Writer/director Bob Clark, who recently passed, is something of a difficult figure to come to terms with. While he helmed some of the worst films of all time (including the Razzie-nominated Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 and Rhinestone), he was also an innovator.
His vision launched two of the most successful film genres in the history of moviedom, and he also directed and cowrote the greatest Christmas film of all time. So, in the spirit of not speaking ill of the dead, I shall pretend Superbabies and its excretal sequel never happened, and I will concentrate on the great things Bob Clark did in the movie industry.
The lucrative slasher subgenre of horror films, which boosted body counts and box office receipts throughout the late 1970’s and 1980’s, sprang from the vision of one Bob Clark and his recently remade opus to dead sorority sisters, Black Christmas. Working within the confines of a shoestring budget, Black Christmas serves as the basic template for every slasher movie that has followed it, inspiring such beloved genre films as Halloween, When A Stranger Calls, Student Bodies, Friday the 13th, Scream, Saw, and the UK’s own Freak Out.
Despite the familiar feel of the plot thanks to the hundreds of dead teenager films which followed in its wake, none quite match the technical artistry and sheer creepiness of the original. The gore is minimal, and there are no shock twists and turns designed to leave the viewer bewildered, but the movie is flat out creepy and the image of leering eyeball peeking through a hole in the wall is enough to send shivers down even the straightest of spines.
Clark mined the fertile soil of his wild teen years in Florida for his next masterwork, one of the most profitable (and funniest) movies of all time. This film, Porky’s, launched the teen sex comedy genre. It’s the highest-grossing Canadian movie of all time, and still one of the funniest movies ever made, in my humble opinion. It combines social satire with goofy slapstick and sex jokes, and contains one of the most memorable shower scenes in movie history (which is permanently imprinted on the mind of every heterosexual male who has ever seen it, for more reasons than just the many nude extras).
This film’s phenomenal success led the way for The Revenge of the Nerds, American Pie, and basically every other movie where the goal is for a bunch of teenagers to try to get laid and hilarious things to happen to them as they try their best to end high school on a high note.
Maybe I’m a bit biased for this last selection, but to me there is no better film to watch around the holiday than the Bob Clark directed and adapted film version of Jean Shepherd’s classic, A Christmas Story. Here in America, every Christmas Eve and Christmas day, there is a cable channel that broadcasts a 24-hour marathon with nothing but this film, and every holiday, my cousin and I inevitably watch it. It doesn’t matter if we catch five minutes or five hours of the movie, because we’ve seen it thousands of times and will probably continue to watch the story of Ralphie and his Red Ryder BB gun long after we’ve got kids and holiday traditions of our own.
After years of A Christmas Story marathons, the movie remains not only funny, but comfortable. It’s familiar, and it’s as much a part of my family Christmas as peanut butter balls or big family dinners. When I was younger, I could relate to Ralphie and his brother and all the neighborhood kids (one of Bob Clark’s strongest points as a director is his ability to get the most out of his child actors without being patronizing). As I get older, I find myself identifying more and more with The Old Man (the late Darren McGavin), who just wants to have a decent Christmas.
How do you sum up a man whose career veered from raunchy sex comedy to slasher movies, from a Sylvester Stallone country musical to a modern classic Christmas movie? He broke Kim Cattrall into the mainstream with Porky’s and gave Tom Savini his first special effects job on the set of Dead of Night. He was both an auteur and a mercenary director for hire.
Bob Clark was a lot of different things in his time on Earth, but he was never boring.