Black Christmas (1974)
Directed by Bob Clark
November 23-24 at Nitehawk Cinema
The Christmas Story director Bob Clark’s other holiday movie is so delightfully monstrous because it gives viewers so much information while doggedly refusing them any sense of closure. Clark’s proto-slasher features several cruel instances of dramatic irony, as when he shows viewers the body of Clare Harrison (Lynne Griffin), the dead coed that everybody is looking for but nobody but the killer can find. Clark (who also helmed Deathdream, Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things and Porky’s) wants to show us everything, even going so far as to shoot some scenes of the killer moving into and around the Pi Kappa Sigma sorority house’s attic from the killer’s perspective—pre-Halloween.
But the obscene phone calls that Clare’s killer makes sound like those of a tortured schizophrenic whose many voices are talking simultaneously. There is, in other words, no way to know why the calls are being made or what he means when he jabbers about “pig cunts” and asks for a never-identified woman named Agnes. Meanwhile, all of the local authorities are ineffective: locals cops, led by a stern John Saxon, are stumped, and the sorority’s lush of a housemother (a hilariously punchdrunk Marian Waldman) is busy looking for another swig of sherry. Everyone wants to help, but, as Clare’s father (James Edmond Jr.) laments, nobody knows how: “I feel I should be doing something, but I just don’t know what.” Clark really puts the screws on his audience during the police-wiretap scene, and then later during the film’s chilling finale. Apathy kills—a perfect sentiment for the holiday season.