Dec 27, 2014

Black Christmas (1974)




Aside from cinephiles and horror fans, it seems that few people seem to realize that belated mainstream American auteur Bob Clark (Porky’s, My Summer Story aka It Runs in the Family), the director of the beloved Xmas time classic A Christmas Story (1983)—a work that managed to do the seemingly impossible by making a Fellini-esque style movie palatable to the American masses, as a film that might be described as an American Amarcord (1973), albeit minus the gigantic talking Mussolini heads and teenage circle jerks—was also responsible for directing one of the most ugly, brutal, and dejecting Christmastide celluloid affairs ever made. Indeed, Clark’s underrated proto-slasher flick Black Christmas (1974) aka Silent Night, Evil Night aka Stranger in the House aka Stop Me was probably the first Xmas themed film that one would probably be better off watching at any other time of the year aside from the holiday season, as a work featuring crypto-alcoholic sorority house mothers who sneak wigs of Whiskey that they have hidden in toilets during Xmas parties, frigid and calculatingly cold girlfriends who surprise the boyfriend’s with the nasty news that they’re unhappily pregnant and plan to get an abortion, assholes with Jew-fros who dress as Santa Clause and call their girlfriend a “bitch” in front of underprivileged children, college girls receiving phone calls from pathetic perverts that say vulgar things in distinctly vulgar ways like, “Let me lick your pretty piggy cunt,” and last but certainly not least, a decidedly deranged psychosexual serial killer who casually kills unwitting college chicks while lurking around the attic and upstairs of their sorority house. Made during the post-counterculture era, Clark’s work is set in a remote college town populated by vulgar and vice-ridden college kids and ignorant townies where the Christmas spirit had already been long shattered before a sexually sadistic killer ever began making his rounds and dispatching sullen sorority sisters. Released well before John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980), thus not only making it one of the first Christmas slasher flicks, but also slasher flicks in general (though, Silent Night, Bloody Night was made in 1972, it was not released until the same years as Clark’s film in 1974), Black Christmas is one of the oh-so rare horror classics that can actually been described as underrated as opposed to obscenely overrated. More importantly, Clark's casually creepy piece of Xmas time celluloid cruelty is a genuinely decent and well constructed work featuring a foreboding sense of suspense and nicely nuanced pacing of the playfully pernicious sort, reasonably memorable acting performances and characters (including that of a faceless killer), and highly imaginative murder scenes with intricate and even sometimes poetic tableaux that range from the strangely surreal to the borderline avant-garde. Of course, as a work directed by the man that previously directed the low-camp tranny exploitation flick She-Man: A Story of Fixation (1967), the classic canuxploitation horror-drama-war hybrid Deathdream (1972) aka Dead of Night, and the cult zombie-comedy Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1973), as well as produced (and some believe also co-directed) the classic Ed Gein flick Deranged: Confessions of a Necrophile (1974), Clark was bound to eventually assemble a masterful horror work and he did not need to use gratuitous sex and violence to do it, yet the innately inferior Halloween—the film credited as jumpstarting the mostly wretched slasher craze of the late-1970s and 1980s—was the work that ultimately received all the glory. Admittedly, I was somewhat disappointed by Black Christmas when I first saw it well over a decade ago, but after learning to appreciate cinema as an art form, I cannot deny that it absolutely murders the competition, as a slasher equivalent to Carl Th. Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932) in terms of its uniquely underrated status in the context of its (sub)genre, as well as a work that makes Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) seem like a retarded romp, Silent Night, Bloody Night feel like an arthouse abortion, and Christmas Evil (1980) aka You Better Watch Out seem like a spastic yuletide autism fit. 





