In 1974, director Bob Clark, unleashed a hellraising nightmarish crazed movie, which did not garnish much praise, but has since risen the top of the Christmas Horror films, generating a lasting cult classic, with frightening occurrences that left future filmmakers salivating for the opportunities to use the blueprints on their creations. John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) often credited with the creation of the slasher genre, however this film finds it lurking in the shadows and hiding behind the snowmen, noting many of the attributes exist in modern-day horror films. Clark’s career varied deeply from Dead of Night (1974) to creating another holiday classic a mere nine years later A Christmas Story (1983) and the outlandish teen romp Porky’s (1981), before coming to a halt in 2007 with his tragic death from a fatal car crash by the hands of a drunk driver.
The plot seems commonplace in today’s horror market, the style and given way to creepy tale, and the sorority house with the dark woods and long shadows, add just as much character to the set as does the terrorizing stranger’s phone calls, starting with sexual moans to outright insanity. The setting of a limited number of women in the house, near Christmas time, many leaving quickly, with half hearted goodbyes and the front door seemingly unlocked. Clark never shies away or even try to hide the fact the killer is in the house, and this always arises to a bit of contentious among the horror fans, arguing to hide the killer the last minute versus presenting a glimpse of him so early into the movie. Yet, it all works fittingly well together, the pure shocks present in disturbing moments, all from the true hardcore loon, hiding in the attic. During the night, moment of wholesome Christmas joy present themselves, carolers, presents, smiles, laughs, and then the ringing bell from the old fashioned phone, harkens a quick snap back into the torment of the mysterious actions of the extremely vulgar caller. The only sister able to stand up and take him, Barb (Margot Kidder, who previously starred in Sisters (1973)), using mucho gusto tactics against the prankster, and still continuing her condescending mentality along with the excessive drinking and a smoking habit that competes with wood burning chimney. Screenwriter Ray Moore truly presents a chilling storytelling that incorporates humor at the right time to ease the viewer down especially the “new exchange” conservation between Barb and Sergeant Nash (Doug McGarth) who relates it to the very competent Lt. Ken Fuller (John Saxon). One must not omit the tumultuous exchange between the true star of the film Jess (Olivia Hussey) and her boyfriend a struggling pianist Peter (Keir Dullea – starring in his first horror film), one that involves an extremely fresh and controversial topic an abortion, recalling for the moment that Roe vs. Wade ruling in 1973. Aside from theses interesting subplots, one of the girl’s fathers arrives to take his daughter, Clare (Lynne Griffin) home, his obvious prudish and extremely high morals frowns on the décor and attitude of most everyone. These nuances drive the story wonderfully, making it impossible to take it all in one viewing.
Clark’s picture acts as a slasher movie, but continues the psychological impact to wonderful heights, and keeps churning the horror as if trying to cross an ice covered pond, hearing the cracks, and unsure if the next one plunges one to unspeakable danger, just like all who enter the sorority house. Two others that need mentioning, come from the character Mrs. Mac, a woman, who has two-face intentions, the butterfly nice den mother, and then a selfish, drunken and filthy attitude, played by the veteran Canadian stage actress Marian Waldman who passed in 1985. The second, Andrea Martin, who portrays a concerned Phyl, and a desperate for the search to find Clare, she serves in another interesting twist in the horror genre, as she played the role of Ms. Mac in the remake of this classic in 2006. Although, a tad dated, and the sorority house does not reflect those of today, and even the one from Animal House (1978) it brings more focus on the women themselves, their feelings, an empowerment to their views, hence setting itself above the fold, raising the bar for acceptance. The switching of the killing to the regular interactions, actually works effectively, almost if creating a world of madness inside the normalcy of college life experiences. Some horror fans, may find the lack of splatter in the killings as problematic, but the effort behind them is subtle, to lure one in closer to examine the mystery of who is the killer, the one caught or someone completely different, and if so where are they now.
There’s not much of a downside of the film, except for the showing of the tracing of phone calls placed to house, relating to then the tracking of a phone call, the manual world of clicks and clacks, once might been enough, explain and show, and the audience understands the essence of the problem. However, the influences of the film carried over to When a Stranger Calls (1979), and of course Scream (1996) and John Saxon later in his career reprises his role in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), relating the same struggles with both cases. One must note the musical importance of the usage, sometimes works as fuller and to others it becomes a staple into the lore of the horror genre, and this time a flinching and almost borderline unstable chilling effect making some to shudder in the seats. Clark uses clear lessons of Hitchcock, concentrating on the characters and building the story, thereby creating the suspense, not by force rather naturally from the actors, all working effectively well. His entire tale works well for another reason, based on reality, as inspired on a series murders in Montreal, Canada and the usage of the urban legends. In the end, the movie earned both a place in horror history and nicely successful production at the box office as well.
Even though the movie is 41-years-old, it still holds the influence to effect the films of today, with the formless man-monster prowling the darkness battling his madness with disregard for human sanity of life. It has extremely tense, and effective settings of the horror genre, never regressing rather presenting them with a touch of dark humor and capturing a spine chilling tingling tale. During the month of December, numerous films dot the month for regular holiday cheer, such as A Christmas Carol (so many versions); It’s a Wonderful Life; the brutal horror fans watch Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) and turn off the twinkle lights cover Rudolph’s nose and sit the darkness to enjoy this superior classic of horror.