Friday, September 12, 2008

Psychological Phone Murder (milti-parter)

'Ring, Ring!' The girl cringes with a grim look of uneasiness as she turns, the close-up of the ringing telephone giving off an ominous vibe as if it were alive. Or worse, she picks up the receiver only to realize that the killer has severed the phone lines.The telephone has played a pivotal role in the formulaic structure of the modern day slasher movie and has helped create its own sub-genre that I like to call 'Psychological Phone Murder'. It's not a very elegant title, but it fits nicely when you think that some of the best slasher films to date somehow revolve around the telephone. Theodore Gershuny's 1974 Canadian sleeper Silent Night Bloody Night deals with an escaped mental patient who travels back to his old abode and uses his telephone to lure unsuspecting victims to the house so he can kill them. Silent Night Bloody Night uses some very dark themes, which are etched forever on a very bad print which somehow elevates the mood of the story. The old grainy and washed out look in a lot of cases can boost the atmosphere of the film, somehow adding an extra layer of tension that otherwise wouldn't have been present on a pristine copy. SNBN is probably one of the most depressing films I have ever seen. In this case, it's supposed to be. There's a great deal of hopelessness that emits from the screen and almost sucks the viewer in. This little film has never gotten the credit it deserves. Surprisingly, the majority of its fans also prefer the grain as opposed to an actual good copy of the film. As for the telephone laden killer: He's one creepy fuck. He uses a very subtle voice, almost humble in his tone, but underneath, you can almost hear the sudden burst of madness just ready to be unleashed upon his victims. Silent Night Bloody Night was actually filmed in 1972, but not released until the same year as one of the most predominant telephone laden slashers. It's safe to say (but rarely acknowledged that Silent Night Bloody Night did the phone call trick a few years before Bob Clark's Canadian classic.) The most revered of all 'Psychological Phone Murder' slashers (especially by old school fans) was also released in 1974. As I mentioned SNBN was released a few years before Black Christmas, sitting on the sidelines before someone picked it up. Bob Clark's Black Christmas simply exploited the telephone for everything it was worth which added an extra bit of oomph to the film, but was not experienced by too many people because of its short time at the box office. Black Christmas is probably more popular today then it was 35 years ago. Black Christmas revolves around a sorority house during the holiday season that's being bombarded with obscene phone calls where the girls have finally traded their annoyance in for fear. The killer calls randomly, speaking in distorted and grotesque voices while using perverted language as the girls listen in shock. One of the girls swears it couldn't be just one man since the voices were so altered. The caller is truly scary. Some of the things he says and the demonic way he says them will really make your skin crawl. The phone calls persist throughout the film becoming more disturbing and more revealing as the running time goes on. The backstory involves Jessica - a stern independent college co-ed who ends up pregnant and wants an abortion. Her boyfriend Peter is dead set against it and begins to behave very strangely. At some point in the film, we get the inkling that the phone calls could be coming from non-other than Peter himself. The police finally get involved in the case, trying in vain many times to trace the phone calls. Finally, the telephone company gets a line on the trace and one of the biggest twists in horror cinema history was born. To me, the creepiest thing about the film is not knowing that someone had been in the house the whole time, but at the very end, when Jessica is in bed from shock and exhaustion, and the police are finishing up their case work, over the opening credits and a back-away shot from the sorority house, the telephone rings again. It rings against a silent track, barely audible, but ever so disturbing. Was the killer actually dead? That question was never answered and it makes Black Christmas one of the creepiest flicks of all time.

Hang in there! Part two is coming up shortly!

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