DIRECTOR: Bob Clark
WRITER: Roy Moore
It's coming into Christmas break, and the sorority sisters are making plans for their holiday. While having a party at their sorority house, they start to receive perverse and creepy anonymous phone calls. When one of their own sorority sisters ends up disappearing, they call the local police who don't show that much concern for her or her vanishing. They only start taking matters seriously when the body of a young girl is found murdered in a local park not too far from the sorority house.
I remember being roughly fifteen years old when I saw the original Black Christmas. At the time, I was still a massive fan of the Scream series and riding high on my love of the nineties and early naughties slasher movies. I hadn't yet fully matured enough to really enjoy and appreciate movies like the original Black Christmas. I think on my original watch of the film, I found it slow and somewhat dull. So I put it on the shelf and didn't watch it for another fifteen years.
Doing this slasher retrospective, I finally made it to 1974 and decided to give what a few horror cinephiles would consider the original slasher movie, a re-watch. I decided it was time to revisit the original Black Christmas. It's been such a long time since I'd last seen the film, I had completely forgotten just about everything I witnessed in the movie. Now at the age of thirty and seeing it with what felt like fresh eyes, I found that on a second viewing, I enjoyed this film much more the second time around.
Black Christmas starts off almost immediately. We are thrown right into the thick of things. This is a movie that doesn't take much time in getting into the creepy factor. The sorority house is having their annual Christmas break party. The sorority sisters are all enjoying a drink and a chat with their partners. This is when we get a taste of their first anonymous call. We are informed that this isn't the first time that they've received these type of calls. I was shocked at how perverted some of the things the killer says to the girls, especially being that the movie set in the early seventies.
One of the most significant elements that I really enjoyed in Black Christmas is that whenever the killer is on screen, it is shot from the killer's point of view. The filming technique that was made infamous in Peeping Tom but most horror fans will probably know it from John Carpenter's masterpiece Halloween. I'll never get tired of watching these seventies slashers that use this technique as a way of creeping out the entire audience. This may be blasphemous, but I think it is a lot more effective in Black Christmas than it was in Halloween.
I think from the first phone call right up until the final showdown between Jess and the killer, this movie is extremely creepy and compelling. As one of the first films to feature a killer calling their victims and also stalking them with the eventual "the call is coming from inside the house" reveal, this is undoubtedly the more intense of the lot when compared to movies like Fright and When A Stranger Calls. I think that final realisation from the police officers perspective made the hairs on my neck stand up. A very creepy scene.
Another subplot that I thought was handled well in Black Christmas is the pregnancy and abortion storyline. I can only imagine the controversy this would've caused with the pro-life groups at the time. Being that Jess was the one that wanted to abort the baby and her boyfriend was the one wanting to keep it and was the most affected by her choice. While we never find out if she goes through with the abortion, it gives the film this other element on top of the stalk and slash and psychological component.
Where Black Christmas does go wrong for me is that the film sort of has moments that make me question the intelligence of the police officers and even some of the characters. Early on, one of the sorority sisters is killed off. Her father comes to pick her up the next day, and none of the police officers even thinks to search the entire sorority house? Her body sits in the attic, right by the front attic window and no one directly looks up and see's her suffocated corpse lying there? I always find it weird when someone goes missing, they never check the residence before they decide to spread out with a search party.
When it comes to the acting in the movie, I loved the performances. I thought Olivia Hussey as Jess was fantastic. I loved that she was incredibly tough and even with the abortion storyline, she was the one wanting to go through it. A powerful final girl. The only thing that annoyed me was that whenever she answered the phone, she screams into the receiver which I thought was very weird. Margot Kidder as the bitchy sorority sister was fantastic. I loved her one-liners that she delivered. The last role that I liked was Marian Waldman as Mrs Mac. The booze swigging house mother was hilarious. It gave this dark film a sense of levity.
Lastly, when it comes to the gore and bloodshed, Black Christmas is pretty restrained with the red stuff. This is all about mood and tension. The movie does have one pretty bloody death that involves a major character and a glass unicorn. I thought this scene was the highlight when it came to the kills. I think where the movie lacks in the gore department, it makes up for with substantial amounts of suspense and tension. More often than not, this is a successfully eerie little slasher film.
DEATH TOLL: 6
BLOOD AND GORE:
- A woman is suffocated with a plastic bag.
- Someone gets a hook winch to the neck.
- A child is found murdered in the park.
- Someone is repeatedly stabbed with a glass unicorn.
- A woman is killed off-screen.
- Someone has their throat sliced.
Going into Black Christmas, I was a little concerned. The last time I had watched the movie, I was a teenager and wasn't a big fan of the film. Fifteen years later, going in with what felt like fresh eyes, I thoroughly enjoyed it on a second viewing. Some silly character decisions can't sink this extraordinarily creepy and nerve-shredding slasher film. Clever uses of the killer POV, some extremely eerie and perverted phone calls, strong female characters and a neat little reveal at the end are the reason that Black Christmas has held up as a horror masterpiece.