Saturday, June 11, 2011

Black Christmas: Holidays in Hell

At this exact moment, I'm about halfway through "Black Christmas," Bob Clark's classic 1974 sorority house stalker flick. It's available via Netflix Instant Watch, which is how I'm watching it.

I don't need to remind you to skip the 2006 remake, do I? In general, but not always, remakes of 1970s and '80s horror films are beyond awful. That's usually because the originals weren't that great to begin with.

"Black Christmas" has more going for it than many of the bastard slasher movies that followed. First, it beat John Carpenter's "Halloween" to the cinema by four years and included the killer's point of view shots that made the opening sequence of "Halloween" so memorable. The murders aren't as bloody as later films would be, but with Clark, it's more about the set-up than the result.

This style would serve him well in his more popular films: "Porky's" and "A Christmas Story." While the payoffs are great, it's everything that leads up to a joke or a murder that makes the films worth watching.

"Black Christmas" also has a great cast. John Saxon (Nancy's dad in "A Nightmare on Elm Street"), plays the local sheriff near the sorority house where the murders are happening. Olivia Hussey, perhaps most famous for playing Juliet for Franco Zeffirelli in 1968 plays Jess. She's the only one with a British accent and it makes her seem smarter than her sorority sisters.

Margo Kidder plays the foul-mouthed Barb. She was only four years away from fame as Lois Lane. Barb is a liberated woman and has no qualms about speaking with the obscene voice on the other end of the phone or making oral sex jokes to policemen.

While everyone else is on holiday break, Jess and Barb (mostly Jess) try to find their missing friend, Clare.

One of the best things about "Black Christmas" is that the audience knows the entire time that Clare is in the attic with her head wrapped in plastic. She's dead for all bu the first five minutes of the movie. Now before you start wondering why no one finds her, why no one checked the attic, slow down. The attic gets checked, but it does no good.

"Black Christmas" not only presages "Halloween" but another of the late-'70s fright classics, "When a Stranger Calls." Cell phones have pretty much ruined the gimmick, but if the modern audience can suspend disbelief long enough, it's still scary.

"Black Christmas" also addresses some topics of the era. Feminist Barb is joined by Jess and her desire to have an abortion. That's right, the entire time she's being stalked by a killer, Jess is pregnant and only she and her boyfriend Peter know. And Peter wants to keep the baby.

So anyway, blood, politics and tapped phones are all to be had by watching "Black Christmas." But only the original, not the remake.

Threat level:YELLOW. It's worth watching, but given it's age, "Black Christmas" won't disappear any time soon. For an explanation of Warning Signs ratings system, visit the Warning System page. 

"Black Christmas," rated R, was directed by Bob Clark and written by Roy Moore. It was released on Dec. 20, 1974 and is available on DVD and Netflix Instant Watch.

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