It’s not a fair assessment, but Bob Clark will probably be remembered as a schlocky director who somehow managed to make one perfect film. Clark (who died Wednesday at 67, along with his 22-year-old son, in a car crash apparently caused by a drunk driver) made the immortal A Christmas Story (pictured), but he also made the Porky’s and Baby Geniuses movies, as well as such Razzie-worthy films as Rhinestone, Turk 182!, From the Hip, and Loose Cannons. Still, Clark’s early career (from horror and suspense films to, yes, Porky’s) was one of surprisingly influential work that’s ripe for rediscovery.
Clark’s early career in low-budget horror yielded some pioneering work, including 1974’s Black Christmas, which was a precursor to John Carpenter’s similarly holiday-themed Halloween and thus a launchpad for the entire teen-slasher genre. There was also the unjustly forgotten Murder by Decree (1979), a thriller that pitted Sherlock Holmes against Jack the Ripper.
And then there was Porky’s (1982), which is a better movie than its reputation as the template for countless drooling teen sex comedies suggests. For one thing, despite the relentless, desperate libidos of its pack of sexually frustrated high school guys, the film didn’t really have that much raunch; it was more a period coming-of-age comedy (Inspired by Clark’s own adolescence in 1950s Florida) of the sort Clark would perfect in Christmas Story. Behind all the heavy breathing and shower-peeping, there was actually a subtle but trenchant critique of the casual bigotry of the story’s time and place. Not that anyone noticed (certainly not the film’s pandering and witless imitators, which kept the sex and slapstick but dropped the social criticism), though Clark claimed in interviews that the movie had such highbrow admirers as Arthur Miller, David Mamet, and Norman Mailer.
addCredit(“A Christmas Story: Everett Collection”)
Still, none of Clark’s journeyman work explains the miraculous anomaly of A Christmas Story.Sure, credit belongs to Jean Shepherd for adapting and narrating hismemoir, and to Peter Billingsley (second from left) and the rest of theimpeccably-cast actors, but give Clark his due for maintaining themovie’s tricky tone, an unsentimental, child’s-eye view of the holidayseason that balanced wonderment and selfishness. It was magic thatClark could not capture again, neither in the movie’s deservedlyforgotten 1994 sequel nor in any other film for the rest of his career.
Clark’s career came full circle with a return to his horror roots. He gave his blessing to last year’s remake of Black Christmas, and he planned his own remake of his early zombie flick Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. Who knows if, given more time, he could have reanimated his career? He probably was never going to make another Christmas Story or even another Porky’s, but he might have finally gotten some respect for his place in movie history.