Benjamin “Bob” Clark was the one who got away.
In a two-year span, Clark directed Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, Dead of Night and Black Christmas. For those keeping track at home, those are three titles that are roundly considered must-see-TV for horror buffs. This was a man who was doing things before (and arguably better) than counterparts named Craven, Carpenter and Hooper. Clark achieved massive success in the genre up north, in Canada, with his fright flicks that won big on small budgets. Clark was a hot name in the industry and someone who was fully expected to become one of the genre’s giants.
Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things doesn’t just have one of the best titles in horror flick history, it is packed with some of the inkiest black comedy to ever grace a gore film. When a group of theater students get together and decide to dig up a corpse to use in a mock Satanic ritual, the consequences are (gasp!) deadly. It’s a cult favorite to this day and one that any self-respecting horror aficionado should be well-versed with.
Dead of Night (aka Deathdream) is a Vietnam War-era version of The Monkey’s Paw, complete with one of the starring figures of my childhood nightmare fuel. Don’t believe me? Try not having this cretin ruin your sleep tonight..
Clark’s defining picture, of course, is the ultimate classic Black Christmas. During their Christmas break, a group of sorority girls are stalked by a stranger. What makes this film so deliciously terrifying is the lack of back story for the intruder. Clark doesn’t even try to give the villain a reason for being a psychopath. You thought Michael Myers was mysterious? Check out this flick, which has been considered an earlier version of Halloween although Clark himself laughed that off and states he didn’t see the two as cinematic step-siblings. There aren’t many films that can stand the test of time when it comes to goosebump-inducing sequences, but this one does it. And it does it a few times, actually. The film is rightfully considered one of the finest horror films ever, and a pioneer of the slasher genre.
His horror films were downright brilliant. Grimy, real, intense. As a film fan, you can tell that Clark gets it, and that goes a long way with audiences.
Then, of the twenty-four directing credits leading up to his final film in 2005, Clark directed zero horror films. He did, however, serve as an uncredited producer on 1991’s Popcorn.
The man is far more remembered for directing Porky’s, A Christmas Story and kid favorites Baby Geniuses, Baby Geniuses 2 (props to him for going to that well twice) and an episode of the TV series Fudge. Man, imagine if Baby Geniuses 2 was actually a prequel to Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. Cinematic gold!
So what happened? Why did our beloved genre lose such an innovative and exciting filmmaker so early in a blossoming career?
The answer, while disheartening, seems to be very simple- horror was the stepping stone to bigger and better things (you know, like proper budgets and commercial success) and Clark simply didn’t have time to look back. Make no mistake, though- Clark never bad-mouthed the genre or turned his back on those three early films. In fact, Clark, at one point, was working on a remake of Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things but the project never saw the light of day.
Sadly, Mr. Clark was killed in a car accident in 2007, along with his 22-year old son, when a drunk driver hit his vehicle head on. While Clark saw other works of his achieve monumental success that his horror films never reached, he will always be revered for the trio of terror titles that deserve a place in anyone’s horror library.