Tag Archives: Bob Gale

Bob Gale’s Black Christmas

Bob Gale’s Black Christmas predates Carpenter’s Halloween by four years as the first slasher film, they both take place on a festive holiday night where a shadowy killer stalks people in quiet suburbia and they *both* open with an eerie POV tracking shot, and while Halloween is the more polished and notorious film, Black Christmas is definitely my favourite. Halloween opened up suburbia wide and had the boogeyman roam free in daylight while this one keeps it tight, dark and constrained to the shadows, attics and resoundingly atmospheric hallways of a giant Tudor mansion where a group of sorority sisters are celebrating Christmas. Extremely obscene phone calls herald the arrival of Billy, possibly the scariest slasher villain ever thanks to the hair raising voices on the other end of the line, provided by Canadian acting legend Nick Mancuso in one of his first gigs. Billy more or less kills like your average, well adjusted horror villain, but he vocalizes like a disturbed demon straight out of hell and it contributes to the freaky atmosphere so much. Olivia Hussey makes an absolutely gorgeous beauty of a scream queen as the proverbial ‘final girl’ Jess, her melodramatic, theatrical approach to the role only makes me love her more and gives the character flourish. Margot Kidder is hysterical in a lengthy cameo as another sorority sister with a huge potty mouth who seriously gets her Christmas drank on, as does curmudgeonly house mother Marian Waldman, who has an extended solo traipse through the dimly lit house that’s a fine example of physical comedy and inspired improv. Legendary John Saxon, who also headlined yet another iconic horror franchise, plays the intrepid police captain who tries to trace the calls and capture Billy, he always provides tough guy charisma. There is just so much to enjoy about this film; the quiet, ambient Yuletide stillness of the mansion in which you just know that even though no creature is stirring, not even a mouse, Billy is in there somewhere waiting and chuckling maniacally to himself, which makes my skin crawl to this day. The nervous score by Carl Zittrer includes objects like forks and combs tied to string instruments, giving them a warped, spooky timbre. The production design, or maybe it was simply a lucky find with the house as it was, is so beautifully mid 70’s and filled with colour, decorations, garish wallpaper, strange artwork and knick knacks, it feels lived in and authentic, as does the easy breezy camaraderie between the sorority sisters and the police banter, all part of a believable atmosphere. The lighting, or partial lack thereof, is something to behold, every few metres holds an army of shadows and murky artifices for Billy to hide in, and the camera drinks it all in slowly for maximum effect. I could go on all day about how much I love this film and what it means to me, but you get the idea. It’s everything a slasher should be and more: funny, morbidly scary, terminally weird at times, visually audacious, sexy, bizarre, festive and packed with atmosphere. Another interesting thing is that although this gathered the steam of a cult classic like other famous horror films, it never generated any sequels which makes it feel kind of special in the genre, like a sacred mile marker. Having said that, there is a remake out there that is absolute fucking festering garbage, it’s worth zero interest and only stands as en example of what not to do in service of a bona fide, enduring classic like this.

-Nate Hill

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Bob Gale’s Interstate 60

How does a terrific film by an Oscar nominated writer/director with an all star cast end up going direct to video? Who knows, but I hope the persons responsible were tarred and feathered off the studio lot. On a must mention list of staggeringly overlooked films, Bob Gale’s Interstate 60 ranks pretty goddamn far up there for me, and how it slipped past both marketing fanfare and enduring notoriety is both beyond my comprehension and a full on crying shame. Gale also wrote a little flick you may have heard of called Back To The Future, which went on to gather a decent amount of steam, and if that story was packed with interesting ideas, wait until you see the kind of dense, highly philosophical and tantalizingly verbose scenarios he whips up here. Remember that old book The Phantom Tollbooth by “? If you do, you’ll remember it’s protagonist, a precocious kid named Milo and his grammatically scintillating descent into a world where meaning takes on a meaning of its own and every character he meets has a very specific thematic part to play. Well, Interstate 60 is kind of like if Milo grew up into James ‘Cyclops’ Marsden and continued his journey down the literary yellow brick road for a brand new, adult orientated set of adventures starring a whole host of Hollywood heavy hitters whose involvement still somehow couldn’t shake this piece out of sleeper-ville. Marsden is Neal, a young man at a crossroads in terms of jobs, relationships and his place in the world. After a bizarre accident puts him in the hospital, the mysterious duty doctor (Christopher Lloyd) gives him the keys to a sports car and sends him off on a strange odyssey along Interstate 60, a stretch of highway that doesn’t appear to exist on any maps. This is of course a journey of self discovery, with life lessons and painful truths blooming in thickets along the way like wildflowers on the roadside. He’s looking for answers, which he often finds but not in the way he thought or hoped, also searching for his dream girl, whom he finds in adorable Amy Smart but not without a deft test of character first. The cast is all out brilliant here: Chris Cooper is dangerously engaging as an unconventional bank robber, Kurt Russell painfully funny as the sheriff of a small county who has a cheerfully bohemian attitude towards narcotics, and a very important point to prove. Watch for a quick cameo from Marty McFly too. The episodic nature is fluidly soldered together by Gary Oldman’s recurring oddball O.W. Grant, a man with no genitals who grants everyone one wish by blowing green smoke out of his monkey shaped pipe. Such are the delightful eccentricities on display and more, but it’s never just about silliness and surrealities, there are important, enlightening ideas at play here, the script is almost too inspired to serve one film only, there’s so much going on. I wish this one would get picked up for re-distribution or something, it’s too great of a film to be exiled in obscurity the way it has been, there isn’t even a decent DVD out there. If you like your comedies smart, insightful and the right amount of weird, please go seek this one out. I mean, just look at that cast.

-Nate Hill