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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Black Christmas

1974's Black Christmas, while being noted by many as the first true Slasher film, is a movie that is slightly under appreciated by some, well, I more mean under appreciated by myself I guess. I often get "wrapped up" in the "normal" classic holiday films like, It's A Wonderful Life and (another Bob Clark film) A Christmas Story, etc...almost completely ignoring the Christmas Horror that there is to be had. Being a horror fan, that is a bit of a shame I might add. So to sit back and watch Black Christmas after many years was a nice holiday treat and one that would be perfectly enjoyed on cable, meaning, cable stations should run this film once in a while during the holiday season instead of only playing the usual happy holiday fare.

It's just before Christmas break at a sorority house, when it is discovered that one of the sisters has gone missing when her father comes to pick her up and she never shows. This event results in a search party where there is the discovery of a dead girl's body, but not the body of the missing girl that was the originally being searched for. With a missing woman, a dead body, and a series of menacing phone calls to the sorority house, the police try and figure out what is happening, while the remaining sorority sister vie to stay alive. Kinda.

Back Christmas has a great cast and most of the performances are exceptional, especially Margot Kidder, who plays one of the sorority sisters. She is a very obnoxious, brash, and outspoken - mixed with a copious amount of alcohol, her character is a hot mess and a lot of fun to watch. Olivia Hussey is the films main protagonist and while I think "Hussey is hot," her performance is the weakest of the bunch. Not terrible and it gets better as the film moves along, but at first, she is a bit annoying. Two welcome actors were Andrea Martin, who (looks EXACTLY like Screech Powers in this film) I know from watching SCTV when I was a wee lad, so it was nice to see her. The other appearance is from the sexiest man ever, John Saxon. Complete with funny hat and all, Saxon plays the role of detective, which isn't a stretch for him and he's as fantastic and charismatic as ever.

Being that this is one of the first Slasher films made, director Bob Clark nicely executed some of the inspirational genre staples that are still prevalent even to this very day. Black Christmas is a sort of whodunit to a small degree, but this does give you a few red herrings, something found in Slasher films and even more so, Gialli, which are just Italian Slashers anyways. There is also a stalk and slash element to this film and the advent of the final girl is even prevalent in a way.

Another Slasher aspect that is one of the standouts in this holiday horror is the use of POV. While this is mostly used in the films opening scene (which is the high point of the movie), the POV used is one of the genres best, with a slight fish eyed lens used and a somewhat erratic style created by cinematographer Albert J. Dunk. Dunk devised this awesome effect by rigging up a camera harness that would mount the camera on his shoulder as he walked about the house, stalking the sorority sisters.

Now, Black Christmas starts off with a bang, but quickly hits the skids and gets pretty slow for a good half an hour or so. I think the film picks up the pace a little when Saxon shows up and the calls to the sorority house become more and more disturbing and mean spirited, but even then, there are moments of almost boredom. I can personally deal with the slower pace of the film because I enjoyed some of the performances and the story was still entertaining to a degree, but you're not getting some balls out, err, I should say, "tits out" Slasher film here. This is a classy Slasher (!) and one that burns slowly.

What really keeps me engulfed in this film and the reason I love it most is the unbelievable look of the movie's setting and design. The 70's and Christmas aesthetic are so pleasing to my holiday loving eyes, that it is impossible for me not to swoon for Black Christmas. It's all done in beautiful Technicolor, with the magic of brightly lit Christmas jumping right out at you from the base colors of this era - from orange, yellow, and deep wood/brown colors, I was in love.

Clark has a keen eye for grabbing the essence of Christmas, which he shows in A Christmas Story and clearly here, with Black Christmas. Both with completely different styles and set in different decades, they are able to speak and give off a traditional holiday mood representative of their respective time periods. I am glad I came back to this film as I really appreciated it more than ever and if you like a nice, almost traditional horror film, then grag yourslef a glass of eggnog and warm up next to Black Christmas this holiday season.

14 comments:

  1. If I could build a time machine, I'd travel back to mid-70's and try to bag Margot Kidder. She's number one on my all time list of hot 70's actresses.

    Got a chance to see this last night on the big screen and it was a fantastic way to watch it (much better than watch now via the xbox). The crowd seeme dto laugh at inappropriate bits at first (the first couple prank calls) but by the end, they were scared fairly witless.

    I have a lot of love for this movie. Bob Vlark is underrated. It's hard to imagine this one guy gave us Black Xmas, Porky's & A Christmas Story

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  2. Kidder was something else in her prime, that's for sure. I saw her at a convention recently and said hi to her and she seemed nice enough, though she does look pretty nuts. Still love her though!

    Very jealous to hear that you got to see this on the big screen! Very cool and I can imagine it would play fantastically on such a formate.

