When I think of director Bob Clark, I immediately think of the now somewhat dated Christmas classic that I'll never stop loving, 'A Christmas Story.' It boasts all of the magic and joy of Christmas in the 1950s, communicates with children and adults equally, is hilarious and incredibly quotable, and is just a home run. But what's strange is that the same man responsible for such a feel-good Christmas classic also helped to launch the slasher genre that would overwhelm the 80s as much as superheroes overwhelm us now.
It's kind of a fascinating chain of events, all somewhat connected. 1960's 'Psycho' is the initial inspiration of it all, with the famous shower stabbing scene, complete with equally famous music accompanying it. 'Psycho' actress Janet Leigh could never shower again as a result. However, she could still have children with fellow actor Tony Curtis, one of whom was Jamie Lee Curtis of 'Halloween' fame, often toted as the true beginning of the 80s slasher craze. But many people miss the friendship between directors Bob Clark and John Carpenter, with 'Halloween' being a bit of a spiritual successor to 'Black Christmas.'
One can simply Google this to find it out, but at some point, Carpenter asked Clark if he planned on a sequel to 'Black Christmas.' He said "no," as he was done with horror. But the idea (get this) would involve the killer getting caught and eventually escaping from an asylum to return to the sorority house and have things start over again, but it would be set at Halloween. Sound familiar? The rest is pretty much history, and Clark says that he doesn't consider 'Halloween' a ripoff of his cult horror classic - something I definitely pointed the finger at 'Halloween' for in recent years, despite my love for it.
Getting into the movie at hand, however, the plot involves a gross, crazy person who has since simply been identified as "Billy," although if I remember correctly, that's only because he keeps calling himself that, and his actual name is slightly more unknown. "Billy" is more of an assumption. In fact, subtitles call him "Caller." Again, kinda like Michael Myers initially being identified as "The Shape." Anyway, he casually breaks into a sorority house's attic and hides out there while making obscene phone calls to the sorority. Admittedly, they are, to this day, incredibly creepy and don't end in harsh perversion.
Said sorority is host to a group of friends who are staying there over the Christmas holiday and hosting a party while Billy breaks in over the noise. Jess (Olivia Hussey), Barb (Margot Kidder), Phyl (Andrea Martin), and Clare (Lynne Griffin) host the party, able to cut loose and have fun due to their awesome house mother, Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman). Eventually, one of them goes missing, which leads to the rest of the sorority seeking help from the police, headed by Lt. Ken Fuller (John Saxon - yet another 80s horror connection with 'Elm Street'). Without going on about it too much, it ends up being a play on the urban legend of "The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs" (also done with 'A Stranger Calls,' but much better here).
When I first checked this out, it actually did its job and managed to get to me, giving me a whole new fear of some dangerous stranger just hanging out in my house. And Billy, at least to me, is actually a lot more terrifying than the big, stocky nature of Michael Myers. Billy is completely off his bean, and just listening to the far too random things he says is enough to get under one's skin. He seems to have a split personality disorder, ranging from an angry woman to a frightened child (Billy) to a complete pervert to... I dunno, animals? He's always on about "Agnes" when he decides to be Billy, but it's ultimately all gibberish.
This is a movie that definitely leaves one with a sense of dread. I have to thank God that it is not as hardcore as something like 'The Exorcist' (for the time) and is often punctuated with bits of comedy (the "fellatio" scene is pretty hilarious, and it's not what you might think when reading it). But if the comedy is cut out, this can be nightmare fuel for the right people (like me) who may have seen supernatural horror as terrifying as a kid, but now that that's sort of laughable, it's the stuff that can really happen that can get to me now. What is the biggest moral of this flick? Keep those doors and windows locked, ladies & gentlemen!