 Opening with a rather conventional yet nonetheless beautiful nighttime outdoor shot of an old house covered in typical Christmas lights and decorations, Black Christmas initially has the essence of a classic Christmas drama from the 1950s, but things take a dramatic change when the viewer enters the house and is bombarded with the mostly bitchy and/or snarky sorority sisters whose repellant personalities act in stark contrast to the merry holiday they are ostensibly celebrating, as well as the classic building they call home. Unbeknownst to the girls, a nameless/faceless man that the viewer will later know as ‘Billy’ has snuck into the attic of the sorority house while the girls were busy getting good and drunk at their annual Christmas party. The girls soon get an obscene harassing phone call from the killer, who has called before and who the college chicks have aptly nicknamed the ‘moaner’ since he sounds like he is masturbating on the other line. While protagonist Jess Bradford (Olivia Hussey of gay Guido auteur Franco Zeffirelli's Academy Award-winning 1968 Romeo and Juliet adaptation) picks up the phone after it rings, it is her cunty wisecracking comrade Barb Coard (Margot Kidder of Brian De Palma's Hitchcock homage Sisters (1973) and Richard Donner's Superman (1978)) that says to the curious creep caller, “why don’t you go find a wall socket and stick your tongue in it, that will give you a charge” after he says such savagely salacious things as, “Let me lick your pretty piggy cunt” and “suck my juicy big cock. I’ll come over and you can suck it.” Needless to say, the caller is pissed by the college gal's gall and makes Barb a promise that he will ultimately fulfill when he hatefully remarks, “I’m going to kill you.” Indeed, not long after the particularly perverted ‘prank’ call, Claire Harrison (Lynne Griffin), who is not really a big fan of Barb due to her vulgar personality, is asphyxiated by the caller/killer with a plastic bag after he surprises the young lady by jumping out of her closest and manhandling her in a most malevolent manner. Possibly feeling in the Xmas spirit, the killer carries Claire’s body to the attic of the house and poses it in a rocking chair with a vintage baby doll in its arms with the bag that her suffocated her with still over her head, thereupon making the corpse look like a sort of warped Mrs. Claus decoration. 




 Luckily for the sassy sorority sisters, they have an ex-cabaret dancer/crypto-dipsomaniac named Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman) as a ‘House Mother,’ as she is too busy sneaking swigs of Whiskey that she has hidden inside books and toilets to give a shit about what sort of degeneracy the girls are involved with. Unfortunately for Mrs. Mac, when dead dame Claire fails to meet with her obnoxiously uptight conservative daddy Mr. Harrison (James Edmond), she has to deal with the worried father's super snide scorn. Indeed, on top of being annoyed by the fact that his baby girl is missing, Mr. Harrison seems particularly offended by posters of nude hippie chicks hanging on the walls of the sorority house and complains like the anally retentive bitch that he is, “I’m very disappointed with this atmosphere and I intend to do something about it” to the less than amused house mother.  Mr. Harrison’s attitude annoys Mrs. Mac so much that she rightfully complains to herself, “These broads would hump the Leaning Tower of Pisa if they could get up there,” in regard to her well warranted belief that the sorority girls are intemperate lady libertines who could not be controlled no matter what sort of rules she tried to enforce onto them. When Mrs. Mac goes looking for her kitty cat Claude in the attic of the sorority house after noticing that the attic door is open, she gets a fatal blow to the head via a crane hook, which she is subsequently hung from like a cow carcass, thus reflecting the fact that the crazed killer is not an ‘agist’ when it comes to hunting hoes. 




 Meanwhile, mostly unlikeable protagonist Jess—a girl that seems to have been indoctrinated by a lot of second wave feminist twaddle and has adopted an exceedingly gynocentric worldview—informs her melancholy musician boy toy Peter Smythe (Keir Dullea of Otto Preminger’s Bunny Lake is Missing (1965) and Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 sci-fi masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey in a role that was originally offered to fellow Kubrick graduate Malcolm McDowell) that she is pregnant and when he excitedly responds “that’s fantastic,” she coldly replies that she does not want the child and plans to abort it. Needless to say, Peter botches a piano exam he has later that day and subsequently decides to take his anger out on the piano by smashing it to bits.  Seeing as Jess was well aware of the fact that Peter had the piano exam yet she decided to tell him about the abortion right before it just goes to show that she is a self-centered bitch, if not a scheming sadist, who clearly harbors resentment towards men, not least of all her boyfriend (notably, earlier in the film, Peter tells Jess on the phone that he loves her and she coldly responds by merely stating, “I know,” as if disgusted by the thought that the man she regularly bangs has deep emotional feelings for her).  Meanwhile, sorority sisters Barb and Phyllis “Phyl” Carlson (Andrea Martin) accompany Mr. Harrison to the local police station to report Claire’s strange disappearance and the dopey cop working there, Sergeant Nash (Doug McGrath), blows them off and insinuates that their missing friend is probably off blowing her boyfriend in a cabin somewhere. To play a prank on the socially retarded cop, Barb tells Nash that the sorority phone number is ‘fellatio’ and since he has no clue that she is screwing with him, the moronic cop actually writes it down.  While hanging around the police station, the girls also learn that a high school girl named Janice has recently disappeared and it does not take long for her corpse to show up in a local park, so a police officer with some actual sense, Lieutenant Fuller (John Saxon of Enter the Dragon (1973) starring Bruce Lee and Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)), begins taking the sorority girls seriously and has their phones tapped so that if the killer calls again, they can figure out his exact location.  Unfortunately for Lt. Fuller, the crazed killer seems to have a lot more sense than the group of college girls whose lives he hopes to protect.





