The late Canadian director Bob Clark had a remarkable run as a filmmaker. In that short time period, Clark produced both a beloved Christmas classic for many families, and one of the most frightening and influential horror films ever made. He made the movie that ushered a generation into puberty as well as wrote one of the most effective anti-war horror movies. His work with Jack Lemmon in Tribute earned the actor an Academy Award nomination, and he raked in a slew of awards for his Sherlock Holmes picture Murder by Decree.
Though Clark’s career was a farcry from perfection–he was, after all, the man responsible for both Baby Geniuses and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (Numbers 74 and 3 on imdb’s Bottom 100, respectively)—his contributions to movies and popular culture remains peerless, and when he tragically died in 2007 at the hands of a drunk driver, Hollywood lost a remarkable talent.
In light of our Black Friday screening of Clark’s Black Christmas (Tickets), we put together a few of our favorite Bob Clark films, which may be obvious choices, sure, but they represent the kind of range that many filmmakers can only dream about.
Black Christmas (1974)
One of the most wildly influencial horror films of all time, Bob Clark’s Black Christmas sets a yule-tide psycho-killer against a house full of unwitting sorority sisters. Unlike the nearly endless stream of Christmas-themed horror films that followed in the wake of Black Christmas, Clark does not use the quiet holiday setting for campy laughs or killer Santas. Instead, Black Christmas uses these peaceful, joyful images as a setting for a series of gruesome, ineffable murders. It injects terror into the warm heart of American culture, and does it with remarkable restraint and skill. After Black Christmas, nearly every holiday got the horror movie treatment, from Halloween to April Fool’s Day, but hardly any of them can hold a candle to Clark’s haunting original.
My personal favorite Bob Clark film, Deathdream is a potent and schlocky anti-Vietnam film made while the social wounds of the war were still raw and open. When a family hears the news of their son’s apparent death in Vietnam, they’re thrilled when he suddenly appears in their dining room in the middle of the night. Eager to welcome him home, the young soldier seems distant and cagey about rejoining society. While his mother and sister insist that he just needs time to re-adjust, the boy’s father starts to become suspicious, especially when he sees what his son does to the family’s beloved dog. Violent and jarring, Deathdream shows what war can do to otherwise normal people, and is one of the first films to personify the violence of Vietnam and send it, rotting and horrible, rampaging through quiet suburban streets.
A Christmas Story (1983)
Less than ten years after re-framing the Christmas aesthetic into a twisted horror show, Clark made one of the most successful Christmas films of all time: A Christmas Story—a movie that is probably on television right now. Cobbled together from the works of writer and story-teller Jean Shepherd, A Christmas Story delivers the warm and fuzzies by the bucket load.
Frankly, the movie never registered with me and mine for a long time (my family is more of a Christmas Vacation/Wonderful Life crowd), and it wasn’t until I watched the movie at a friend’s house with his entire clan that I saw its magnetism in action. This is a film that’s both cute and weird, one that shows both the tribulations of childhood and the headache of raising children, and the way that Clark balances nostalgia with the embarrassing reality of youth feels both inviting and true to life.
A film that practically became a rite of passage for boys of a certain age and of a certain orientation, Clark’s silly look into the sex-addled brain of the American teenager was a well trafficked video store classic for kids with parents who just did not give a shit. With Porky’I, Clark takes things back to the 50’s once again, following a group of Florida teens on a desperate mission to lose their virginity–or at least catch a glimpse of their female classmates in the buff. The movie may be crass and juvenile, but its fun attitude towards budding sexuality is a welcome reprieve from much of the sex-shaming and gross-out gags that’s the hallmark for most of the genre.
Clark also directed Porky’s II: The Next Day, which, well, let’s not talk about that one.