Friday, October 30, 2009
19 Black Christmas
Black Christmas (1974)
Dir. Bob Clark
Fright Level: 5/10
Scare Type: the Bogeyman, slow burn.
Bob Clark is best known for A Christmas Story and Porkys, and left us with such amazingly awful films as the Superbabies series and Karate Dog. Clark's career trajectory is quite strange, moving from exploitation films to comedies, to kid oriented family fare, and he seems to have enjoyed each stage.
But his best films come from his early horror period; this film, the rare and amazing horror-drama Deathdream (aka Dead of Night), and the underrated horror-comedy Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things. From December 1973 to December 1974 you have three landmark horror releases, starting with The Exorcist, ending with Black Christmas, and Texas Chain Saw in the middle. The Exorcist may have been the more popular, Texas Chain Saw the more artful, but its Black Christmas which stands as the most influential of the three, and is perhaps the most influential modern horror film. No other horror film, except perhaps Jaws, has been as imitated, copied, and used as a reference point than Black Christmas.
The film is so foundational that it shocked me that it still is effective and disturbing 35 years and hundreds of rip-offs later. A sorority house is plagued by strange phone calls and stalked by a POV killer as they depart for Christmas Break. One by one they disappear, but its not as methodical nor does it feel like a check-list like the later incarnations of this film would. The film is extremely low on blood and the main feature is a rather terrible and blackly humorous take on Hitchcock's privileged audience. Its impossible for the twist ending to work after so many imitations, you've seen it dozens of times, but the film's final sequence is still as well executed and as brutal as anything in horror.
What's also interesting is that there is no sex, no nudity, none of the repressed puritan guilt which would inform John Carpenter's Halloween, and that there is no moral hierarchy in the victims, a residual effect from Carpenter's film which has become annoying as it is troubling in gender, sexual, and racial implications.
The key to this film is the incredible use of sound, which is quite avant-garde. The performances in the prank phone-calls are almost Artaud-ian in their schizophrenic and near ritualistic cries, the foreshadowing motifs in the musical score, and some inventive audio which bleeds over the cuts, also show a devotion to a level of the film experience which is too often over-looked.