Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Trailer Tuesday:

Tuesday The 13th...


Directed by: Bob Clark.
Written by: Roy Moore.
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Andrea Martin.
Produced by: Findlay Quinn and Bob Clark.
Cinematography by: Reginald H. Morris (Oswald Morris’ brother).
Music by:Carl Zittrer .

Usually when we think of director Bob Clark and Christmas, we think of his classic film A CHRISTMAS STORY about that wacky family (that's much like yours and mine) and that kid's quest for a Red Ryder BB gun and his father’s quest for that unusual lamp... but I'm trying to avoid the obvious and find holiday films in unexpected genres. Films that may not be showing in the Network’s Holiday Films line up. Like Bob Clark's horror masterpiece BLACK CHRISTMAS - the original "We've traced the call... it's coming from INSIDE the house!" movie.

This film was originally titled SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, but I saw it way back when on the bottom half of a horror double bill (might have been IT’S ALIVE) a couple of years after its initial release under the BLACK CHRISTMAS title. This is not just a fun holiday film, it’s an important film in horror history - the prototype for the 80s Slasher Film and the inspiration for John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) which began as a potential sequel to this film. It’s also packed with stars from that time period, and just like THE SILENT PARTNER there’s an SCTV star in a small role playing it straight. When I saw this film sometime in the mid-70s I was blown away - and parts of this movie still creep me out. That crank phone call at the beginning of SCREAM? This is where that idea came from...

The concept is great, a college sorority house at Christmas break as the girls leave to head home for the holidays one by one... but *are* they going home? Or are they being murdered by a maniac and stored up in the attic? This film turns the holiday break background into mystery and suspense. One of the great things about this film is the sense of humor and the look at the “generation gap” - both of these things carried by Margot Kidder before her big break as Lois Lane in SUPERMAN a couple of years later.

The movie opens with that scene from HALLOWEEN where we see the Killer’s POV outside the house as they look through the windows, enter the house to begin their killing spree - this time they climb through a window into the attic - which is filled with all kinds of junk covered in cobwebs. A spooky location that may seem like a cliche - but this film was one of the first...

DOWNSTAIRS the Pi Kappa Sigma Sorority Girls are preparing to leave for the Holidays. They are: sexually liberated and potty mouthed Barb (Margot Kidder) who lives to push everyone’s buttons, especially uptight conservative Claire Harrison (Lynn Griffin) who has lead a very sheltered life. Studious Phyllis (Andrea Martin) and our leading lady Jess (Olivia Hussey) try to get Barb to tone it down - but Barb has had too much to drink (as usual). Jess is the nice popular girl who has a steady boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea), and instead of going home for the holidays they have a ski vacation planned - this is a serious relationship. When Peter calls, she says she needs to talk to him in person... When the phone rings again, it’s a prank phone call on steroids - it starts with heavy breathing, then goes into weird crazy voices about Billy killing baby Agnes - screeching and laughing and then, “I’m going to kill you”.

Presiding over the sorority is House Mother Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman) who is a drunk - and has a bottle hidden in every room of the house. There’s a great scene where she pulls a bottle out of the toilet tank, takes a long drink from it without even wiping it off, then replaces it. Lots of humor from where the next bottle will be hidden. Mrs. Mac’s cat is always getting lost in some spooky place in the house and she must go into the darkness to search for him.

Claire, angry at Barb for pushing her buttons, goes upstairs to pack - her Father is going to pick her up and take her home for the holidays tomorrow, As she’s packing, she finds the missing cat in the closet (hey - the first cat scare!) And then the clothes begin moving and - WHAM! - the killer from the attic pulls a clear garment bag over her head and asphyxiates her... then carries her up to the attic and puts her in an old rocking chair - looking out the window. This is scary and the asphyxiated Claire looking out the window through the plastic garment bag is effing creepy!

The next morning Claire’s Father (James Edmond) shows to pick her up... and she isn’t there. Claire’s Father is *very* conservative, and the sorority house is filled with sexy posters and pot posters and counter culture stuff... and in Claire’s bedroom is a picture of... a boy! Chris (Art Hindle) who is Claire’s townie boyfriend. This sends Claire’s Father over the edge - she is too young for a boyfriend! “I didn't send my daughter in here to be drinking and picking up the boys!”

They go to the police department to fill out a missing persons form, and we get one of the film’s great scenes of Barb vs. Authority Figure as she tells Desk Sgt Nash (Doug McGrath) when she gives him the sorority house phone number....

	Excuse me? Could you give me the 
	number at the sorority house? Please?

	Yeah, sure. It's, ah... Fellatio 20880. 
	Fellatio. It's a new exchange, FE.

	That's a new one on me. How do 
	you spell it?

	Capital F, E, little L, LA, TIO.