 When Peter tells Jess that he wants to drop out of school and give up his dream of becoming a concert pianist so that he can marry her and so that they can start a family together, she turns him down cold and also reveals that she is going to abort their baby asap, so he breaks a Christmas ornament and states, “you selfish bitch, you’re talking about killing our baby as though you’re having a wart removed” and storms out of the sorority house.  Naturally, due to his melodramatic drama queen behavior, Lt. Fuller suspects that Peter might be the killer. When the ‘moaner’ aka ‘Billy’ later calls Jess and repeats exactly what Peter said earlier in regard to her treating an abortion like it is “having a wart removed,” she becomes convinced that her pissed off beau is the killer. Meanwhile, it is discovered via the phone tap that the killer is actually in the house and using Mrs. Mac’s second line, so Sergeant Nash calls Jess and tells her to get out of the house immediately, but since two of her friends, Barb and Phyl, who she does not realize have already been killed (notably, Barb is stabbed to death with a crystal unicorn statue in a rather aesthetically pleasing scene of almost transcendental slasher savagery), are still upstairs, she moronically goes against the cop’s order and goes to the second floor to look for her friends, who she ultimately finds dead lying together in a bed in rather strange poses. After that, Jess spots the killer looking at her via a crack in the door, so she kicks said door, thus injuring the creep and runs down to the basement of the house and hides. When Peter breaks a basement window so he can get inside the house since no one will answer the phone or door, Jess, who is petrified out of her mind and believes her boyfriend is the killer, decides to beat him to death with a crowbar. When Lt. Fuller and his men later arrive on the scene, they discover a fellow officer dead with his throat slit inside a patrol car outside the sorority house and assume the worst when they eventually find Jess lying on the ground with Peter’s corpse in her lap. As demonstrated by Jess’ killing of Peter and her all-around cognitive dissonance, the killer/Billy almost seems like her Jungian ‘animus’ (the unconscious of a female as expressed in a male inner personality), especially when one considers the rather brutal and visceral nature in which she murdered her boyfriend. Convinced that Peter was the killer, Lt. Fuller and the rest of the police leave the house while Jess, who has been given sleeping pills so that she can get some rest, sleeps like a baby. Not long after the cops leave, it is revealed that the killer is still in the attic with the perversely posed corpses of Claire and Mrs. Mac. The film ultimately ends ambiguously with the killer once again calling the house, thereupon hinting that Jess probably won’t survive the night. 





 Maybe it is my impenetrable sense of nihilism or perennially multiplying cynicism, especially during the holiday season, but I think Black Christmas has certainly replaced Clark’s later work A Christmas Story in terms of personal Xmas favorites. I also must admit that I felt like a little bit of a schadenfreude seeing a crazed killer that is assumedly screwed up as a result of a childhood sexual encounter with his sister (he makes constant references to a girl named Agnes, especially while in the company of his victims) going around and killing a bunch of feminist brainwashed college chicks who only think about screwing losers and who do not have to think twice about an abortion when pregnancy strikes. Indeed, Black Christmas makes for an interesting double feature and comparison piece to Clark’s later classic Christmas flick, as it depicts the post-counterculture/post-sexual-liberation generation and their seeming dissatisfaction with Xmas and life in general in comparison to the characters of A Christmas Story, who find fun, happiness, and fond memories in the most simple and everyday of activities. One of the things that makes Clark’s holiday season horror-slasher so positively potent, especially as a Christmas time chiller, is that, although it features a couple scenes of relatively effective comical relief of the somewhat crude sort, it does not wallow in the sort of moronic irony and compulsive self-consciousness typical of similar films and instead features simultaneously brutal yet beauteous murder scenes with an almost ‘erotic’ thrust and aesthetic sensitivity that few, if any, other slasher films can boast aside from giallos like Mario Bava's equally influential works Blood and Black Lace (1964) aka Sei donne per l'assassino and A Bay of Blood (1971) aka Reazione a catena aka Twitch of the Death Nerve. Of course, the most obvious reason Clark’s film stands out amongst most insipid slasher swill is that it concludes in ambiguity and never reveals the identity of the killer, which is certainly something that would induce cognitive dissonance in contemporary viewers, who need their slasher shit spoon fed to them lest they feel that their rather vulnerable intellect has been challenged. Indeed, it almost seems like Black Christmas is not as popular in comparison to the competition because fanboys don’t have a Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, or some other sort of masked retard to swoon over and jerk-off to. Also, one could argue that the film is one of the few, if not sole, subtextual slasher flicks due to its arguable depiction of the nameless/faceless killer as protagonist Jess’ animus. Indeed, Black Christmas is the ultimate yuletide slaughter show, as a celluloid gift that keeps on giving as a work that, relatively speaking, leaves the viewer thinking every single time.  Rather unfortunately, Clark later decided to put coal in the figurative stockings of the fans of his film by acting as an executive producer on the wholly and shockingly retarded loose-as-a-NYC-crackhead-hooker Canadian-American remake Black X-Mas (2006) aka Black Christmas directed by Glen Morgan (who somewhat surprisingly directed the halfway decent 2003 Willard remake starring Crispin Glover) and starring exceedingly annoying spoiled Jewess Michelle Trachtenberg. Of course, Clark was also responsible for directing Baby Geniuses (1999) and its sequel Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (2004) before a drunken illegal alien from Mexico tragically killed him and his son in a car accident in 2007, but as the man responsible for not only Black Christmas, but also Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1973), Deathdream (1974), and Murder by Decree (1979), he had more than earned his fair share of respect from genre fans.  I certainly cannot think of another filmmaker whose films have more invaded the hearts and minds of Americans during the Christmas season in such an eclectic fashion than those of Bob Clark, whose masterpieces Black Christmas and A Christmas Story offer the ultimate morbid yet merry schizophrenic celluloid double feature.



