Thursday, April 26, 2007
# 7: Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974)
It's going to be hard not to turn this post into a wake. Bob Clark and his 22-year-old son were killed less than four weeks ago by a drunk driver who swerved into their lane and smashed into them head-on. Clark made a series of excellent horror films in the 1970s before moving on to the highly regarded (but unseen by me) Sherlock Holmes/Jack the Ripper movie "Murder by Decree," stupid but funny teenage sex comedy "Porky's," and undisputed holiday classic "A Christmas Story." I love so many movies of Clark's, it's easy to overlook his decline into unfunny mainstream Hollywood comedies and shitty children's movies like "Baby Geniuses" and "Karate Dog." ("Karate Dog?" What the fuck?) He was planning a return to the horror genre shortly before he was killed, and I had a lot of hope for his future projects. Unfortunately, we will never know how those projects would have panned out. Fortunately, his entire filmography is widely available on DVD and/or VHS. I loudly proclaim to the rafters that "Black Christmas" and "Deathdream" are two of the best horror movies ever made. "Deathdream" will show up later on our Fangoria list, so let me concentrate on "Black Christmas." I LOVE this movie. It is scary. It is funny. It is loaded with great character actors, like John Saxon (weary detective), Margot Kidder (alcoholic, caustically witty sorority girl), Keir Dullea (nutty music student), Olivia Hussey (British expatriate, super-serious sorority sister), and Douglas McGrath (dumb-ass cop/police dispatcher). These roles, and the film itself, milk cliches without being slaves to them. It gives an audience what it wants without supplying a lot of dumb-ass solutions. For example, the killer's identity is never revealed. The setting is believable, lived-in, and visually appealing.
The film has a wonderful structure of alternating disturbing, horrific scenes with relaxed, comedic, or character-heavy scenes, keeping the tension level high and supplying an ever-changing tone. The film is about a sorority house infiltrated by a psychotic killer who hides in the attic, picking them off one by one beginning the first night of Christmas break. Clark's location shooting, interest in actors, and respect for a sharp script allow this film a lot of breathing room. A lot of its slasher flick tropes have been ripped off ad infinitum, but the film still works better than anything following its lead. The sorority house sisters and house mother (a middle-aged party animal with flasks stashed all over the house) are so much more interesting than what you'd expect from a sorority house (fictional or actual) in today's real or fictional world. This film was pointlessly remade last year (Clark, who vowed never to allow any of his movies to be remade, finally succumbed to studio pressure and gave the go-ahead. He later publicly lambasted the film and said it would never happen again unless he remade his own films personally. He didn't live to make good on the promise, so who knows what will happen now.) Let me reiterate how much I love this movie, and how much I consider anyone who disagrees with me to be a humorless stick-in-the-mud. RIP, Bob Clark.