I remember when I first saw A Christmas Story. It was 1983 and I was with my buddies Thomas and Jason, and we were right there in the front row of Auditorium 3 at the Eastgate Shopping Center's UA theatre. I remember how stunned we were that there were actually kids like us up on the screen in a Family Christmas movie swearing, fighting and using enough sarcasm to anaesthetize a horse. Remember, this was years and years before South Park, so we thought we were the only 8 and 9 year olds out there with such a vocabulary. We sat there making fun of the joyous festivities on the screen with every slice of sailor's tongue we had until the actual characters took over for us and silenced us dumb.
At the time of this writing, it's Twenty-Three years later, Thomas and Jason are now gay lovers who are moving to Canada for their impending nuptials (I don't know that for sure, but that's my prediction). I'm married too (to a woman) and I have a daughter of my own. Now that she's become a South Park freak, I decided it was time for her to watch A Christmas Story, not as displayed on network TV, but in its original profane and sarcastic form.
But apparently everybody else on this third rock from Uncle Sol thought the same damned thing because every DVD Copy from Nyah to Nyah is gone. The goober at Best Buy actually said "Well, I can reserve you a copy at the one store that still has one. Are you cool with driving to Bakersfield?"
Am I cool dri-? People I wouldn't drive to Bakersfield if I lived in Bakersfield, I'm certainly not going there from Orange County. So a backup plan had to be formulated. Hmmm... A Christmas Story director Bob Clark apparently directed another Christmas Movie nine years before known as Black Christmas! Cool! I'm all about Kwanza, so I'm there.
Interestingly, this is an almost complete departure from Bob Clark's later Christmas tale... or, rather, A Christmas Story is a departure from this earlier one. Instead of a group of foul-mouthed elementary school kids getting through a series of Holiday Mishaps because of their quirky parents, as in A Christmas Story, Black Christmas is about a group of foul-mouthed College Sorority Sisters getting through a series of Holiday Murders because of the quirky serial killer that lives in their attic!
Not what I was expecting, I guess.
That's not to say it's not good... It actually is! Oh, the characters in Black Christmas are much more likely to shoot their eye out... or shoot someone else's, actually, but hey, horror is horror, yes? Yes.
Remember how we've always said that without Halloween there would be no Scream or Friday the 13th? It's arguable that without Black Christmas there would be no Halloween! There would almost definitely be no When a Stranger Calls without Black Christmas. The influence of this film is written all over Blow Out and A Nightmare on Elm Street (right on down to its star). Black Christmas even features the earliest "Creepy Hockey Mask" moments I've ever seen.
Yes, it's safe to say you've seen the elements that make up this plot before. But you've never seen it like this, in its original form.
The Holiday Break has begun at the quiet sorority house where the wild ladies of the Ivy League are receiving a series of phone calls so obscene they make "Heavy Breathing" seem like a cloud from heaven. But, hey, it's harmless enough, right? Some lonely kid needing some derailed presence of a woman in the days before the internet... what's the issue, then? That's what the Cops are thinking at least. Well, "Billy" is the issue... we think. The voice ranges between a boy's, a man's, a woman's and a girl's, sometimes all in one call, and almost universally "Billy" is mentioned.
The quiet of the remaining young ladies is shattered when Clare Harrison (Lynne Griffin) turns up missing from the flock. We in the audience, along with pretty much anybody who has seen the clever movie poster or DVD cover know just what the Eff-You-See-Kay happened to her.
The rest of the girls (and their drunken house mother Marian Waldman's Mrs. Mac) are relatively unconcerned, at least at first. Jessica Bradford (Olivia Hussey) is consumed with having to tell her boyfriend Peter Smythe (Keir Dullea) some heavy news. Phyllis "Phyl" Carlson (Andrea Martin) is feeling crunchy about just about everything (probably most of all because of her failing grade in Fashion Class). Barbie Coard (a young and sexy Margot Kidder) is the hell raiser of the group. When she's not taunting the cops (there's something really hot about hearing Lois Lane say "Fellatio"), she's getting drunk and screaming out what everybody's thinking, which ain't good news, folks. If she's not quirky enough, she's also a severe asthmatic.
That Bad News weighs heavily on the shoulders of Clare's dad (played by James Edmond), who is given the run around by the idiot desk Sergeant Nash (Doug McGrath, whose comical stupidity dwarfs the legendary) and isn't given much more help from the force on the whole as led by Lieutenant Kenneth Fuller (John Saxon showing his Elm Street character's prototype).
While pieces of this mystery are pretty obvious in a lot of ways, who the killer is, or if he's "Billy" at all remains in the dark. The proverbial finger is pointed in more directions than the spinner in the game of Life, sometimes to an almost undeniable degree. Part of this is because the Killer is never really seen, at least not as a whole vision. To make matters more ambiguous, the voices on the phone are supplied by a number of people, including Nick Mancuso and ol' Bob Clark himself. At one point Margot Kidder's character seems to be a suspect. At others, it could be a complete stranger. Still other instances we see Clare's Boyfriend Chris Hayden (Art Hindle) as a potential suspect. Yet the mind of accusation usually lights on Keir Dullea's character. So heavily is this hinted by his erratic actions and strange spoken lines that I half expected a big red dot with the words "HAL 9000" written under it to pop out of the wall and start saying "Stop Dave... Stop... Dave!" Then they could sing "Daisy" together. Or... maybe kill a character named "Daisy" together... I don't know.
Luckily, Clark keeps this film entertaining with some worthwhile comic releif balancing some very unnerving moments. Black Christmas isn't overly heavy on the gore (though it's not The Little Mermaid either), but is very heavy on the tension and fear that chews up most of the scenes. Best of all, this never feels like a mixed bag because Black Christmas generally feels very realistic.
It's a surprise, to be sure, that this early '70's Slasher film is this good and fun to watch, however, it's not perfect. The occasional acting moment feels forced or unrehearsed and a good bit of the tension is felt only when the characters are being at least a little illogical. The entertainment value is high, even when the intelligence quotient is low... or maybe because the intelligence quotient is low at times. Lastly, there's not much payoff for the mystery and suspense fans in the audience. I'm all about the ambiguous ending, and I like the concept of the audience being left with questions that make them think. However, in this case, it's just a bit of a let down.
Still, it's one of the better films of the genre and is most certainly among the most influential. There's no nudity or similar gratuities, nor is there any kind of supernatural aspect here. It's scary because no one knows what's happening, why or how... but it's frustrating for the same reasons! Three Stars out of Five for the original (very original) Black Christmas. It's smarter than the average slasher flick, but sets the expectations high for more brains. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go plan a panty raid. Sure, I'm married now, so such a thing would entail raiding the left side of my own dresser for panties I paid for, but hey... It's the thought that counts, right? Okay, then, kids, I'll see you in the next sorority reel... but stay out of the attic, please!
Now about that Ralphie...
By the Chimney with Care!
The presents are wrapped here, there and everywhere!
Midnight Mass is next, set the alarm with Care
Then more Reviews are up, by clicking Right There =>
Who still celebrates the Glory of Christmas,
keeping Christ as the Focus!
Hey, getting scared half-to-death brings a person closer to Jesus exponentially!
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