Friday, December 16, 2016

Back When Land Lines Were Scary, or Thoughts on Black Christmas

The inspiration for John Carpenter’s Halloween (1977), Black Christmas (1974) was one of the first slasher movies in addition to being one of the first holiday-themed horror movies.  Black Christmas is also the origin of the killer calling from within the house urban legend, a trope that seems less threatening now, what with everybody having a cell phone.  However in 1974 when phones were still a big deal, the idea that a creepy guy who was calling a sorority house while hiding somewhere in the house was terrifying and innovative.
Black Christmas ramped up the tension by allowing the audience to hear the caller’s explicit and (for the time period) luridly obscene suggestions and comments.  The calls may seem less threatening in our modern age of unsolicited dick pics but it was a genuinely disturbing premise with an inhuman Exorcist (1973)-style phone voice.  The movie follows the killer’s POV as he breaks into the sorority house and stalks the girls.  It’s a haunted house variation in the sense that an actual human killer haunts the house, which might be scarier. 
Also from a modern perspective, you will assume that these sorority sisters are grad students or doctoral candidates; these are some of the oldest looking coeds at the school.  But this was the ‘70’s, when actual adults were making movies for adults and nobody paid attention to the almighty teen dollar.  Among those adults are 70’s superstar Olivia Hussey appears as Jess, while Kier Dullea from 2001 (1968) is Peter, jess' sensitive musician boyfriend.   Margot Kidder who gets a free pass for life for starring as Lois Lane in my favorite Superman (1978) portrays Barb, the foul-mouthed free loving (it was the 70s after all) sorority sister. 
It’s a dark holiday movie, with the murders set against a jolly generic Christmas carol soundtrack, while the filming from the killer’s POV makes the audience complicit in those murders.  It’s a subversive move on the filmmaker’s part; we watch these movies as entertainment, and watching from the killer’s perspective adds an uncomfortable guilt to an already guilty pleasure.  He kills off the girls one by one and hides the bodies, like every slasher movie you’ve seen, but this is one of the first; this was new in 1974.  And you have to assume the killer is someone in the cast that you don't expect, but the movie plays with that expectation as well. 
Director Bob Clark would go on to film one of my favorite Christmas movies, A Christmas Story (1983, with DarrenMcGavin).  Watch out for a crazy amount of indoor smoking and 70s casual sexism that is far less charming than the wide lapels and rabbit fur coats, and also the legendary John Saxon, fresh off Enter The Dragon (1973) as Lt. Fuller.  Also featuring Andrea Martin from SCTV and the 2006 remake of the same name.  And don’t forget that Margot Kidder was Kathy Lutz in the original The Amityville Horror (1979).



my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
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