    A Christmas Story is my favorite holiday film and one of the many reasons I love it so is the look of the film. It's very different from Black Christmas and yet, each film has such an appealing Christmas flair. Thanks for stopping by, Mike!

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  3. Black Christmas was the first video tape I ordered for myself (along with Terror Train) when I started working at a local video store in '93 or so. I agree that it drags in the middle with too much soap opera-ish angst getting in the way of hardcore scares but as you say, the incomparable '70s mood kind of floats you past that. And by the time things really kick in in the last half hour it's easy to forget that the pace had ever flagged at all.

    Great write-up on this one, Matt - but you really should've posted that pic of you meeting Sax at that Monster Mash con (or whatever the hell it was called)!

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  4. Great review Matt. I dig this film so much - its one of my favourite slashers. And Margot Kidder's Barb is one of my favourite characters. I think I want to be her when I grow up. Mainly because I think getting drunk and being rude to people is cool. I also love the look of this film - I'm a sucker for christmas lights.

    Merry Xmas!

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  5. Eggggselent review Matt. I just rewatched BC on Instant Watch (as it was one of the only holiday movies on there) and would agree with your points. Hussey is rather low energy, but she really does have one of the prettiest and most naturally innocent faces in film that draws your empathy whether she's working for it or not. And Kidder makes me want to go back to college, join a sorority, and get plastered.

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  6. Had a great weekend getting to see this on the big screen with Mike. I'm glad I hadn't seen it for a while because I was able to get terrified again. Such a great great great film and one of the best uses of location for a horror film ever! The house is so creepy, especially in the POV shots. When Barb gets murdered to the children caroling, that sequence is so perfect.

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  7. Jeff: Thanks, Jeff! Was that store now known as Why2K?! I wish I had revisited this one sooner as I really enjoyed seeing it again. I thought about posting the pic of Saxy and me, but I'll probably post it in a celebrity encounters segment, or when ever I do another Saxon stared film review.

    With a career as massive as his and the amount of crazy movies he's done, he will definitely be seen again around these parts!

    James: Thank you, James! Kidder is definitely a joy to watch in Black Christmas...she had some great scenes but I wish she didn't disappear for the second half of the film. She can really put them down though, can't she?! Also, I love the old big fat Christmas lights from the 70's and 80's! I want them for my house!

    Emily: Low energy is the perfect way to describe Hussy, but she still has that certain something...which is partially her look, that works for me. And if you go back to college to fulfill a sloshy Kidder like existence, then I want to go back so I can play the piano with force, passion, and sweaty hair!

    Chris: That was a great sequence - those POV shots were so fantastic and I can't recal any other Slasher with a better use of the technique. As with Mike, I am jealous that you got to see this one on the big screen.. this is a holiday horror classic that should be shown more, either on the big screen for a special event, or on TV.

    I second the setting, the house has such a great look from top to bottom and I love the interior design of everything. Those are 70's aesthetics I would love to see come back into modern times!

    Thanks for stopping by!

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  8. I like black christmas. It definetly gets a little dull at spots and you can tell they haven't quite worked out the slasher formula yet. Still some creepy phone calls and unicorn kills go along way. Silent Night, Deadly Night is the more fun zmas slasher in my opinion though. Stay away from Don't Open to Christmas. Complete crap.

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  9. I may never forgive you for your comments on Olivia Hussey.

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  10. Kevessence: I love Silent Night and it is certainly the more entertaining movie, but they are so different from one another that it's tough to compare them.

    As for Don't Open 'Till Christmas...Already have a review written and ready to post! Probably put it up this week, so I shall not reveal my thoughts just yet! Thanks for dropping in!

    J: I am sorry for the hurtful things I have said about The Hussey, but I still love her, for the record, though it's mostly for her looks!

    I didn't think she sucked, she just didn't wow me. It's not easy to shine when going against a bombed out Margot Kidder and a savvy John Saxon.

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  11. Woo hoo, glad you liked this one more this time around Matt, it has become an all time fav though I admittedly didnt enjoy the film much the first watch through. I appreciate it on so many levels now and feel that it demands rewatches to fully understand and enjoy the various layers within the film.

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  12. I think we definitely had similar experiences with Black Christmas from first viewings to most recent. This is a solid film that works better for a more mature film fan, not one looking for a conventional Slasher that tends to go the more fun route. Definitely one of the best the holiday has to offer ion terms of horror and I will revisit every Christmas.

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  13. Matt - I think everything that needs to be said was said here but this is just a great movie and I love it! The remake is one of the worst remakes second to Prom Night's remake.

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  14. Thank you Geof! I actually do want to see the remake - I did watch and review the Prom Night remake for Paracinema a while back and the movie was completely awful, but that won't stop me from seeing the awfulness that is Black Christmas 200 and whatever year it was. I like to suffer I think!

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