“I don't want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it through not dying” Woody Allen.
An ironic statement since Allen has achieved that very immortality, but, of course, through his work. For the medium of film does preserve a moment in time for all time. For you see film never dies, oh it may get lost or decay, but it never dies. Some keep coming back to wider and wider audiences as each generation discovers something new, something wonderful. There is no limit to the number of films that failed when they first screened that are now hailed as classics, though a few would be A Wonderful Life (1946), The Wizard of Oz (1939) and everything that Kubrick made.... perhaps not Eyes Wide Shut (1999). And so it is with tonight's feature 1974's Black Christmas, a film with an inspired idea, a twist ending and an opening that failed to generate any significant return and had it not been for the invention of the computer (because it is only in the last ten or so years with the development of the internet that the fan base for the film has grown considerably) would have robbed the cinema of a milestone of the horror genre.
The film itself has a very familiar plot, not surprising considering its place in history, a group of sorority girls are menaced in their own house by a psychopath that kills without reason or motive during a holiday weekend. That's pretty much it. However it is the way which the story unfolds that makes for so much more. Here is a film that takes its time, no rocket pacing or mindless editing. That's not to say the film is slow, as soon as the eerie credits are over we are immediately into the killers point of view shot (a technique pioneered in this film by strapping the camera to the cameraman's shoulder freeing up his hands to climb trellis, strangle victims etc.) and within ten minutes the first murder occurs (horrible death by suffocation) and really jolts you into the picture. Only then does the film take its time to explore the cast of characters. We are introduced to Jess (Olivia Hussey), our heroine, who is pregnant by Peter (Keir Dullea), she doesn't want the baby, but he does. There is Barbie (Margot Kidder) the sorority slut, Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman) the sorority house mum, Phyllis (Andrea Martin) and Clare (Lynne Griffin), soon to be victims, Chris (Art Hindle) Clare's boyfriend and the various police detectives Lieutenant Kenneth Fuller (John Saxon) and Sergeant Nash (Doug McGrath). Each a little one dimensional, but given enough screen time that we invest a little emotion and therefore care about their fate.
The film is of an age and budget that precluded any serious amount of blood and splatter; this means the film makers were forced to use cut aways to get the point across. If ever there was a saying more adept as “less is more”, then it applies as well here as it does to the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre released a month before Black Christmas. There is one hugely frightening aspect of the film that is still as chilling today as it was back then; the obscene telephone calls. They occur just before and just after murders and really are quite frightening. The one thing that dates the film, however, is the use of the phone tapping and tracking, there are no longer the mechanical phone stations, and personally I think modern films loose out; its one thing watch a computer bar moving across a screen and quite another to have a man running up and down huge stacks of terminals.
Of course its formula has now been copied to death, for you see Black Christmas can quite rightly lay claim to being the first of the stalk and slash genre; which means that upon watching now it does seem a little obvious in places; the revelation of the killer's whereabouts, the final twist, all these things are seen from a mile away; but in 1974, this was the first. If you can watch with an open mind, and by that I mean forget all the cheap slashers that have come and are still coming to this day; Black Christmas has a 'charm' and dignity as well as the ability to scare.
This latest release is another 'special edition' to add to the anniversary release of 2001 and the special edition release of 2002. So the big question is; is this edition worth a treble dip? I will reserve my opinion until we've looked at the picture, sound and extras.
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