Monday, June 22, 2009

Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974)

On top of boasting some of the most authentic cold weather in cinematic history, Black Christmas (a.k.a. Silent Night, Evil Night) is also one of the most effective slasher films ever made. Brilliantly utilizing first person camera angles, director Bob Clark let's the audience view the action through the eyes of the demented perpetrator, as he carefully makes his way up the lattice (wheezing like a menstruating fiend) and into the junk-laden attic of a sorority house. Unseen for a large chunk of the film, the confused culprit skulks up there, lying in wait for his victims to cross his path. He's kinda like a spider that way, except this slayer enthusiast is a strong proponent of using household items as instruments of violence and has an intense proclivity for making extremely local telephone calls. I mean, can you picture a spider, or any ambush-based predatory insect for that matter, dialing a phone? I can't, and I'm borderline certifiable. (Quirky fun-fact: I thought I was a Danish banker named Espen for a large chunk of the early 1980s. Hell, I even made myself a modest patch of blonde crotch hair out of some loose pubes I found languishing in a dumpster behind a recently condemned Dairy Queen to appear more authentic.) Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, the fact that the sorority girls are unwittingly reveling during the season known as Christmas (a religious holiday of some importance) while one seriously unhinged dude is hiding above them makes the proceedings all the more terrifying. Tinsel, colourful lights, caroling and good tidings severely clash with the agenda of a mangling maniac. In fact, they don't go together at all. Hence, the superfluous feeling of dread.

The sick twist, in addition to being shadowy, is also quite the talker, as he introduces himself to the girls by making a series of obscene phone calls. Elaborately coarse in their filthiness, the calls unsettle coeds Jessica (a gorgeous in yellow Olivia Hussey) and Clare (the adorable Lynne Griffin).

On the other side of sorority, the feisty Barbie (a potty-mouthed Margot Kidder) shrugs off the dirty calls with a blase aplomb, and Phyliss (future comedy legend Andrea Martin) nervously laughs at her antics (Barb taunts the phone prankster). These four actresses, by the way, were all first-rate in terms of being sexy while scared. Well, except for Margot, her character ain't scared of shit. However, her drunkenness and obsession with the mating habits of turtles may have something to do with her dauntless disposition.

Speaking of brave, John Saxon, one of the handful of Americans in the cast (Keir Dullea being the other), is a real bad ass as the film's chief investigator. I liked his no-nonsense approach to law enforcement. It also made for a nice contrast with Douglas McGrath's incompetent desk sergeant.

Now, the uninvited lurker's telephone etiquette may be a tad uncouth, but at least he offered mouth-to-vulva resuscitation as a part of his deviant repertoire. Think about it, while most perverts are obsessed with their own gratification (tickle my this, taste my that), this one was thinking about the pleasure of others. Sure, it's the only positive thing I say about this wacko, but at least it's something.

Since I don't have an inner-necrophiliac (I think having sex with dead people is wrong, and a tad rude, if you think about it), my fetish for women with their faces wrapped in cellophane while sitting in rocking chairs will have to suffice. Perched in the attic like a recently asphyxiated angel, the performance by this actress (I won't say which one) is surprisingly strong despite her inherent deadness. The image of her rocking back and forth with her mouth agape is one the film's most indelible.

The use of the lowly rotary phone as tool for terror in Black Christmas was an unexpected treat. While modern cell phones make chirpy sounds that do nothing to warrant the expulsion of fearful pee, the rotary phone, on the other hand, is a shrill behemoth. The unpleasant nature of the calls being made and the shockingly archaic manner of tracing said calls, the thunderous ring that intrusively reverberates from its hard plastic shell is one of the most piercing noises ever devised by humankind. Adding to the intensity of the ringing was the constant sound of creaking of wood, a slight thudding noise, and the howling wind.

Apparently the house where this film was shot is just a short subway ride away. I should drop by one of these days... in January of course.

video uploaded by DrGregoryHouseIT


  1. BLACK CHRISTMAS is one of Bob's best...and it inspired The Breather from one of my all time favorite movies STUDENT BODIES.

    Espen, huh? Well, we learn something new about you every week.

    Oh, right before I went on paternity leave I bought a armful of LPs, one of which was Toyah's "The Changeling"...had never heard her before, but the cover spoke to me...turned out to be a great record! Nice to see her in you musical selections this week.

  2. I love that scene. He, like, totally ejects his semen through the phone.

    It's been a short-time dream of mine to work in the world high finance while being slightly Scandinavian.

    "...the cover spoke to me"

    Tell me about. Toyah's overall look during that particular period was extremely splendid.

  3. Haven't seen it, but this movie was mentioned a lot in my horror film class over the summer. Lots of high praise. It's on my list.

  4. I love this film. It's definitely a horror classic. I watched it again after the remake came out.

  5. Ray: That's cool that it gets mentioned a lot... you know, with it being Canadian and all. Plus, it pretty much started the whole stalking young people genre.

    Keith: I was gonna watch the remake, but changed my mind at the last minute.

  6. I don't know if you have been watching Stewart/Colbert or any mainstream news, but our governor of our little state is f***ed.

    I love rotary phones. Cell phones suck.

    d. took a class on horror films--uh, yeah, that's my idea of hell--and this film was mentioned as being very influential.

  7. oh d. = ray
    One point in my post has been covered.

  8. Yeah, I heard. One day he's on a hike, the next he's in freaking Argentina. That's pretty fierce.

    Oh, and I liked when Stewart mentioned "cock-based" drink cozies. It made me think of your diving team's saucy motto.

    I agree 100% with your phone opinion.

    Plus nothing dates a movie more than a cell phone.

  9. Oh, I love this movie. Everything about it is perfect. The first time I watched it, the scene where the killer's eye is visible through the door made me scream like a little girl. And I was at least in my early 20s at the time.

  10. I LOVE Black Christmas. Genuinely scary while still having a great tongue-in-cheek moments. Olivia Hussey is sexy as hell, even if she never gets naked or anything approaching it, and the film is just unique. While I still don't think it quite qualifies as the first slasher, (although it did precede Halloween), it's a great movie.