November 30, 2013

Black Christmas

Black Christmas (1974) takes as its inspiration that old urban legend about the madman terrorizing the babysitter with taunting, malicious phone calls that are in fact "coming from inside the house." It's a nasty but surprisingly effective shocker from director Bob Clark, who had made two other genre pieces before this one, the schlocky zombie-cheapie Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (1972) and the laughable but slightly more intelligent Deathdream (1974), about a dead Vietnam vet who comes back to life a la "The Monkey's Paw." In Black Christmas, the setting is a sorority house at Christmastime, and the hormonal coeds are feeling rattled by the obscene phone calls of a psycho killer, who happens to be cloistered in the attic. Filmed in Toronto, Black Christmas feels like a bad 1970s youth drama--there's even a subplot about one of the sorority sisters contemplating an abortion--interspersed with violent murder set-pieces to ratchet up the tension. Strangely enough, it's effective, perhaps because of how crudely conceived it is. The script by Roy Moore dares you to live with the uncertainty of the killer's identity, and the dreary sorority house feels like Death itself with all its creaking floorboards and dark hallways. You find yourself drawn to the familiarity of the film's conventions, and its perverse method of turning the Christmas season into a time of dread and horror is chillingly done. (Clark himself once pointed out how many suicides there are during the holidays, just in case anyone thinks they're blissfully happy times for everyone.) With John Saxon as the police chief, Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder (who's brilliant as the brash, boozing member of the sorority), and Andrea Martin as three of the coeds, Keir Dullea and Art Hindle as two of their boyfriends, and Marian Waldman as the amusing alcoholic housemother, who hides bottles of booze all over the house. Released in America as Silent Night, Evil Night and later Stranger in the House, but it was not initially successful in this country. It has since become something of a cult classic.

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