Black Christmas Reviews
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.
You've made it through Halloween, now try to survive Christmas.
The humor -- which includes an alky house mother's pleasure at hiding and discovering whiskey -- in the movie is awful. (I've never found Bob Clark funny without Jean Shephard.) We see Margot Kidder fritter away a promising performance on bad lines. As a college slattern, she seems way older than her real age at the time. A very young-looking Andrea Martin (!) is great in her non-comic role. John Saxon's cop bit would provide a good performance as either the BEST CHIEF EVER of a small town's police force or a proficient homicide detective in NYC. Kier Delea is good as a music grad student who is scary in the uh-oh-I'm-already-going-out-with-him kind of way, in contrast to the killer's inchoate hysterics.
But besides the boyfriend, the movie doesn't show us much else in the drama of real life that compares, evocatively anyway, with the killer's project. The subtextual fear of Black Christmas seems to be: if you walk away from your parents/kin for an hour, let alone start making adult choices on your own, you are increasing your statistical likelihood of being murdered ... which I suppose is true, but you are also increasing the statistical likelihood by going out for ice cream.
As a director, Clark has shown me a lot of bad taste with some flashes of energy, and there are lot of those here. Also a lot of subjective camera. With the lensing and without Halloween's steadcam, it makes it seem like the perspective of a deranged killer is of someone cross-eyed. (There's a theory: tormented from his youth because his family could not afford an ophthalmologist, he decided to kill. It's as good as any theory you can take from the movie.)
The best shots here are cross-cuts of a phone operator at headquarters chasing a phone signal from motor, to bell, to connection to connection as he's trying to pin down where the maniac is making his phone calls.
To be honest, I ended up liking Black Christmas b/c Clark creates a tenebrous atmosphere where reasons evaporate, and the audience always knows where the danger is coming from, which can be a lot of pressure for an audience. And let me say that the performance and the dialogue of the phone operator was among the best in the movie, a lesson for writing "non-movie," prosaic conversation of secondary characters. I'm being serious.
One of Black Christmas's chief pleasures is it's spunky women (pun most certainly NOT intended). Of course it's a slasher flic and they're all here to be victims but at least they are funny, sassy and likable enough for you to give a damn if they live or get throttled - sensible but vulnerable Olivia Hussey, sparky and sexy Margot Kidder (very pre-Superman) and of course the curmudgeonly and inebriated 'Mrs Mac' (Marian Waldman instead of Bette Davis is still marvelous) looking for that s.o.b. cat. Keir Dullea seems thoroughly bored but he often does and he's only there as a red herring anyway.
A gleeful delight in the macabre keeps things going nicely - Norman Bates had his mummified mother in the cellar, this giggling mentalist sits in the attic taunting us with a suffocated sorority sister in a rocking chair and a throttled house-keeper while our unknowing heroines get festive downstairs!
Even after nearly 30 years, it still manages to be deeply unsettling - the horribly screechy obscene phonecalls ("Filthy Billy, I know what you did nasty Billy!" "Let me lick your pretty piggy cunt!") the staring eye through the crack of the door, the asphyxiated corpse in the attic window and its perfect 'rug-pulling' open ending.
Merry bleeding Christmas...
I give it respect for being the precursor to the slasher genre but that doesn't mean I have to like it.