It is unusual that a filmmaker who made classic entries into the horror genre would be as well-known for creating films (and film franchises) that fall into so many other genres. Bob Clark is the unique and versatile filmmaker who stakes claim to that honor more than nearly any other director.
Though his career began working in low-budget shock films such as “Shanty Tramp” and “She-Man: A Story of Fixation”, Clark rose quickly from his shock roots into the horror mainstream with a few well-known films, reaching the peak of his horror industry fame with the original “Black Christmas”, often hailed as the film that started the slasher craze (though Mario Bava’s “A Bay of Blood” would cement the concept earlier, and “Halloween” would find more success with it a couple years later).
Not content simply to be another horror director from the Great White North, Clark took advantage of his career trajectory to move into other genres with surprising success: he wrote, produced and directed “Porky’s”, practically inventing the raunchy teen comedy (for which he also directed the second film in the series), and only a year later, he directed the Christmas comedy “A Christmas Story”, one of the few modern Christmas films to attain the status of classic along with the older films “Miracle On 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
The success of “A Christmas Story” led to a series of comedies, from “Rhinestone” (in which Dolly Parton teaches Sylvester Stallone to sing country music) to “Loose Cannons” (where cop Gene Hackman is teamed with a detective with split personality disorder, played by Dan Aykroyd). In a late career move, Clark directed both of the films in the “Baby Geniuses” franchise, the second film of which was his last directing job.
His classic “Black Christmas” was remade by Glen Morgan in 2006, and he died a few months later in 2007. Though his career was made up of an amazing array of films in any number of genres, he gave the horror world a classic in “Black Christmas” and directed at least three other films that are of keen interest to horror fans.
Alternately known as Dead of Night (which often leaves it confused with the classic horror anthology film), “Deathdream” is a Vietnam War-era retelling of the classic tale “The Monkey’s Paw”: a young man who died in Vietnam is wished back to life by his parents, but the results are more horrifying than they could imagine. Directed by Clark and written by Alan Ormsby, who would work with him again on “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things” and then move on in his career to have an eclectic resume of his own, from “Popcorn” to “The Substitute” to Disney’s “Mulan”.
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Another film from Clark and writer Ormsby (who also plays the deranged theater troupe director), this film is a super-black comedy about actors enacting a ritual in a graveyard, and coming to regret their actions when the dead rise to get revenge. Though comedic, the influence of “Night of the Living Dead” can be felt throughout, from the slow buildup to the third act massacre, and Clark’s directorial skill is already on display.
Coming five years after he directed “Black Christmas” and three years before his career trajectory change with “Porky’s”, Clark directed this fascinating mash-up of historical horror and fictional mystery. “Murder By Decree” tells the story of Sherlock Holmes investigating the Jack the Ripper murders, only to discover that Jack has friends who are keeping his secrets. One can only imagine that comic book writer Alan Moore was influenced by this film, having later written “From Hell”, also about the Jack the Ripper murders, and also “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, another story that took historical fact and mixed it with well-known fictional characters. With the renewed interest in all things Sherlock Holmes, this is a film that deserves to be re-released and brought to the attention of a new generation of viewers.