Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Bob Clark & Black Christmas

On Bookgasm today the lead review looks at two books dealing with the history of slasher movies. Not being much of a gore fan, I never cared much for them with two exceptions.

The most obvious one being Halloween of course. For me it's still the best movie John Carpenter ever made with the possible exception of his remake of The Thing. He made it fun to be scared again.

A few years before then Bob Clark's Canadian production of Black Christmas established the genre. I'm not saying here, as some do, that Carpenter simply knocked off Black Christmas but it's reasonable to assume that he saw it and was influenced by it, the same as most writers are influenced by a good deal of what they read. It's all part of the process.

Following the death of Clark and his son a few weeks ago, I started going through my DVDs of his work. I watched Black Christmas last night and admired it even more than I had in the past.

First of all, to put the Carpenter matter to rest, Black Christmas and Halloween are very different pictures. The latter is a romp, the roller-coaster cliche fitting it perfectly. There isn't much in the way of characterization and the acting, while decent, isn't memorable except for the iconic virgin Jamie Lee Curtis.

Black Christmas is spiritually, and from the git-go, a much darker picture. The characters are college age and their personal concerns richer than those of the high schoolers in Halloween. The external world comes into play, too. Lives are lived outside the plot.

Much of the film's success owes to the performances Clark was able to get from his performers. They bring a real edge to the movie in the way of Hitchcock characters. Even in a film as hermetically sealed as Psycho (after all, we open on an adulterous tryst that quickly gives way to grand larceny and flight--no simple roller coaster here), Hitchcock takes the time and trouble to make his characters (most of whom are dealt with somewhat broadly) intrigue us.

A look at some of the cast members tells you why Clark was so successful--Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Art Hindle among others--solid pros all.

Because the characters interested me the film was more than just plot twists, though there are four exemplary ones in the final act.

Brian Garfield once noted that the film The Gunfighter has lost its power on contemporary audiences because it's been imitated so often. I think this is probably true of Black Christmas as well. But at least for me it holds up nearly as well as it did when I first saw it thirty-three years ago.

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