[…Day 1 of the 12 Days of Christmas review project…]
Over the next 12 days, I’ve devoted myself to watching some old and new Christmas films that for one reason or another I’ve managed to never have seen before. I’ll see a new one each day and do a quick (or long – whatever it takes) write-up on each one here at Row Three. I anticipate burning myself out on this little project, but at least I’ll be able to tell people that I’ve finally seen It’s a Wonderful Life.
Director: Bob Clark
Writer: Roy Moore
Producer: Bob Clark
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Marian Waldman, Andrea Martin
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 98 min.
Year of release: 1974
Likely to be one of the best films I’ll see over this little holiday festival, Black Christmas is not so much of a Christmas movie as it is a horror film and a title that shows up on just about everybody’s “subversive Christmas movie” lists this time of year – and for very good reason. For a film that is over 30 years old, it felt like a breath of fresh air with new tactics, new ways of scaring me and what seems like a whole new way of putting together a horror film. It plays with a lot of the conventions of the horror genre in a time were there really weren’t any conventions to play with.
The opening shot surprised me a little bit. Angled slightly from the street, the camera shows a nice looking house; lit up with some Christmas lights, snow flakes falling gently to the ground all around us and “Black Christmas” written in a white, “classy” font that fills the screen. Immediately I was reminded of Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story and thought maybe Bob Clark had ripped off the idea from this film. Then the director credit popped up: Bob Clark. A-ha!
The story follows several girls living in a sorority house and having a party before they all head home for Christmas vacation. We’re then brought outside to POV shot of someone stalking the house and gaining entry through an open window in the attic. So right away I thought this would be just another Slumber Party Massacre or Sorority House Massacre flick. I was surprised out of that notion very quickly when the girls receive their first obscene phone call.
The phone call has most of the girls on edge except for star, Margot Kidder’s character. She smarts off and thinks the whole thing is a joke. Me? I was freaked out. The voice on the other end of the line is not the usual moaner or heavy breather. This is obviously not some college punk thinking he is funny. This is a disturbed, possibly possessed, person on the line. He uses different voice, unstructured sentences, mumbling, non-coherent rants about random people and possibly other languages. Not to mention terrifying screams, shouts and grunts. To me, it sounded like Linda Blair from The Exorcist just figured out how to dial a telephone. These calls happen several times throughout the picture and they become no less skin crawling each time.
Add the ominous but terrific score to the terror and there are truly frightful things going on here. Heavy piano pounding that still has some tone and arrangement to it, coupled with some ominous chorus sounds of children makes for some unique atmospheric sounds emanating from the speakers.
As people begin to disappear, more characters join the cast and more characters become potential suspects as to who the killer might be. In this way it sort of becomes a standard, who-dunnit. But that’s the beauty of this film: there’s nothing standard about it.
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