Black X-Mas!

The HO-HO-HOLOCAUST continues! It’s time to take a look at the two Holiday Horror flicks that truly set the standards for all others to follow…

BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

A group of sorority sisters are harassed by disturbing phone calls from a maniac threatening to do awful things to their pretty pink cunts. The girls are then stalked and slain by a faceless, unknown killer named “Billy” who sneaks inside their sorority house on the eve of Christmas break. Can detective John Saxon find the missing girls? Will the phone company trace the calls before the killer strikes again? And what stinks in the attic?!?

I won’t waste my time trying to explain the historical importance of Bob Clark’s “Black Christmas.” What else can be said about this all time clas-sick, prototype slasher flick that hasn’t been said already? The influence this flick had on other genre clas-sicks like “Halloween” and “When A Stranger Calls” is obvious. Watching this film for the first time can be amusing, because if you’ve already seen “When A Stranger Calls” you’ll see the ending coming a mile away. It’s important to remember that “Black Christmas” came first, and was the film that set the standards for other 70′s slashers to follow. This flick still packs a punch many years later, it has more than a few classic creepy and shocking moments within its running time, and it also has one of the all time great endings.

“Black Christmas” is the definition of slasher simplicity. It’s worth noting that Bob had already made two clas-sick horror flicks previous to this -“Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things” and “Deathdream.” Bob Clark actually turned down the chance to direct the grisly Ed Gein bio-pic  “Deranged” so that he could work on “Black Christmas.” Clark wanted to avoid the graphic bloodshed that punctuated his other films, and “Black Christmas” is a perfect example of “less is more” film making. The less we know about the killer or his motivations, the more engrossed we can become in the suspense of the proceedings. The less we see of the deaths, the more gore we can envision in our heads. The death scenes are all tightly edited for maximum impact. We only see the briefest glimpses of the killer in action, but everything that is shown is brutal and memorable stuff. This one more than lives up to it’s immortal tagline, “If this film doesn’t make your skin crawl, it’s on too tight!”

It’s nice to see this clas-sick horror flick finally getting some well deserved attention many years later, thanks to both the 2006 Glen Morgan directed remake “Black X-mas” (which I thought sucked, but was personally approved by Bob Clark himself) and the recent special edition dvd releases. All fans of the horror and slasher genres should consider BLACK CHRISTMAS a must see. I highly recommend checking out the Critical Mass special sedition dvd, which features an incredible two hours of bonus material, including two lost scenes, an all new documentary, and a midnight screening Q&A session with John Saxon & Bob Clark.

 

SILENT NIGHT BLOODY NIGHT (1974)

In an appropriately unusual beginning, this truly bizarre little horror film starts with a young woman named Diane Adams (Mary Woronov of “Rock ‘N’ Roll High School” & “Eating Raoul” legend!) sharing her memories of the notorious Butler mansion, a house of horrors in a small New England town with more than a few dark secrets. The Mansion’s reclusive owner, the profoundly disturbed Wilfred Butler briefly returns to the mansion on Christmas Eve 1950 after several years spent living in exile and then promptly dies in a mysterious fire.

The heir to the Butler mansion is Wilfred’s grandson Jeffrey. In December 1971 Jeffrey finally inherits the mansion and immediately decides to sell it. His big city lawyer John Carter arranges a meeting with the local city council and quickly negotiates a cash sale of $50,000. The town’s mayor, sheriff, switchboard operator, and newspaper publisher (John Carradine) all seem strangely desperate to purchase the Butler mansion, if only to see it burnt to the ground.

As the sale is being finalized a deranged lunatic escapes from a nearby asylum and tears a path to the mansion, hacking apart any man or beast that gets in the way. Carter and his mistress Ingrid arrive at the mansion shortly after the killer does, and in the film’s most memorable scene the unseen slasher violently hacks them to pieces with a hatchet inside the master bedroom. Once alone within the large dark house, the killer begins making creepy phone calls to the city council members. One by one, the madman lures the townsfolk to their doom inside the mansion. As the body count rises it becomes clear that all of the victims had a past history with their slayer.

In the middle of all this madness Jeffrey (James Patterson) shows up in town and meets Diane. He convinces her to give him a ride to the mansion to get to the bottom of things, and she hesitatingly agrees after her father (the mayor) turns up missing. As the story reaches it’s incredible conclusion the twisted secrets of the Butler family are finally unearthed, much to the viewers shock, horror, and confusion. Graphic tales of incest and murder are revealed via sepia-toned flashbacks that are quite disturbing. The odd, dreamlike quality of the film is further enhanced by the offbeat ending – which finally wraps up this extended flashback within a flashback.

I really enjoy this 1972 effort from the late great writer/director Theodore Gershundy. This murky and morbid film is one of the darkest horror flicks I’ve ever seen, both in terms of image quality and content. The combination of the grainy pitch black photography and the lurid and incredibly complicated plot gives this film an unbeatable dreamlike quality. The sepia-toned flashback scenes are incredible, eye popping stuff and provide the majority of the film’s shocks. Any nagging complaints about the pace of the film or the confusing storyline can usually be ignored after repeat viewings, and trust me – you’ll most likely need a few viewings to sort it all out.

SILENT NIGHT BLOODY NIGHT was filmed in 1972, but didn’t see a release until 1974. Sadly, the film’s star James Patterson passed away shortly after filming wrapped. Bob Clark’s 1974 clas-sick “Black Christmas” is often called the “original” slasher film, but many people have argued (correctly, I’d say) that “Silent Night Bloody Night” proceeded it by a few years, and that it features more than a few elements that would later appear in Clark’s film. The frenzied POV shots of the killer in action, the creepy phone calls, and the fact that the killer is (almost) never seen are all details that are presented here first. How much influence, if any this film actually had on “Black Christmas” is debatable, but there should be no debate that SNBN is a very important old school horror film.

There’s no excuse for not checking this one out. It’s public domain, so multiple “budget” dvd companies have already released this. All of the usual suspects, including the fine folks at Diamond Entertainment, Mill Creek, Platinum, and Alpha Video have released SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT on dvd – either by itself or included in one of those dvd collectors sets. There seems to be some confusion as to which release is truly uncut, but I can assure you all the versions I’ve seen have ran about the same length and they all look like shit. A pristine, digitally remastered dvd print would be much appreciated. This is a true cult clas-sick, much deserving of a larger audience.

 

HO! HO! HO! KEEP THE BLOOD FLOWING!!!

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