Saturday, May 02, 2009

Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974)

Yeah, there are spoilers here.

Well, after enough requests to write an entry on this movie, I finally Netflixed the fucker and watched it last night.

I'm of course talking about Bob Clark's proto-slasher flick, Black Christmas.

By many accounts, this is considered to be the first modern slasher film (that is, the first film with most of the characteristics that the slasher film would eventually be known for), predating Halloween by four years and Friday the 13th by six years, so it's been given some reverence as a cult classic.

It's crap.

Sorry, folks, but I'm not a fan. It's absolutely tiresome and dull. Even at only 98 minutes, it feels endless. You're pretty much spending the bulk of the running time waiting for the characters to either a.) get killed, or b.) figure out what you already know: that there's some demented killer lurking around the sorority house (well, mostly the attic) offing its inhabitants and making weird obscene phone calls ("From inside the house!").

This would be fine (this is how the masterful Halloween rolls and the patently mediocre Friday the 13th plays out) if there was any sense of tension or dread taking place between the first murder and the final confrontation between the last remaining heroine and the killer. Halloween is utterly terrifying. And hey, at least makeup and effects artist Tom Savini offers some wonderfully gruesome slayings in Friday the 13th (witness the arrowhead through Kevin Bacon's throat). As it happens, in Black Christmas, when the psycho killer took a new victim, I ended up thinking, "Finally!"

After the first murder victim (a shy sorority sister who is asphyxiated by plastic) is killed and left in a rocking chair in the attic, the bulk of the film's running time deals with the rest of the sorority sisters and the victim's father filling out police reports, joining search parties and vaguely worrying that their sorority sister is in fact dead.

However, since you know what's happened to the girl, and know where her body is, these scenes with the other girls in the police department and then out in the park looking for her are pointless: you know they're not going to find her. (And as it happens, they never do: the poor girl's body is still wrapped in plastic in the attic rocking chair as the credits roll.)

There's also some nonsense with a supremely telegraphed red herring to make you think the killer is one girl's douchebag boyfriend, until you discover at the very end it wasn't. Sorry for the spoiler if you didn't already know it by now, but the whole twist in the end is that you never find out the killer's true identity. It doesn't make sense. At all.

First of all, there's a scene where you see the killer, vaguely in the shadows, when he kills Margot Kidder (oh, yeah, Lois Lane is in this) with the horn of a plastic unicorn nicknack. I suppose it's not supposed to be Peter, the asshat boyfriend. Well, if it isn't, he looks almost exactly like him, down to that crappy Prince Valiant haircut and long-sleeved green sweater.

It actually doesn't make sense either way, because if it really were the boyfriend, he apparently managed to be lurking outside in one scene and then hanging out in the attic the very next. It also doesn't make sense for the real killer to be in the attic then sneak down and kill the cop stationed outside the house then get back into the attic undetected. But I guess never mind. (Clearly Clark & Co. was so intent on providing a twist ending that no consideration was made to give it any sort of logic.)

Now, lets face it: with a movie like this, there are three questions you can reasonably ask going in. Here they are, with the answers in parentheses:

1. Will it be scary? (No.)

2. What's the gore factor? (Appallingly low.)

3. Will there be naked boobs? (Sadly, no.)

Hey, if you're not going to be scary, I am perfectly willing to accept that a slasher film can work on some base level as a delivery device for images of lovely nude females and/or copious amounts of gore. When you fail on all three counts (and the lack of nudie-time is surprising from the director of Porky's), you have what I call a dead loss.

Okay, I know, I know, I'm being harsh. Fine. I'll give it it's one due, and that's the scene where Jess (the last woman standing) goes into one of the rooms and finds two of her sorority sisters dead and sees the killers' giant crazy-looking eye staring out at her from behind the door, whispering, "It's me, Billy!" I will admit, that was genuinely creepy.

However, that scene takes place around the hour-twenty mark, so by that time I was just waiting for the shit to be wrapped up and the credits to roll.

Sure, this is considered the first of its kind. But so what? It only took a few years later for Halloween show up in theatres to make Black Christmas seem obsolete. (Also, considering Black Christmas came out the same year as Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, I'm not buying any arguments that Clark's movie was intense "for its time.") Even though slasher films don't have a whole lot of prestige, if you are into the subgenre, you'd probably find a better example of it virtually anywhere else. And I'm even talking about Friday the 13th Part 2.

Still not frightened of unicorns,

James "Foolhardy Freak" Comtois

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Blogger joshcon80 said...

If you were standing in front of me I'd slap you. I feel as if you've stabbed me with my own unicorn figurine while I lay sleeping.

"Black Christmas" is a totally brilliant and terrifying film. Those phone calls? EEK! The breathing? Yikes! The eye in the crack of the door? EEK! EEK! EEK!

10:50 AM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

I had a hunch I would not be very popular with this entry, as I'm very much going against the grain (I remember you were one of the many people asking me to write about this one).

As I admitted, yes the eye in the crack of the door is really creepy. And I'll meet you literally halfway with the obscene phone calls: I found them about 50% creepy (not scary) and 50% annoying.

But yes. Feel free to electronically slap me. I suspect if I get more comments for this one, the bulk of them will be of the dual-challenging variety.

11:54 AM  
Anonymous ian mackenize said...

Funny post. I remember being vaguely bored by this flick when my sister rented it on Christmas Eve a few years back.

And how about Andrea Martin as Phyllis? One of the funniest Canadian women of all time in a minor role that is neither funny nor dramatic. Weird.

Hey, speaking of Andrea Martin in gore flicks, what about Cannibal Girls?

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think watching enough other Canadian horror films from this time period (Blood Bride, Prom Night, etc) will make you appreciate just how good Black Christmas is by comparison.

8:01 PM  
Blogger Jamespeak said...

Well, okay. Perhaps Canada made shitty horror films at this time. Maybe I'm being too harsh comparing it to The Best Horror Film Ever Made (which came out the same year). Then again, saying it's "Better Than Shit" isn't exactly a ringing endorsement.

And as I revisit this comment thread, I realize I should have written duel-challenging. I'm unliterate.

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am probably the biggest Halloween fan there is but Black Christmas is the movie that started them all. Believe it or not John Carpenter stole the idea of Halloween from the Bob Clark. The two directors used to be close friends and then John Carpenter stole his idea of a mental patient breaking out of an institution on Halloween and killing people. Clark felt that the concept would be scarier than one on Christmas.

Plus Black Christmas is one of a kind. Never really shows the killers face and leaves everything up to your own imagination. The eyeball in the door, definitely scary. The phone calls, definitely creepy. I can watch this movie over and over because they dont make them like this no more. All the good slasher films have gone away and this is the orginator.

12:34 PM  

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