Review- Black Christmas (1974)

Review- Black Christmas (1974)

Whilst it’s widely thought that it was John Carpenter’s Halloween that initiated the slasher genre those who actually know anything about horror know that it was actually Bob Clark’s Black Christmas made in 1974. In fact, Clark and Carpenter worked together on a project after Black Christmas was made. Clark said to Carpenter that he no longer worked in horror but that he had had an idea for a horror film that was never realised. This would be based around the occasion of, you’ve guessed it, Halloween! Carpenter then later asked to use the idea for a film he was to due to work on and the rest is history. This isn’t to say that Carpenter ripped off Clark but this explains how The Babysitter Murders (the original idea for Halloween) suddenly morphed into the masterpiece we now know and love.

In fact, the opening shots of Black Christmas are similar to those of Halloween- the killer’s point of view camera shot. Halloween reveals who this person is (and it’s one hell of a reveal) but Black Christmas doesn’t. In fact, the killer isn’t revealed fully throughout the entire film which is the first reason that Black Christmas is so revolutionary.

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The story involves a group of female students on the night before they leave their sorority house to go home for the holidays. They start to receive very disturbing phone calls and things start to get dramatically worse soon after.

Another reason to love Black Christmas is that the extent of the killer’s mental instability is shown by the first girl he kills. She is suffocated and then placed in a rocking chair in the attic where the psycho is hiding out. Throughout the film we see him ranting and manically rocking her.

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Arguably some of the most disturbing sequences within the film are when the intruder calls the girls. They don’t know the calls are actually being made by the killer who’s in the attic within the same house. From the calls we come to learn that the person making them is called Billy and that he seems to be playing out incidents from his past, incidents rife with cruelty, abuse and possibly murder. Bob Clark used five different actors for the calls. These phone calls are some of the scariest, most disturbing and unsettling sequences I’ve ever seen in a horror film. They were even cut when the film was first released in the UK.

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Theres also the fact that Black Christmas was the first film to use the now established trope of a killer’s phone calls coming from inside the same house as their potential victim(s). This was years before When A Stranger Calls.

Another great thing about the film is the humour contained within the movie especially from Margot Kidder’s character, Barb. It’s amazing that such an unnerving film can still have genuinely funny interludes but without forsaking the movie’s tension.

But maybe thats because the film is extremely tense indeed. Theres a certain sense of doom to the proceedings that are depicted in the movie. A great example is where Olivia Hussey’s character Jess has just found out that the calls are coming from the sorority house, that Billy is ensconced within it but so are two of her friends (the audience knows otherwise as we saw them get dispatched earlier). On going upstairs (even though the police have phoned and demanded that she leave the house immediately) she enters one of the girl’s bedrooms to discover their dead bodies- and the killer looking at her through a crack in the door. This sequence is one of scariest in horror history.

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Add to this one of the most warped endings I’ve ever seen in a horror movie and you have a masterpiece.

Theres only two horror films with the ability to give me sleepless nights. One is The Exorcist, the other is Black Christmas. Essential.

5 out of 5 stars

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Day 31- 31 Days of Halloween- Seytan (aka Turkish Exorcist)- 1974

Day 31- 31 Days of Halloween- Seytan (aka Turkish Exorcist)- 1974

There was a long standing tradition for Turkish remakes of huge Hollywood blockbusters. These remakes have miniscule budgets and are made quickly so that they can be released soon after the original.

The Exorcist was remade in Turkey for a tiny proportion of the original’s budget. This means that we get hilarious special effects, truly garish decors and the worst hairstyles ever committed to celluloid.

 

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But whilst we know what we’re getting this film is a true cult movie through and through. It might be cheap and tacky but its also what a lot of more expensive films struggle to be- utterly charming, engaging and a pleasure to watch.

Let me leave you with a question- would you rather watch a film like this or a Hollywood studio multiplex movie that has a budget of millions but also has characters you couldn’t care less about, an uninspired plot and CGI that makes the film look more like a computer game?

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I hope these Turkish remakes get restored and released on Blu ray. I’d buy them.

Day 3- 31 Days of Halloween- The Exorcist (1974)

Day 3- 31 Days of Halloween- The Exorcist (1974)

I feel like I’ve grown up with this film.

This was one film that I remember seeing on the shelves of video stores when I was a child but didn’t get round to seeing before it mysteriously disappeared. Absence made the heart grown fonder and I knew I must see this forbidden fruit.

But when I was at school a friend of mine had the video as his Dad ran a video store which was very fortunate. I borrowed The Exorcist and watched it with my father whilst we were eating our evening meal. A bad mistake.

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Then in 1993 on my 18th birthday I went to see the film at the Odeon in York with some friends where it was being shown as a one-off midnight screening. The print was in terrible shape. But it still scared me so much that I spent a sleepless night tossing and turning in bed thinking about what I’d just seen.

Then in 1998 the film was rereleased in cinemas in a digitally remastered form. It looked and sounded amazing. Again I saw it.

Then in 2000 came the ‘Version You’ve Never Seen Before’ that incorporated deleted footage and CGI at different parts of the film.

For my money, the best version is the original.

Yes, everyone knows about the famous (or should that be infamous) scenes that are actually more shocking and effective on screen then in the telling. But this is a multi-layered complex film and demands repeated viewings to reap everything the film has to offer.

Captain Howdy, Burke Dennings, Friedkin playing with our senses in certain scenes (check out the scene where Chris sees Karras and Dyer for the first time but we don’t hear what they say as theres a jumbo jet going overhead or the dream sequences involving the St Christopher necklace falling to the ground and you’ll see what I mean), the epic and haunting otherworldly sequence in Northern Iraq, Chris’ speech about why she wants an exorcism (some of the best acting I’ve ever seen- although I could say the same about all of this film), the desecrations, ‘Have you seen what shes done? Your cunting daughter!’, ‘Your mother sucks cocks in Hall!’, ‘The sow is mine!’…theres so much to love.

Look out for actor Paul Bateson in one of the murder scenes. He was later charged with murder and was the inspiration for Friedkin’s later masterpiece, Cruising.

The Exorcist is the horror motherlode. 5 out of 5- a true masterpiece.