Non Canon Review: Black Christmas (1974)

DECEMBER 18, 2007

GENRE: HOLIDAY, SLASHER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REVIVAL SCREENING)/DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Black Christmas, Horror Movie A Day’s first dual source movie!

As I was stuck at work, I missed the first 50 min or so of the film’s annual screening at the New Beverly. Of course, the two years before I missed it entirely, so at least I am improving. Anyway, I rewatched the first part of the film on my DVD, which, now that I have an HDTV, I notice has quite a bad transfer. Overly grainy and suffering from frame stutter (not to mention an over-matted transfer, though you can’t really tell), it’s pretty disappointing, especially coming home from seeing a pristine film print.

Anyway, the film itself is of course, quite revered, and rightfully so for the most part. While I never shined to the film’s odd pace and tonal shifts (the silly “F-E-llatio” scene is immediately followed by Peter practically threatening to kill Jess for considering an abortion), the phone calls remain suitably frightening, and the POV scenes, unheard of at the time, hold up quite well despite 30 years of being copied to some extent.

I also kind of dig the movie’s insistence on not resolving a goddamn thing. The killer is never identified or caught, the subplot about the dead little girl in the park is never really proven to be a red herring or a related incident, there are no characters named Billy or Agnes, etc. I’m surprised they even bothered revealing the source of the phone calls, since by that point it’s largely incidental and obvious anyway. But one thing I DON’T care for is the abrupt conclusion with Peter suddenly showing up and then exiting the film offscreen. I guess it’s supposed to add to the ambiguity, but it doesn’t quite feel that way. It feels more like they didn’t have time or just plain forgot to film the whole scene.

Margot Kidder (way hotter here than in Superman, for the record) plays one of my favorite slasher characters of all time. Often drunk and swearing, she’s pretty much the type of girl I’d hang out with and get rejected by for being too nice. A shame she goes to bed like 20 minutes into the damn movie and doesn’t appear again until her death scene. The guys who did the remake tried to get her to play the house mother, but she declined, so we had to settle for Andrea Martin.

Seeing the film with a crowd is pretty joyous – especially final scene, when everyone just suddenly up and leaves poor Jess by herself. The crowd was in stitches, and for good reason; it’s fucking hilarious. Of course, the ineptitude of the cops provides a lot of the film’s highlights (not to mention the fact that if they were doing their jobs right they would have found poor Claire and Ms. Mac up in the attic and thus prevented most of the film from ever occurring). Nash in particular is the dumbest movie cop of all time, making even Dewey from Scream look competent in comparison.

Bad transfer aside, the DVD has a lot of good extras, though sadly no commentary and very little input from Bob Clark, who died a few months after this non-definitive release (making this year’s screening all the more somber, as he often attended for Q&A; this year was John Saxon as well as Zach Ward who was in Clark’s other holiday classic, A Christmas Story). Maybe in 2009, for the 35th anniversary, they will compile all of the releases into one whole 2 disc package, with a new transfer that does the film better justice. Here’s hoping!

Also, according to the IMDb and Wikipedia (two of the most reliable sources of information in the world), NBC pulled this off the air during a showing because people complained it to was “too scary”, which is like taking MST3k off for being too funny. Considering that the phone calls, the only scary parts of the movie really, had to have been edited down to nothing for a primetime broadcast, you gotta wonder just how lame people were back in the 70s.

What say you?

4 comments:

  1. I'm always trying to get my un-appreciative friends to watch Black Christmas, but usually they wander away after fifteen minutes complaining that it's too predicatable and they've "seen it all before".

    I don't think they quite understand why I wanted them to watch it in the first place!

    Anywhoo, it's one of the few so-called classics that I actually really enjoy so hurrah for the review *nods*

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  2. FWIW, NBC did not pull the movie because it was too scary. It was pulled because earlier in the week two girls were slaughtered in a sorority house in Florida. (later attributed to Ted Bundy) I remember this clearly because I had planned to watch.

    Also, at the time it was called "Stranger in the House" which totally ruined the suspense of the phone tracing scene.

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  3. This is one my favourite horror movies of all time. I actually watched in on a recommedation by my mother (who first saw it play on a wall in a kictchen played by a projector [my dad had connections, being in the military ar the time). So, a couple of years later I come along and which my developing horror interest throughout child mom resnts me Black Christmas (to show my a flick that scrared the behjebus out her! Factastic! That see wehre the killer as staring at the girl vrom behind the door jam is still creapy to this say.

    The remake, on the other hand, while I was excited bout my favourite movie being remade was a major disappointed. I don't mind playing with certain aspects... but the killers were ridiuluous to me. and they looked like puppets, so that just took me righ out the movie entirely. Oh well. I still consierder giving another loo now and again. Maybe tonight. who knows.

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  4. I watched it to fill in my horror history, but its meager thrills didn't do much for me. But "historically," I guess I get it. It's amusing to see Juliet from Zeffirelli's "Romeo and Juliet" in horror, though.

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