Now considered a benchmark in genre filmmaking – one of those out-of-nowhere low-budget obscurities that changes the genre’s rules and elements – Bob Clark’s Toronto-made proto-slasher movie Black Christmas was met with considerable home-grown condescension. The issue? Apparently, Canadians didn’t make horror movies, let alone horror movies — like this one — that pulled off something Canadian movies had been trying to nail for years. It was a domestic box office hit: a Canadian-made movie Canadians actually paid to see.
Black Christmas was also something else, even if it didn’t matter to horror-averse Canadian critics at the time — one of those rare instances of a modestly-budgeted genre movie with both style and smarts, and as a work of prolonged suspense it hummed as smoothly as a well-oiled machine. The story of a sorority house terrorized by a crazed killer with a predilection for obscene phone calls and subjective POV stalking, the movie was that rare example of a fully-functioning scare generator that also had wit, depth and character. Especially remarkable, considering the cycle of franchise-prone slasher movies BC helped make possible – the Halloweens, the Friday the 13ths, Nightmares on Elm Street, etc. – was how gender-sensitive Clark’s movie was: the women in the house might have been prey for the killer, but they were also fully articulated women with personalities, independence and – up until they opened the wrong door or climbed the wrong staircase – conspicuous smarts. But it would ultimately take time before Clark’s movie was fully recognized for the classic of the genre it now is. In 1974, it was a stain on the snow-white landscape of Canadian film. An intruder in the house of our national cinema.
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