Sunday, October 01, 2006

Black Christmas

(1974) ***

This is the first Holiday Horror Film for me this year. I'm planning on making that one of my two target sub-genres -- I'll go public with the other one when I've watched one of those.

This is also the first film I've seen in this 'Thon that uses the phrase, "THE CALLS ARE COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!" Three films in. That didn't take very long.

The film takes place in a frosty New England college town just before Christmas break. The Pi Kappa Sigma sorority and their brother fraternity are having a small party that gets interrupted by a breather prank-call. The caller uses multiple voices (one of them very similar to the voice of satan (I know it's not Satan, but Pazuzu is a really stupid name) in the Exorcist) and there seems to be some twisted dialogue between someone named Agnes and someone named Billy.

Within minutes of the call, the first murder occurs --- fastidious Claire, of whom one of the girls says, "She's just starting to fit in," only moments before an unseen attacker hiding in her closet suffocates her with a plastic bag.

Her Dad comes to the house the next afternoon after Claire fails to meet him outside of the school. He's somewhat appalled at the free sexuality and drinking going on at the house. He's particularly annoyed by the lascivious Barbie (Margot Kidder) whom he witnesses getting a 10 year old drunk on champagne and who later regales the house with a drunken story about watching turtles have sex at a zoo for three days straight.

Tension mounts among the girls as Claire's absence continues through the following day, and it gets jacked up even more when the body of a young high school girl turns up in a search of the town for Claire.

Right around this time, the plot begins to center itself around the affairs of Jess. Jess has more to worry about than her missing friend. She's pregnant and wants an abortion, much to the dismay and horror of her boyfriend Peter (2001's Keir Dullea). He's particularly deaf to her wishes this week because he's just flubbed a piano recital at his conservatory and he's ready to quit the whole thing. His random act of violence against a piano, smashing the shit out of it with a mic stand, makes him an early candidate for the killer.

Other girls begin to disappear, each death preceded by a prank call from the Agnes & Billy show. The body count in Black Christmas winds up being pretty small -- only 8 people die, including the high school girl, whom we never see. I saw it mid-afternoon, so I couldn't even say if it's actually scary. But it is, at least, polished. A lot of tight camera work in the cluttered sorority house makes for a thick claustrophobic effect. The steady cam shots are nice and woozy. And Keir Dullea really ladles on the creepy in his portrayal of Peter. Margot Kidder also stands out as the drunken floozy. And a little John Saxon is a tonic for any movie, really.

Probably the most important lesson I took away from watching Black Christmas is that there are dozens of places in a house where you can hide bottles of scotch. House mum Mrs. Mac has a bottle hidden in a cutout in one of the books in the house library, one hidden in her toilet tank (as strong as mouthwash and leaves you feeling all tingly in more places than just your mouth), her purse, her suitcase...that's all they show us, but i'm sure she's got a few more stashed somewhere. This is definitely a house of professional drunks.

One final note -- the film's draft titles included "Silent Night, Evil Night," which i think we can all agree is a really stupid title, and "Stranger in the House." On the special features menu, the producers decided to include alternate beginnings to the movie. As it turns out, the action unfolds in exactly the same way for the release and the two alternates --- the only difference is the title card. I really did get my hopes up for alternate footage. Instead, I only found myself watching the opening credits three times. They weren't terribly interesting the first time.


I'mnotMarcbutmyboyfriendis said...

so far, it's still the first day of competition and i've already eclipsed last years total!

Octopunk said...

Woo hooooo! One of us! One of us!