Tuesday, December 13, 2011

I'm Dreaming of a Black Christmas

If you're looking for a Christmas movie with a little less cheer and a little more fear, Black Christmas is the flick for you! As I've previously blogged, it has been cited by John Carpenter and Debra Hill as a huge inspiration for Halloween. Some claim it to be the first "slasher", but I feel it falls squarely into the "proto-slasher" category (i.e., it was one of the films that led to the slasher sub-genre, but doesn't completely belong to that classification). Regardless, of how you classify it, there is little doubt that it was a major influence on the stalk-and-slash fests of the late-seventies and the early-eighties.

Made in Canada in 1974, & directed by Bob Clark, this is one dark, atmospheric film. Clark would later go on to (rather ironically) direct the Yule Season classic A Christmas Story. In some ways, these two films represent the two different sides of Christmas. While many choose to ignore the darker aspects of the Season, this film pretty much wallows in it!

The premise is simple: a group of sorority sisters are being stalked by a madman during the Christmas break. The enigmatic stalker taunts the girls with obscene, disturbing phone calls. Sure, you've seen this plot a thousand times...but it originated here. Much like Psycho and Halloween, this film has been ripped-off time and again by lesser horror films (When A Stranger Calls pretty much copies entire scenes). It may not seem quite as scary to today's audience for this very reason, but it's still worth a viewing. Clark uses restraint when depicting the murders, going more for creep factor than gore. In fact, the blood is very minimal throughout.

I don't want to give too much away with spoilers, but I will say that the unseen stalker (who may or may not be named "Billy") is extremely disturbing. We never get a clear view of him, and the film leaves the audience to wonder about his motives and history. Some modern audiences won't care for such ambiguity, but I find it far more frightening. This guy doesn't NEED a motive...he's just nuts! We get lots of shots from the killer's POV (which would later become a major cliche of the slasher films, but it was rather new here), and hear his twisted, warped rants. It's a frightening glimpse into a truly sick mind.

The performances here are top-notch, with a fantastic cast. Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon and the fantastic Marian Waldman all put in amazing turns. In fact, this flick has one of the best casts of any horror film, most especially a low-budget entry from the mid-seventies!

I'm really not going to go into any more detail here. If ya like the scary stuff, or you just want a change of pace from seeing It's a Wonderful Life for the 1000th time, then do yourself a favor and watch this film! It's a true horror classic, in every sense of the word!

One word of warning: don't get this fine flick confused with the recent remake (usually referred to as Black X-Mas). While I haven't seen that film, from the reviews I've read it seems it is pretty much the opposite of this one. Definitely see this one first!

I'll leave you with the original US trailer. It was originally released in the States as Silent Night, Evil Night. When the film tanked, they went back to the original title. (It also got another title when it was shown on TV of Stranger in the House)


Guillaume said...

It was filmed (is set?) in Montreal, there's Olivia Hussey in it (Virgin Mary in person!), I am surprised I haven't seen it already.

The Gill-Man said...

You should definitely check it out. If memory serves, they never specifically say it's set in Montreal, but it's pretty apparent. They certainly weren't trying to hide where it was filmed. Perhaps they keep it vague for the "it could be happening in my town" idea to come across.

A funny bit about the filming is that the year they were shooting, Montreal was unseasonably warm...with almost no snow on the ground! They used some organic, artificial snow for all of the scenes, which apparently was some good stuff as the grass came back in the spring far greener than normal!