There's a certain sense of nostalgia I always get when I sit down and watch Black Christmas and, oddly enough, it has to do with the awesome 70s Christmas lights on display throughout the film. Anytime these lights -- on the house outside or on the tree inside -- are on-screen, Reg Morris' cinematography has a soft focus, which creates a strange halo on those lights. Somewhere in my home video library is a Christmas tape from when I was an infant, so we're talking probably '83. In that clip, my family is at my aunt and uncle's house and, sure enough, their tree and its lights look exactly like what is seen in Black Christmas -- strange halos and all! Maybe it's just the product of early 80s home video recording equipment, but dammit, it helps to fully immerse me in the world that Clark and writer Roy Moore create!
Another unique aspect of Black Christmas is that the audience never fully sees the killer (spoiler?), instead only seeing shadow-drenched shots of him with maybe an eye or a mouth exposed. When we're not even seeing the killer, we ARE the killer as Morris' camera allows us to see through his eyes...the blackest eyes...wait, that's a reference for a little bit later on. But yeah, along with Peeping Tom, this film is one of the earliest examples of placing the audience into the killer's POV! It's an unnerving effect that, literally from the start of the film, has us all wondering "What the hell is going on here?"
Perhaps most bizarre of all the tidbits and background for Black Christmas is that director Bob Clark is also responsible for that other famous Christmas movie . . . A Christmas Story. For my money, it just proves how diverse he was as an auteur in that he can terrorize Christmas audiences with one film and yet also bring so much joy with the other! This film came early in Clark's career and still showed echoes of his earlier works like Dead of Night (aka: Deathdream) and Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, but there were hints of where he would eventually go with some of the more comedic elements that were present in Porky's and A Christmas Story; the "fellatio" scene in the police station is straight out of Porky's with Nash's naivety and the hilarious reactions from Lt. Fuller and the laughing detective! The scene even features Coach Warren from Porky's himself, Doug McGrath!
|Doug McGrath as the clueless Nash|
|John Saxon as Lt. Fuller|
|If only Barb had a super man to protect her...|
|This ain't no party line, ya hoser!|
|Lynne Griffin as Claire and Andrea Martin as Phyl|
|Mr. Harrison doesn't have time for Mrs. Mac's shit!|
On the male side, there's Art Hindle (of The Brood and Invasion of the Body Snatchers) as Claire's hockey playing -- they are in Canada after all -- boyfriend Chris. Hindle is convincing as a hero type who immediately sets off to the police station when he finds out Claire is missing. Although, Chris doesn't become the sort of "last survivor hero" type, as this trope hadn't quite been invented yet. He's likable though. Also along for the ride is brooding, struggling pianist Peter (2001's Keir Dullea), who is Jess' boyfriend. Dullea plays Peter with the sort of short fuse and unpredictably possessive nature that has itself become a trope recycled again and again to show a possessive asshole lover. But it works here, as Peter quickly breaks down when Jess won't talk to him about their baby she's carrying and her decision to get an abortion -- again, this is pretty heavy and timely stuff for 1974!
|Peter just wants to TALK Jess!|
Going back to the film's Prowler (some call him "Billy" as it's a name that he repeatedly says during some of his calls), the film really keeps the audience guessing as to his true identity! At times both Chris and Peter may as well be in a police lineup, although the former quickly vindicates himself of any potential guilt. As many times as I've seen the film, I'm not really sure WHO the Prowler is . . . though most signs point to an unhinged Peter finally cracking and offing Jess' friends as he terrorizes her throughout the picture.
As an aside, unfortunately (or fortunately, if you're into this sort of thing), the Prowler and "Billy" are further explored in Glen Morgan's 2006 remake (affectionately known as Black X-Mas . . . hey, keep Christ in our Christmas horror movies dammit!), fleshing out some sort of backstory based on "Billy" and "Agnes" (another name the caller repeatedly spews). On one level, sure it's kinda cool to dig into it and effectively explain what was only implied in the original film . . . but, as is all too often with similar backstory-mining remakes, the question stands: did what made the original so effective really need to be fleshed out and presented on a silver platter? Andrea Martin returns as Ms. Mac, which is a cute enough nod to the original, as things are played campy and millennial Slasher, emphasizing gory set pieces over the restrained suspense of the first film. Bob Clark even served as an Executive Producer, so the remake at least had his seal of approval. Unfortunately, this remake would be Clark's last project before his tragic death (along with his son!) the following April.
|Andrea Martin and Lacey Chabert in Black Christmas (2006)|
|Hello? Hello?! Hell-ooooooo?|