Black Christmas

Black Christmas (1974)

Directed by Bob Clark, written by Roy Moore.

Bob Clark’s 1974 Canadian holiday horror is something of a minor masterpiece that holds up even today. Featuring a very strong cast, including John Saxon, Olivia Hussey, Kier Dullea and Margot Kidder, this is considered by many horror buffs as the proto- slasher that paved the way for Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) – even more than Hitchcock’s Psycho (1962) or Michael Powell’s brilliant and (sadly, often overlooked) Peeping Tom (1960).

There are many reasons for Black Christmas‘ success beyond its fabulous cast. The cinematography by Reg Morris is certainly a cut above a lot of horror releases of the day. Like many Hitchcock films, it employs the technique of not showing a lot of blood and gore (apart from a few key scenes) but rather, character reactions which are far more chilling. It was also an early adopter of not showing the antagonist but filming a moving camera from the killer’s PoV.

The music by Carl Zittrer is minimal and incredibly atmospheric and was considered very avant garde for its day. Some of the choices haven’t aged so well but for the most it adds a great deal to the narrative tension without getting in the way.

But above all, the story is solid and Roy Moore’s screenplay allows for plenty of development, giving the actors a lot to work with. This results in a film inhabited mostly by believable, fully fleshed out characters. It also allows room for some really quite funny moments that doesn’t feel out of place or tacked on. Marian Waldman’s deliciously drunk Mrs Mac is a particularly fine example of this.

I confess I haven’t seen the remakes (I think there are two?) but I don’t feel it would do much other than make me want to watch this again. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Sadly, Black Christmas isn’t available currently to stream in Australia, but the fine folks at Newcastle After Dark have it on their YouTube channel.

Beyond the Door

Well, it’s October and in the run-up to Halloween I’ve been watching a lot of horror movies, albeit fairly obscure titles. I love cheesy horror films and it’s been a welcome distraction from the near constant pain in my hands and fingers. So the next few blog posts will all be reviews of some of the best worst movies I’ve been watching lately.

Beyond the Door Poster

Beyond the Door (1974)

Directed by Ovidio G. Assonitis and Roberto Piazzoli.

This Italian/US made supernatural chiller leans heavily on Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (1973). So much so, the original cut was subject to a lawsuit from Warner Bros against the producers for copyright violation, which was settled some years later.

It stars Richard Johnson, Gabriele Lavia and most notably, Juliet Mills who was looking for more adult, dramatic roles to take her away from the Mary Poppins image cultivated by her popular starring role in Nanny and the Professor (1970-71). Mills plays Jessica, wife of Lavia’s Robert and mother to two particularly obnoxious children. Johnson plays Dimitri, Jessica’s former lover who sold his soul to the Devil in order to survive an otherwise fatal car crash. Jessica finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, and of course, from here all kinds of shenanigans ensue.

The look and feel of this film is really very good, with exteriors shot in southern California and interiors in Rome. Make-up artist Otello Sisi does an excellent job, as do special effects artists Donn Davison and Wally Gentleman, who famously made the spaceship models for Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Unfortunately, the writing really lets this down, and the actors do the best they can with a story that doesn’t really have that much to say and a script that hasn’t aged well.

Worth watching and quite a lot of fun- but not a patch on the films that influenced it. Beyond the Door is available to watch on YouTube via the excellent channel New Castle After Dark.