinate amounts of time at a local branch of the Church of Satan where she does volunteer clean-up after black mass.

Thrown into the mix are all the cousins (featured in the commercials for the film), aunts and uncles who have their own hilarious, and sometimes touching, sub-plots.

Most notable is Cods-Wayne's brother, Uncle Heaven, played by Brian Bosworth. He had been, until recently, the family outcast. But after three cancers and a hand transplant, he's beginning to turn his life around. Though still not accepted by his father Gary (Rutger Hauer) or his father's twin brother Barry (Wings Hauser), he never stops trying to win their acceptance.

"Dad! Did you see that? I caught Cousin Helen just now, right before she fell off the roof!"

"What hand you catch her with?"

"My left."

"Oh, you mean the one you got from someone else? That's just like you, Hev. Gettin' someone else to do all the work."

Throughout the film, behind all of the plots and sub-plots, you feel something else is also going on in that house. Little things that let you know it can't possibly end well.

"Honey, where are my totem poles? You know, the ones I purposely didn't desecrate and that Mr Astan is picking up tomorrow."

"What's that dear? I can't hear you, I'm in the dining room trying to clean up this cross. Some cousin of yours smeared it with strawberry syrup."

"We don't have strawberry syrup, Cods. Look, I'm really worried about those totem poles. I hope no one moved them."

And in walks Trevor, rubbing his hands together.

"Fire's started, and boy is it warm. But what the hell kinda fancy kindling you using this year, pumpkin? Took me forever to scrape off all that paint. Where'd you get it from, IKEA?"


Satan is a hockey puck!

These types of things keep happening throughout, until the big day arrives. Peggy's water breaks just as Trevor is about to carve the Christmas turkey, and everyone starts rushing around trying to get her to the hospital. The cousins decide to stay behind, and what happens to them is all what they show in the previews.

I don't want to ruin the suspense and gore, but really there's not that much to go into. All these demons and Indians and Eastern Europeans show up and just start carving away. And not back-from-the-dead Indians either. Not even American Indians at that. Buncha guys in thick moustaches with sabers and machetes.

I mean, the whole bit is nicely counter-balanced by the scenes of the baby being born, but it's as if its inclusion was an afterthought. May as well have just set the whole thing to Yakety Sax and be done with it.

But I did enjoy the ending, where the baby is finally born and everybody has their own reconciliations. Trevor accepts and appreciates Des being there, Peggy forgives Des for leaving her, and Cods-Wayne accepts the child as his own. As he himself says, "No matter who the father may be."

And as their conversations fade away and eventually out, a single violin begins to play a strained tone. The camera pans away from the hospital bed and over to where the baby lays, surrounded by doctors and nurses. We can see something over their shoulders, tiny arms and legs moving, kicking and grasping. The newborn. As they slowly move out of frame, the baby is finally revealed. And his face is shown, with music rising hard, to be that of Sir John Gielgud.

Now that's a twist worthy of M Night Shabbadoo! And as a bonus, the song which closes the movie is Last Christmas by George Michael, except he's re-recorded it as Black Christmas. All the other lyrics are the same, he just says "black" instead of "last". Not very inventive, but fun nonetheless.

In honor of Rutger Hauer, I'm giving this film three and a half Blind Fury's.

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Copyright © 2005-2013 Graham Cranfield