Bob Clark Was a Weird Guy

Bob Clark must have been a weird guy. His filmography is all over the place. Seriously, the same person directed Porky’s, A Christmas Story, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, The Karate Dog,  Baby Geniuses, Turk 182 and Black Christmas. There’s no central thread there. He clearly had no overarching vision guiding his choices (unless money counts as a vision, and I suppose maybe it does).

Anyway, we’re here to discuss his greatest masterwork, The Karate Dog.

Just kidding. It’s the time of year when we think about Christmas, Sorority girls, and maniac killers, which means it’s time to dig into Black Christmas. BC is a movie that gets a lot of credit. Some of that credit is deserved, but most isn’t.

People like to claim that Clark invented the slasher genre with BC, but that claim is baldly absurd.  The real credit for spawning the genre likely belongs to either Psycho or Peeping Tom, both of which were released in 1960, a full 14 years prior to BC. In the intervening years the genre would be developed by many directors, notably Dario Argento in Italy. The rules of the game, as it were, weren’t fully developed until John Carpenter cemented the style with Halloween. While we’re on that subject, no, Halloween wasn’t a sequel to BC either. They just tread similar ground.

BC does deserve a lot of credit for it’s strong, well-rounded female cast. The young women are presented as complete individuals, rather than the interchangeable cutouts that function as combination sex-object / victim in most slasher movies.  Each character here is presented as a real, flawed, interesting person.

It also deserves credit for creating a genuinely creepy atmosphere. The film opens with a bonkers POV shot that unsettles the audience and keeps us dialed in during the early introductory scenes. By the time it gets to its first murder, the movie already has us on edge.

This movie is also notable for not leering.  Black Christmas doesn’t feature in nudity (despite being set in a sorority house). It also avoids showing much gore. The murders take place mostly out of frame, and we just see the aftermath. 

The paper thin plot of the movie is this:  A creepy guy with talent for doing voices harasses a group of sorority girls by making obscene and threatening phone calls, then proceeds to murder the girls one by one. He hides the bodies and slowly eliminate the cast in novel ways.  After some disappearances have been noted, the police are called in. The police use modern technology to discover that the calls are coming from inside the sorority house (this same gag would be used a few years later for When a Stranger Calls).  That’s it, really.

The cast is magnificent.  Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Keir Dullea. It’s amazing to see this level of talent in a low budget slasher flick, and yet Clark somehow put it together. The cast really transcends the film in a lot of ways. This is especially true of Margot Kidder, playing a boozy, kinda mean-spirited young woman. She just shines through the material.

The movie’s greatest flaw is the total lack of payoff. We never learn the identity of the killer. In fact, it seems unlikely that any of the characters we have met could be the killer. He gets away with it, and we never even know the truth. It does end by creepily suggesting that the survivor girl is about to be killed, which is a great setup for a sequel. Sadly, we never got to see that come to fruition.  

-Nathan Tyree