The name Bob Clark might not ring any bells to you, but I'm sure you're very familiar with one of his films. He directed A Christmas Story, the beloved tale of Ralphie and his desire for a BB gun. But Clark made plenty of other great films, along with critically-panned clunkers. So the news of his untimely death yesterday was incredibly sad. If there's something about Clark that should not be forgotten, it's his major achievement in the horror film genre: Black Christmas.
Don't mistake Clark's 1974 original for last year's lame remake. Believe it or not, but the man behind the tender Christmas Story also made a menacing film about a killer stalking a sorority house around Christmas time. Clark's Black Christmas came out a few years before John Carpenter's Halloween and still holds up as well as Carpenter's flick. Though Halloween has certain similarities with it (namely, the first-person view from the killer), Carpenter wasn't ripping off Clark. As a matter of fact, as noted on the recent DVD reissue, Clark and Carpenter knew each other and didn't hold any grudges. But for film buffs, don't think Carpenter came up with the frequently-imitated splatter formula out of thin air.
Without giving away anything about Black Christmas, I'll say this: The reason why the original works is because it's not some brainless tale of hot bimbos being picked off one by one. You're literally left in the dark with matters that are never fully explained. The remake tried to explain everything and zapped its strength in the process. With the original, you have a group of well-rounded women, who have their faults, trying to deal with their lives as they plan to go home for Christmas break. Add in the mystery of a psychopathic killer only makes matters worse. The deal is, none of these characters are wooden stereotypes that you're just waiting to get off-ed. Dare I say it, but you actually care for a number of these people.
Since Black Christmas and Halloween, the splatter genre formula has been beaten to submission with cheap imitations. Gone are the subtleties; in are more gore, lame sex, and one-note stereotypes. So maybe that's why I still find these original movies way more riveting. They may not make you jump out of your seat like I Know What You Did Last Summer, but you actually think about them after you watch them. Not many horror films can do that. And not many films I've seen do the same that Black Christmas does.