-Ty E

19 comments:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Olivia Hussey (as the bird was in 1969 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Margot Kidder (as the bird was in 1966 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously).

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Actually, i want to bugger ALL the birds in the 2006 remake (as they were when they were 18 of course), there were some amazing babes in that movie.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Andrea Martin looked tastier in the 2006 version as the house mother (32 years later!) than she did in the original, a rare case of a bird looking tastier as she got older. I always liked her as the word witch in Sesame Street.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I wonder if anyone who went to see this on December 27th 1974 realised that exactly one year later Heather would be born ?.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

In the remake i liked the scene where the geezer was spying on the gorgeous bird taking a shower, that birds arse was unbelievable and such a classic masturbation-aid in the freeze frame mode ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

This year is the 40th anniversary of Black Christmas`es initial release, another great rea-daughter to re-visit it.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Actually Ty E, there is a way to interpret this as a tribute to Heather because anyone watching this movie on any December 27th between 1975 and 1987 (either in a cinema or on VHS) would`ve actually been watching it on Heathers birthday while she was still alive ! ! !.

Jennifer Croissant said...

For its early screenings on American TV all the profanity was edited out, i only saw the uncut version recently on Youtube and was quite shocked by it, especially the use of the C-word.

Jennifer Croissant said...

The scene where Margot Kidder is murdered is stunning, the way it cuts between the murder and the Carol singers, its a stunning piece of film-making.

Jennifer Croissant said...

Another thing i always liked about this movie was the fact that its genuinely Christmassy and yet realistic at the same time. For instance, the lights on the door and inside the house evoke a marvelous Christmas atmosphere but as the same time the murders and behaviour of the characters keeps you in touch with reality, the best of both worlds, as it were. One might say its the perfect Christmas movie for people who want a little bit of Christmas magic but dont want to be totally immersed in it.

Jennifer Croissant said...

The ending to this movie is also the stuff of legend, the tracking shot through the house is superb, and the way the Christmas lights shine on the pictures in the hallway and then how good the Christmas decorations look outside for the final shot, the combination of Christmas magic and reality is retained right up to the last image, its quite magnificent.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I want to bugger Lynne Griffin (as the bird was in 1970 when the bird was 18, not as the bird is now obviously). I like professional virgins.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I liked all the silly voices the geezer was using on the phone, i always fall about laughing when i hear those silly noises, i keep imagine him saying: "I want to bugger Cindy Hinds" ! ! !.

eddie lydecker said...

The spik geezer what done Clark is probably out of the nick and back in Mexico already, the bleedin` bastard.

LCSG said...

... Huh, now that you mention it, Jess kind of was a bitch.

And call me an uncouth idiot, but I have a soft spot for the remake.

Jennifer Croissant said...

Ty E, maybe you could reveiw the 2006 remake on New Years Eve, after all it is Christmas right up till the 6th of January (twelth night ! ! !).

Ty E said...

Of course one of the actors from "Predator" (Sonny Landham) was in "Poltergeist" as well 5 years earlier so thats another connection with Heather ! ! !.

GG said...

Another influential "Master of Horror" whose career unfortunately went to shit in the 1990s.