Oct. 7: Black Christmas (1974)
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 A horror classic that is far more obscure than it should be, Black Christmas is a terrific early entry in the filmography of Canadian director Bob Clark, who is best known for A Christmas Story, quite a different display of yuletide spirit.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 It'92s almost Christmastime at a sorority house at a large Canadian university. Most of the girls are preparing to leave for the holidays, but those who stay at school over the break find themselves terrorized by an escaped mental patient named Billy who starts picking the girls off one by one.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet) plays Jessica, the main character, and the most uptight one. Margot Kidder plays the drunkest sorority sister. Andrea Martin, from SCTV, plays a weirdo intellectual chick. Keir Dullea, looking every minute of his 38 years, plays Hussey'92s supposedly college-age boyfriend. John Saxon (A Nightmare on Elm Street), who improves everything he appears in, is a cop trying to catch the killer.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 This plot may sound a little old hat, but bear in mind that this movie was made four years before Halloween, which supposedly started the slasher genre, and even longer before the slasher formula became set in stone.
'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0'a0 But while Black Christmas may serve as a sort of template for the slasher genre, things in the movie don'92t play out like you'92d expect them to from watching other slasher flicks. Characters are well developed and act relatively intelligently, and the maniac doesn'92t behave exactly like you think he will.
And somehow, despite all the films to follow in its footsteps, Black Christmas will still manage to scare you. You'92ve got the killer hiding in the house, terrifying phone calls, and a crazed eye peering through a crack in a door. Add to this an absolute classic ending, and the film still feels fresh today. Do yourself a favor, though, and avoid the remake. Black Christmas was one of the first slasher films, and it may still be the best.
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'97'a0'a0'a0 Deathdream (1974): Somehow made the same year as Black Christmas, this is another early gem from Clark that absolute should be better known. Andy Brooks (Richard Backus) was supposedly killed in action in Vietnam. When he suddenly shows up at home, his family doesn'92t ask too many questions, until Andy'92s behavior become more and more scary, and people around town start to turn up dead. Both a commentary on the Vietnam War and a truly horrifying film, this is a film you should seek out.
'97'a0'a0'a0 Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984): More Christmas horror, this is an absolute riot. On Christmas Eve, little Billy and his folks go to visit senile old Grandpa at the nursing home. Grandpa snaps out of his catatonia long enough to tell Billy that Santa rewards the good, and punishes the wicked ('93If you see Santa, boy, run'85run for your life!'94). Billy takes this advice to heart when, later that night, a man dressed as St. Nick murders his parents. As a traumatized adult, Billy snaps when made to wear a Santa suit at an office Christmas party (!) and goes on a killing spree. It'92s hard to convey how much fun this sleazy little movie is; you'92ve got to see it for yourself.
'97'a0'a0'a0 When a Stranger Calls (1979): Taking a page from the phone calls in Black Christmas, this chiller stars Carol Kane as a babysitter who begins to receive increasingly threatening phone calls. When she finds out they'92re coming from inside the house!, all hell breaks loose.