Original Black Christmas director dies in car crash

Producer-director Bob Clark, whose 1974 cult horror film BLACK CHRISTMAS spawned a 2006 remake, died in a car accident on the Pacific Coast Highway in Southern California this morning. According to this article, the crash occured at 2:20 am, killing Clark and his 22-year-old son. The elder Clark was 67.

Clark's biggest box office hit was PORKY'S, but he began his career with a series of low-budget horror films in the early '70s: CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS, DEAD OF NIGHT, and BLACK CHRISTMAS. He also directed the atmospheric thriller MURDER BY DECREE, which featured Sherlock Holmes on the trail of Jack the Ripper. His output became more erratic in later years, with titles like RHINESTONE (with Sylvester Stallone in 1984) and two BABY GENIUSES movies in 1999 and 2004.

Clark's horror films were pretty effective despite their budgetary limitations. CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS was obviously inspired by George Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, but it had its own sense of black humor that made it worth seeing. DEAD OF NIGHT was an interesting combo of politics and horror, about a young man who dies in Vietnam but comes back home as a sort of zombie-vampire; without making an overt statement about the war, the film left the character's gradual transformation into a monster open to audience interpretation. The proto-slasher film BLACK CHRISTMAS, despite not being a huge hit, was very influential, more or less providing the blueprint for John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN four years later.

I never got to meet Clark face-to-face, but I did see him in person at a recent "grindhouse" screening of the 1974 BLACK CHRISTMAS at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles. (Actors John Saxon and Oliva Hussey were also in attendance.) He seemed a likable, affable person, proud of his work but not pretentious. He was aware of the parallels between his film and Carpenter's monster hit, but he went out of his way to dismiss charges of plagarism.

It's always sad when the genre loses someone who made an important contribution. It seems double so in this case, because of this week's DVD release of the BLACK CHRISTMAS. There was Clark on the bonus feature making-of documentary, looking very healthy and hearty for his years, and it just seemed as if - with a remake of CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS in development - he would be around for a while longer to make more even more horror films.