Now this is how you make a slasher film! I'm a major fan of Halloween, but this came first, so a lot of the things Halloween gets attributed for pioneering and doing so well were actually done first with this film. That's not to say that John Carpenter totally ripped Bob Clark off, but the resemblences with shots, camera placements, and concepts is very striking.
This has a fairly decent body count (7), but it's not really gory, which I think is a great thing. Oh, there's blood and some brief gruesome images, but the film is more effective by leaving stuff to the imagination. The pacing is slow and not a lot happens during the movie, so it can be easy to get impatient and bored, but trust me, it's worth to stick with the film.
The pacing actually really adds to the tone, mood, and atmosphere of things. What this film lacks in mayhem it makes up for in sades with style, intensity, and some very creepy and unsettling moments. This is a really tense and unnvercing film. It's an excercise in dread and fear. It's a shame more films don't follow suit in this regard.
The cast is pretty good. Marian Walman is good as a crotchety old drunk, and Margot Kidder is a real scene stealer as the token drunken, vulgar bitch. She's a lot of fun to watch, and I think she's better here than she is as Lois Lane. Keir Dullea is great in a role of creeiness and ambiguity, and, even though she's not bad, Olivia Hussey is actually a little underwhelming. Also, this is one of many films in which John Saxon plays a cop. Actually, outside of Enter the Dragon, I don't that man ever played anything but cops. He's good at it, which is probably why he did it so much.
The whole concept is great, which is probably why it's been done a lot sense: a dark story centered around a normally cheerful holiday. For a Christmas movie, it's not only dark, it's actually really twisted. Some of it might seem a little tame by today's standards, but the obscene phone call sequences must have been quite a shocker in 1974, especially with the c-word being used roughly a dozen times . What's funny though, is that nine years after this movie, Bob Clark made another Christmas movie, a nice little gem you might know called "A Christmas Story". The funny part is how, even though this is deadly serious, and that is supposed to be a comedy, it's not excatly the most upbeat film in the world either. It's not as twisted, but its got a similar level of mean spiritedness.
You need to be in the right kind of mood to really get into this one, but if a slow, twisted, and downright creepy and alarming slasher film that's artsy is what you want, then get a copy of this and have at it.