Black Christmas (Bob Clark / Canada-U.S., 1974):
(Silent Night, Evil Night; Stranger in the House)

"Gathering gloom," as the carol goes, "sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying," just a few nights at the Canuck sorority house. A rediscovery of the purely subjective camera (Montgomery's Lady in the Lake also has a yuletide setting) has ominous POV shots splaying the composition as the unseen culprit climbs into the house by the college, inside the coeds are dealing with the latest in a string of obscene phone calls. (So salty that even Andrea Martin has a hard time keeping a straight face, Margot Kidder negotiates "the moaner" with a blue streak of her own: "Oh, why don't you go find a wall socket and stick your tongue in it?") A gruesome Nativity in the attic is the invader's oeuvre d'art, plastic-chocked lass (Lynne Griffin) on rocking chair and den mother (Marian Waldman) with a hook in the puss, the crystal horn of the figurine on the nightstand also plays its part. In the midst of all this, a pregnant damsel's (Olivia Hussey) dilemma with her high-strung beau (Keir Dullea). "Little baby bunting, Daddy's went a-hunting..." Bob Clark's influential Toronto giallo is reliably founded on Siodmak's The Spiral Staircase, with sundry Hitchcockisms dispensed judiciously throughout. (The Lodger is a key source, but vide James Edmond as the young victim's father like Cedric Hardwicke in Rope.) Snow and smeary colored lights and a marvelously coarse humor supplement the claustrophobic atmosphere, the ingrown punchline is prepared with vintage glimpses of call-tracing techniques (i.e., scrambling from one side to another in a warehouse of switchboards and revolving digits). The Porky's giggle is already present, Dullea calmly pummeling his own piano adduces a note of Kubrick. The echoing call at the close is later picked up by Carpenter and Cunningham though not by Clark himself, who'd settle for cozier holiday greetings. "Ho ho... shit." With John Saxon, Doug McGrath, Art Hindle, Michael Rapport, and Martha Gibson.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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