Saturday, December 18, 2010

Merry Christmas...

For the last three weeks, this has been the topic of probably forty percent of all conversations. We talked about parenting during Frankenstein in English class, my ecology teacher is pregnant so everything in that class is about babies, we're learning developmental psychology in AP Psychology so that's all about infants, one of the documentaries we looked at in film studies was about gender in babies, a friend of a friend of a friend is pregnant so that friend has been talking about babies quite a bit, the human relations kids are carrying these little robot babies around, every sitcom i watch is about pregnancy somehow, and every night i take a pill to prevent the agony that comes from the workings of my body that someday could allow me to have a baby, god forbid.
So it's only appropriate that this movie i just watched was baby themed too.
Regardless of that, this is one of the best and most underrated slasher movies i have ever seen.

Black Christmas was released in 1974. Woah. I don't know if you understand what that means. While Halloween is credited as being the first "slasher," this one definitely deserves that title.
Don't get be wrong, i'm not hating on John Carpenter, I love Halloween, and it makes sense that it often gets credited with being the father of slasher movies, even down to it being the literal son of the unarguable grandfather of slasher movies, Psycho, the former having its main actress as the daughter of the latter's main actress. But this movie, Black Christmas, is much more related to the slasher movie as we think of it today, it came first, and it's...brilliant. Everybody should watch this movie, including non genre fans.

So the plot focuses on a group of sorority sisters and their brother fraternity (postmodernism ftw?), around christmas time, and they're getting all these weird phone calls from this guy who talks about all these weird, sexually perverted things. Nothing much going on, it's a sorority, sorority stuff happens. Most of the girls leave for Christmas vacation, and one of them gets killed by a totally unseen person.
To be honest, it wasn't until this point, (approx. ten minutes in) that i started paying attention, because this kill actually made me jump. I started watching this film as some festive background to my knitting and dress designing, but i quickly realized that it deserved a more thorough viewing.

Soon enough, we find out that survivor girl is British pregnant, the insanity of which i cannot even express. Keep in mind that there really hadn't been any formula slashers before this one, and besides this little problem, this movie kinda follows the formula (therefore setting it,) to a T. Even more insane than her being pregnant, she wants to get an abortion and doesn't want to marry the father. Sins on top of sins on top of sins! This girl is just full of sins and she's foreign! Kill her right away!

It becomes pretty clear pretty fast, however, that she's our main girl, and the movie, instead of focusing on the group or the killer like (i think) previous films had done, focuses mainly on her. The conflict becomes juxtaposed between the small town where they live looking for the first girl that died and the sorority dealing with the creepy phone calls, and Jess (survivorbritishgirl) negotiating her pregnancy with her angsty pianist boyfriend. As the latter conflict progresses, the former conflict gets closer and closer to it--the calls start seeming to come from/represent Jess's soon to be aborted fetus. And it's amazing. The whole movie has this outer conflict--the town looking for the first girl and trying to help a mother find her thirteen year old daughter, who is missing,--and the inner conflict, with Jess dealing with her potential motherhood/murder. It's just brilliant. The theme of parenthood and children run through the whole thing (am i crazy? have i just been reading too much Mary Shelley and learning too much about neonatal development?) There's this one really significant scene right when we're about to get to the battle where all these little children come caroling and Jess just looks at them all motherly and you can see the little hormones running around in her brain like "babies! look how nice they are!"
A really interesting thing is the babylike nature of the killer, and the killer in general. Mainly, the fact that we know nothing about him. We don't even ever see his face: just his hands and his eye. I suppose, in retrospect, that this is because (SPOILERS!) we're led to believe that Jess's boyfriend is the killer, which was a weirder part of the film.
When the killer (Billy/Agnes,) calls on the phone and when we hear him talk, it seems that he's got a bit of a Bates syndrome thing going on: He seems to speak for himself (who is a very childlike, innocent thing,) and for his mother, (more of a Grendel's mama deal,) who is the perverted violent killer, perhaps. It's never made very clear, but it's very creepy. This is all we see of him:
I paused this shot and just stared at it for probably a minute and a half.