A couple of scenes later, Chief of Police Fuller (John Saxon) thinks that maybe they should take this missing person seriously when Chris shows up and says that Claire isn’t with him and there is no place where she could be... none of her friends have seen or heard from her. And she’s the conservative girl - she’s not out drinking or smoking pot or anything else. She’s *gone*.

Meanwhile, Jess is meeting with Peter, who is practicing for his big piano recital later that day. Peter is a *very* serious artist - and super emotional - anything will set him off... and Jess tells him that she’s pregnant. He wants her to keep the baby, she wants an abortion, and this relationship is in trouble. When Jess gets back to the Sorority House, the phone is ringing... the crank caller with even more weird voices and screeches and more about Billy killing baby Agnes. “Little baby bunting, Daddy's went a-hunting, Gonna fetch a rabbit skin, To wrap his baby Agnes in!” These calls scared the crap out of me first time I saw it (and still work) because they are just crazy.

The great thing about this film is the way the characters turn against each other when the killing starts - and it’s all character oriented. Barb feels guilty about ridiculing Claire for being such a goody two shoes and fears that she is responsible for Claire running away. When Peter blows his recital and takes it out on Jess, she begins to think that her boyfriend is a psycho. The Sorority House becomes a crucible - and all of the characters turn against each other in the foreground, as other characters go missing and the crank calls continue. Adding to all of this is a missing 13 year old girl and the fears that Claire vanishing might be related. A great moment when Claire’s Father is at the police station when Jess calls about the obscene phone calls, and puts two and two together - the missing 13 year old girl and his missing daughter... and the obscene calls. There’s a great search of the park at night where the Sorority Girls help to look for the little girl, fearing that they may find Claire... and they find the little girl brutally murdered. And Mrs Mac finds her missing cat... eating Claire’s face in the attic! After that, Mrs. Mac goes missing... and the bodies continue to pile up in the attic! Like John Carpenter's THE THING, this film gets much of its mileage by having the characters suspect each other; and also gives us a logical possibility that no one has been murdered... and maybe it's all in Jess’s head. It’s a clever screenplay that always keeps you guessing - and makes you wonder which character is the killer.

This film also has a couple of amazing "you can't do that in a movie" twists, including one where we are *sure* we know who the killer is... and are then proven wrong only *after* that character has been killed. Hey, that's kind of like THE THING, too!

But the main thing about BLACK CHRISTMAS is that it's spooky and probably the first "kill a bunch of people in a house" movie. Okay, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was released the same year, so it may have technically been the second movie with that basic plot - but BLACK CHRISTMAS is the version of that basic plot that you can trace through HALLOWEEN to SCREAM. In fact, HALLOWEEN began as a sequel to BLACK CHRISTMAS...

John Carpenter was a huge fan on the film and talked to Bob Clark about making a sequel at one point in time. BLACK CHRISTMAS was inspired by the urban legend of the babysitter who gets a phone call from a crazy person about checking on the babies... and when the babysitter goes in to check on the children, the kids are gone and she is killed by the lunatic on the phone. Those elements are still in BLACK CHRISTMAS even though it’s been transposed onto the sorority house of a college campus... but Carpenter wanted to go back to the roots and make a film called THE BABYSITTER MURDERS... which was the original title of HALLOWEEN. He wanted to have the killer from BLACK CHRISTMAS caught and put in a mental institution, and then escape and go back to the town to kill babysitters. Because the idea was completely different than BLACK CHRISTMAS, Clark thought it didn’t need to be a sequel (and all of the rights issues required) and Carpenter and Debra Hill wrote it as an original and the rest is history. Though there are similarities between the two films, they are very different as well - instead of a random crazy killer, HALLOWEEN has Michael Myers as a little boy who kills his sister, then is institutionalized... and escapes years later as an adult. There are no calls coming from inside the house - Michael Myers isn’t at all chatty. So Carpenter made his own movie, but would that movie have existed without BLACK CHRISTMAS?

	Who is this?

	It's Jess.

	Ms. Bradford, this is Sergeant Nash. 
	Are you the only one in the house?

	No. Phyll and Barb are upstairs asleep. 

	Alright. Now I want do you exactly what 
	I tell you without asking any questions, 


	No, no, no... no questions. Now just put 
	the phone back on the hook, walk to the 
	front door and leave the house.

	What's wrong?

	Please, Ms. Bradford, please just do as I 
	tell you.

	Okay. I'll get Phyll and Barb.

	No, no, no, don't do that Jess.
	Jess, the caller is in the house. 
	The calls are coming from the house!

Plus BLACK CHRISTMAS is a great holiday film, since Christmas is going on in the background. A disturbing double bill with Bob Clark's CHRISTMAS STORY... something to warm your heart, then cut it out with a rusty knife!


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