REPOST: Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a creepy Canadian slasher flick.

A repost of last year’s blog entry on Bob Clark’s Black Christmas, with an added paragraph and one or two spoilers.

An often overlooked classic, the 1974 Canadian film Black Christmas now enjoys a cult status amongst horror fans and critical acknowledgment as being the progenitor of  the “slasher” genre that dominated horror cinema in the late ’70s and throughout the 1980s. Directed by Bob Clark — best known for his raunchy teen sex comedy Porky’s (1982) — the film boasts an enviably list of talented Canadian actors: Margot Kidder, Keir Dullea, John Saxon and comedienne Andrea Martin. The film stars Olivia Hussey, a British actress who’s most frequently recognized for her role as “Juliet” in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. In Black Christmas, Hussey leaves the Elizabethan poetry behind and gets her “scream queen” on.

Getting all wrapped up for the holidays in Bob Clark's 1974 cult slasher film "Black Christmas." Apologies in advance for the bad pun.

Getting all wrapped up for the holidays in Bob Clark's 1974 cult slasher film "Black Christmas."

It’s important to note that Black Christmas predates the better known slasher films like John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th (1980), and they owe a great debt to Clark’s film. The quote below from Wikipedia concisely captures this film’s cult status:

The film gained a fairly decent cult following over the years of its release, and has been praised by fans of the slasher film genre internationally. The Black Christmas fan site has considerably increased the film’s popularity over the years. The film ranked #87 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments for Lynne Griffin’s infamous plastic sheeting scene. During an interview regarding the film, Olivia Hussey met Steve Martin at an industry event and he brought up the fact that she starred in one of his favorite movies of all time. Hussey thought he might have referred to her work in Romeo & Juliet, but was surprised to hear from Martin that it was Black Christmas, which he claimed to have seen 25 times.

What Black Christmas possessed — and what later films in the slasher genre often lacked — was the element of suspense. Rather than rely on the crude shock tactics of gore, Clark torques up the tension by placing the insane homicidal intruder inside the sorority house right at the opening of the film — and then keeps him there, undiscovered by the house’s other occupants. Only the audience is aware that the killer, and a couple of his victims, are stowed away in the attic. The fact that the events in the film happen over Christmas provides the killer (and Clark) the opportunity to surreptitiously dispatch a number of sorority sisters on an ordinarily bustling — but now slowly emptying — college campus as it shuts down over the holidays.

Below is a wonderfully creepy clip, featuring an uncomfortably prolonged obscene phone call from the psycho-killer. There is a prodigious use of the word “c*nt” in the following sequence, so consider yourself warned. Oh, and Merry Christmas.

Horror Films 101: Overlooked and Obscure Gems of Horror Cinema.

1. Director Bob Clark’s debut feature was the campy and extraordinarily low-budget zombie film Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972). A theatre group is brought to a graveyard located on a remote island by its flamboyant and eccentric director Alan. With the aid of a magical grimoire, Alan performs a necromantic ritual as some sort of elaborate sick joke, presumably at the expense of both his frightened comrades, as well as the deceased buried on the island. His violation of the dead is further compounded when, disappointed by the seeming failure of his ritual, he opts to desecrate a grave — exhuming a corpse named Orville with whom he amuses himself. Needless to say, when the dead finally do rise from their graves, they’re out for bloody vengeance. A strange and darkly comedic film, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things has a slow build that rewards its audience with a satisfyingly creepy ending.

2. The post-Vietnam/Watergate/Charlie Mansion paranoia of 1970’s America played out in that decade’s horror films. Beginning with seminal genre films like Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968), terror was primarily psychological in nature. Claustrophobia, paranoia and mental illness are themes central to 1977’s The Sentinel, a horror film populated by Satanists and other strange, eerie characters. A beautiful but mentally fragile NYC fashion model moves into a furnished Brooklyn brownstone, unaware that the reason for the remarkably cheap rent is the “portal to Hell” that exists in her building. While an impressive list of American actors — including John Carradine, Burgess Meredith, José Ferrer, Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Beverly D’Angelo, Ava Gardner and Tom Berenger — appear throughout, its the creepy, nightmarish atmosphere which elevate this film from your typical ’70s Satanic-horror fodder. The film is controversial for its inclusion of physically deformed people to portray the ‘souls of the damned’, a choice by director Michael Winner which does seem exploitative even as it is effectively off-putting.

The creepy cast of 1977’s “The Sentinel.”

3. Hong Kong director Fruit Chan serves up a dubious feast in Dumplings (2004). Originally released in a reduced, 37-minute long form on the pan-Asian horror omnibus “Three… Extremes” DVD, Chan’s film has been reissued in its original, 91-minute length with additional subplot and alternate ending. In Dumplings, the aging actress Mrs. Li seeks out the dumplings of “Auntie Mei” that allegedly contain a secret ingredient which offers eternal youth. The nature of this “ingredient” is revealed early in the narrative, a fact which makes the desperate vanity of Mrs. Li all the more grisly. Darkly comedic in parts, Chan offers a tongue-in-cheek commentary on Chinese culinary culture and the socio-economic class divide still present in modern-day Hong Kong-Kowloon.

Mrs. Li (Miriam Yeung) consumes the titular “Dumplings” in Fruit Chan’s gruesome film.

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