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3. Black Christmas

Country Available: Canada, USA
Related Programs:
  • On Screen! II
  • 'On Screen! III
  • The killer hiding in the sorority house may be a present day cliché, but in Bob Clark's seminal work Black Christmas , the terrifying events one holiday season set the table for numerous imitators. As the girls in the sorority house go missing, prey for the insane killer "Billy", the story narrows in on the relationship between Jessica (Olivia Hussey) and her boyfriend, Peter ( 2001: A Space Odyssey 's Keir Dullea, who, with his short fuse, may or may not be the killer). As the clueless police are called in (including Enter the Dragon 's John Saxon and Goin' Down the Road's Doug McGrath), the stakes get higher, the action more tense. Meanwhile, comic relief is provided by the drunken ramblings of Margot Kidder's Barbie. (Possessing a dream cast of mid-70s Canadiana, the film also features a young Andrea Martin). All viewers will never forget Billy's phone calls, a terrifying melange of expletives and stream of consciousness narrative, developed by Clark and others, including actor Nick Mancuso (who here recalls how these voices were born). And, of course, there's that Gothic house, the true main character in the film, and one of the most recognizable sets in Canadian film history--and the object of pilgrimages in Toronto to this day.

    One of the scariest and most influential horror films ever made, Black Christmas' imitators begin with John Carpenter's Halloween--including the subjective camera--and move on to the teen slasher series of Friday the 13 th all the way up to present-day, with Wes Craven's Scream . Yet few of these other films have Bob Clark's vision, the precise direction and editing, and his intriguing feminist subtext. While its initial release in the US was botched because of title problems (it was renamed "Silent Night, Evil Night" for fear of being mistaken for a blaxploitation film), within the last five years, the recent revival of the slasher film has led to a renewed appreciation of Black Christmas , as helped by rabid fan sites on the Internet (such as www.itsmebilly.com ) and articles in horror magazines like Fangoria . A true cult classic, it stands to find a brand new audience, on a special edition DVD, and a brand-new remake in pre-production.

    What accounts for the snowballing success of Black Christmas ? This is one of those films where each element is crucial, yet if the film weren't so scary, nobody would remember it. Director Bob Clark, who left his native Florida for Canada in the early 1970s, discusses his directorial vision and the changes he made to a more direct horror script, rounding out the characters and adding atmospheric depth (also provided by a brilliant score by Carl Zittrer). Camera operator Bert Dunk recalls how the team created those brilliant subjective camera shots, while art director Karen Bromley discusses finding the famous house, and the alterations needed to realize Clark's vision. A wide range of actors, including Margot Kidder, Art Hindle, Keir Dullea, Doug McGrath and John Saxon, give their thoughts as to why the film lives on in the hearts of fans. Numerous critics, horror experts, Internet junkies, and filmmakers also rave about Black Christmas ; their collective fondness for the film makes it clear that Black Christmas is a holiday, and a Canadian, classic.

    View a printer friendly version of this page...Copyright Date: 2006 Length: 48 minutes Library Audience:
  • General Interest
  • Canadian Film Studies
  • School Audience:
  • 10-12
  • Post Secondary
  • Subjects:
  • Canadian Film Studies
  • Media Studies
  • Film Making
  • Language Arts
  • Formats Available:
  • DVD
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