(In French, On Cable TV, July 2018) Perhaps the most noteworthy detail about Black Christmas is the date at which it was produced—1974, four years before Halloween (to which it has a clear kinship) would popularize exactly the kind of film that Black Christmas is both in subject matter, attitude and technique. Some of the filmmaking is limited by its low budget, but most of it reflects almost shot-for-shot the kind of films that slasher horror filmmakers would churn out for years after John Carpenter’s success. A made-in-Canada success story, Black Christmas does feel in advance of its time, although it certainly does not escape from its own subgenre. This being said, there are performances here by Margot Kidder, Keir Dullea and a young Andrea Martin, plus an energetic directing style from Bob Clark. Unusually (and unsatisfyingly) enough, the film does not reveal the identity of the killer nor punish him, reinforcing its futility. Alas, the flip side of anticipating the slasher subgenre is that it can and does feel like more of the same … which doesn’t help if you don’t like the kind of movie that it launched.
(On TV, December 2016) I’m pretty sure I saw this film at some point as a kid, but since seeing the film was like rediscovering when a bunch of clichés came from, I’ll pretend that this is a first viewing. It’s certainly ad odd piece of Americana, more darkly skewed than I’d been led to believe or remember. There’s an odd affection and cynicism blend in the way the film is narrated and shot: part of it seems timeless or, at the very least, far more contemporary than the 1940s in which the film is supposedly set. The unreliable narration is a big part of the film—much of what seems overwrought or frankly bizarre (such as the lamp, such as the improbably gigantic Santa Mall mountain) can be explained as the feverish recollections of events experienced as a kid. The number of clichés and stock situations first seen here is astonishing—I knew on some level that A Christmas Story is considered a classic Christmas movie, but I’d lost track of the number of sequences (“you’ll shoot an eye out”, tongue stuck to a pole, etc.) that are featured in the film. It also keeps its best laugh for the end, making for a nice finish. Writer/director Bob Clark managed to keep much of Jean Shepherd’s original voice in making the film, literally and appropriately choosing him as the narrator of the film. While a bit too fashioned to count as a classic for me, it’s a decently measured look at the madness of Christmas, finding a way to deliver a heartfelt and fuzzy message while acknowledging the more cynical aspect of the period. I’ll watch it again in the next few years.