Monday, December 20, 2010

Black Christmas

Psycho sparked it, Halloween laid down the rules for it, but somewhere in between Black Christmas (1974) ruined Christmas and originated the concept of what audiences refer to today as a slasher. A bunch of  college sorority girls are picked off one by one in Bob Clark's darkly, disturbing Holiday nightmare flick, which has come to be recognised as the movie that started the countless number of low-budget, exploitation slasher films. It originated the "pick off game" and also introduced the female presence that cannot not be related to the modern slasher movie.

Clark builds up the suspense and delivers with great cliche shock material that leaves the audience on the edge of their seat, but he also conveys a dark and creepy aura that is very effective. It is also delightfully humorous with the help of Marian Waldman as Mac, Margot Kidder as Barb and Doug McGrath as the slow witted Sgt. Nash. John Saxon pulls off his typical performance as a stern, but comforting police detective. Quite disturbing for its time with the use of schizoid, perverted crank calls by the killer and though the death scenes are not too violent, the manner in which the bodies are found are very unsettling. 

Clark borrows from the classic Rio Bravo format in that we witness a bunch of individuals trapped in a claustrophobic set piece that are forced to rely on and question those around them. This is now a staple in the slasher genre that portrays a fun situation for the audience as they place themselves in the characters shoes and imagine what they would do. The Christmas atmosphere funnily enough fits perfectly into this terrifying predicament. What is so wonderfully frustrating about Black Christmas is that even though Clark provides the standard shocks and death scenes he refuses to pay us off at the end and rather just lets the camera zoom out away from the sorority house and into the cold winter night.

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