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REMEMBERING BOB CLARK, 1941-2007

 

On the morning of April 4, 2007, movie director Bob Clark was killed, together with his son Ariel, when a drunk driver swerved into the lane in which the two were driving on CA’s Pacific Coast Highway in the Pacific Palisades.  Clark was 67 years old, his son 22.  The accident was a great loss to Hollywood, as Bob Clark was responsible for quite a few successful and influential films during his 35-year career, but also to the horror industry, for which Clark helmed at least one classic for the ages. 

     Bob Clark’s filmography included three masterworks of horror (DEATHDREAM and BLACK CHRISTMAS, both from 1974, and the same year’s Ed Gein-inspired DERANGED), along with a historical mystery (1979’s MURDER BY DECREE), many comedies (notably 1982’s PORKY’S, the prototype of the teen sex movie) and a few family films (in particular A CHRISTMAS STORY from 1983, a bonafide Yuletide classic).  Clark was, quite simply, an uncommonly talented filmmaker with a range that remains unmatched.  He also had a great eye for talent, having given early breaks to the likes of make-up artist Tom Savini, actresses Margot Kidder and Kim Cattrall, and onetime partner Alan Ormsby, with whom Clark studied theater at the University of Miami. 

     At the time of his death Clark was putting together a remake of his debut film, 1972’s no-budget NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD wannabe CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS.  That was hardly a great or even good movie, but Clark had some interesting ideas for the new CHILDREN, which he unveiled at last year’s Fangoria Weekend of Horrors in Burbank, CA.  There he was also given a richly deserved Lifetime Achievement award from Fango editor Anthony Timpone, an event I was fortunate enough to witness.   

     Horror was something Clark did particularly well, although the obituaries I’ve read have largely ignored that fact, focusing on more mainstream efforts like A CHRISTMAS STORY and the BABY GENIUSES flicks.  In my view, however, Clark’s finest work will always be the stunning BLACK CHRISTMAS, a chilling, suspenseful and innovative work (it was the first-ever horror film to use the popular killer-POV device) that has proven as influential to the horror genre as PORKY’S was to comedy.  DEATHDREAM is also quite fine, being a rare early seventies film unafraid to confront the fallout of the then-raging Vietnam War head-on, while DERANGED took an up-close-and-all-too-personal look at a the deeds of a serial killer long before such movies became popular.  For me, one of the regrets of Bob Clark’s career is that he didn’t do more in the genre--and that he died just as he was working to rectify that situation.  (Just days before his death Clark took part in an LA WEEKLY-instituted roundtable discussion with Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez to promote GRINDHOUSE, during which Clark engagingly recounted his early excursions in the horror/exploitation field.) 

     Mr. Clark admittedly made some seriously mediocre movies (TURK 182, FROM THE HIP, LOOSE CANNONS), and even a few outright clunkers (RHINESTONE, KARATE DOG, the aforementioned BABY GENIUSES abominations), but we can forgive those.  You’ll find numerous missteps, after all, in the filmographies of Ingmar Bergman, Robert Altman, Terry Gilliam and Martin Scorsese (have you tried sitting through NEW YORK, NEW YORK lately?).  No, Clark was never in the same league as those world renowned masters, but he was a skilled and assured craftsman who blazed trails in an increasingly timid industry, and created many unforgettable films.  

     Bob Clark & Ariel Hanrath-Clark, R.I.P.

 

--4/16/07
 


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