Also, he makes the calls from the house mother's phone, which is pretty significant symbolism, if you ask me.
The movie has a lot of great symbolism, especially in the whole phallic weapon department, which is only appropriate considering it is a slasher movie. When promiscuous horrible drunk girl gets killed, it is in bed amongst flying blankets and hands reaching up and screaming and the like, and I'm pretty sure we're supposed to think that church lady, who is outside with her aforementioned choir of caroling children, thinks that someone is having sex in the house and therefore leads her children away hurriedly. We know that the fight is about to start when survivorgirl looks over and very significantly sees a nice stick like fire poker deal, which even gets its very own super close up.
Freud is so happy right now.
She then goes on to kill who she thinks is the killer, her boyfriend, the father of her baby, with the penis  firepoker. OHMYGOD. Did they mean to have this much symbolism? Normally i would say no, but i find myself having a lot of faith in this movie. And it's just to good to pass up. She kills her boyfriend, who "stabbed" her with his "firepoker," if you will, and got her pregnant, and who questioned her choice to get an abortion, the combination of which seems to be causing this whole thing. Brilliant. Amazing. Slasher Perfection.

So the big question now is, why isn't this the movie all of us slasher devotees worship instead of Halloween? Why has this movie been thrown into the chest of weird low budget movies based on holidays instead of given the love and praise it deserves? And why on earth do we let foreign pregnant sin girl live?

Well, really, it can be argued that we don't let foreign pregnant sin girl live, because this movie wasn't very well received and doesn't have the legacy it deserves. This movie really sets the standard for that whole representing the time thing that maybe will make me a lot of money in book form some day, considering this whole nonsense about abortion happened at the Vatican a month before the films USA release, and that whole ERA thing that was going on in the seventies. So clearly, abortion and a woman's right to choose, or to kill their boyfriend with phallic symbols, was on the public brain when this movie came out. However, they made the fatal (haha,) mistake of not punishing these things. I'd say that by '74 we were on a downhill (sorry guys, politics,) slope to the new right of the 80's and sledding quickly away from that whole...thing that was the 60's. Four years later, Halloween's virginal Jamie Lee Curtis, who fears men and sex but adores children, made forty seven million dollars and our dear Jess here only made four million. If Jess had been killed, and maybe boring, pre victim Claire had survived instead, maybe the movie would have the legacy it deserves.
It probably didn't help either that the film is Christmas theme and was released on December 20th, right when people are finishing up their holiday shopping. I think this is most of why, straight up marketing wise, Halloween was so much more successful. Around the end of October you want to be scared, you want to go with your friends to the movies and vicariously be stabbed/stab, you want to think that every door that opens is going to lead to your worst nightmare. Even teenagers, though, feel a little less like that around this time of year, (unless they're me, apparently,) and even if they do still want to go to the movies and be horrified, there are family events and stuff to go to, and there's just no way your parents are going to let you skip out on decorating the tree with aunt Margie to go see that new gory trash at the cinema.
That's the other thing--with this and Halloween being the parents of slasherdom, why has it, even from the very beginning, had such a bad reputation for being gory and sex-filled? Slut-girl in this movie has a lot of weird scenes talking about sex, but there's no nudity and the gore is very, very minimal. Look, it's all wrapped up in plastic and clean....

It's really not that bad at all. The only reason i wouldn't recommend this to anyone, specifically non genre fans, is because if anything it's a bit slow. It's so clearly dealing with important issues though, and not just being a sex and gore fest. I know standards were different in 1974, but seriously. Less than a bottle of ketchup used for this film. Like Psycho, it is high quality in that all of the violence is implied, we don't see it happen. It's a bit disappointing at times, especially in that Jess killing her boyfriend is represented only by a scream, and then a shot of her with his dead body across her lap. Very simple, very smart.
Also, the cinematography is brilliant and highly underrated. Look at this.

Oh my god. Oh. My. God. I died. This is so beautiful. What is happening? Why is there a series of small square screens with blue backlighting in the basement of the sorority house?
I don't care at all. I want to paint my wall with a mural of this shot, it's so amazing.
The ending is also just...pure film happiness. Film magicalness. One of my favorite things ever is keeping the camera in the same place while action goes on basically without noticing it--the shot is static, and people come and go as the please, and you hear what they're doing and therefore know what you need to know. The camera then pans around to all the dead bodies, and we hear that the killers still alive, and the credits happen over a long, high angle shot of the house with the phone ringing and getting progressively louder until it ends.
Film gobledeegook, i know, but...magic. Magic magic magic. It made me so happy.

Here's more film gobledeegook: listen to this symbolism i just noticed. If Halloween, focusing on feminine themes but also masculine ones with the doctor and Micheal Myers, is the father of slasher films, then this film, with it's strong focus on a female lead and a gender ambiguous killer and maternal themes, is the MOTHER of slasher films. With that in mind! The fact that it was not well received says some serious things about how slasher audiences and filmmakers think they look at motherhood.

Woah guys. Woah. That is something to think about while you eat your Christmas pie.
If you're weird, like me, and think about gender in horror while at family gatherings.

Happy Holidays, all :)

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