Black Christmas (1974)
What’s It About: No, it isn’t Schlocktoberfest kiddies, it is in fact Christmastime and the horror genre knows no boundaries or taboos when it comes to the theme of the fright. There are a ton of Christmas themed horror flicks and some worth seeing. Black Christmas is one of them.
Before I begin my lengthy synopsis I want to point out that this film was directed by Bob Clark who most of you know is the director of another Christmas classic—A Christmas Story, which since 1997 has been shown for 24-hours straight on TNT. So the fella knows his Yuletide. Both the light side and the dark side.
So the film begins at a college campus and we’re focused on one of the sorority houses on the eve of Christmas break. The girls are having a little Christmas party, meanwhile an unseen figure (we’re seeing through “his” POV) walks over to the house and climbs the trellis and enters the attic. Moments later the phone rings and one of the girls, Jess (Olivia Hussey) answers it and we hear one of, if not the most, obscene phone calls in film history. It’s mostly of a sexual nature which leaves all the girls listening in on the call stunned and appalled. Another girl, Barb (Margot Kidder), who is, shall we say, more outspoken than the rest of the girls provokes and taunts the creep on the other line. He leaves them with the final words: “I’m going to kill you.” A milder and meeker girl, Clare is shaken up by the call and by Barb’s actions and rushes upstairs to finish packing for the break.
While Clare packs up she notices something moving in her closet. When she investigates she is attacked and suffocated by a plastic clothing bag until she dies. The body is then quietly moved by the killer to the attic and placed by the window sitting on a rocking chair with the plastic bag still over her head with the depression of the bag still sucked in her open mouth.
The next day, Clare’s dad is looking for his daughter, whom he was supposed to pick up at the college to drive home for the holidays. He meets the girls in her sorority and asks for help finding Clare. He, Barb and another sister, Phyllis (Andrea Martin) go to the police station to file a report. Meanwhile, Jess meets with her boyfriend, neurotic pianist Peter (Keir Dullea) to tell him she is pregnant but seeking an abortion to which Peter is upset with her decision. At the police station Barb, Phyl and Clare’s dad file the report with Sgt. Nash who dismisses Clare’s disappearance as foul-play but her probably hiding out with a boyfriend. Later on, Jess tells Clare’s boyfriend Chris about the situation and about Nash’s attitude they again all rush to the station to confront Nash and talk with Lt. Fuller (John Saxon) instead. There they learn that another girl is reported missing on campus.
Soon after, Clare’s dad and some other girls as well as the police and the other missing girl’s mother conduct a search party for clues or anything related to the disappearances. Back at the sorority house, the kooky and alcoholic housemother hears noises in the attic and decides to investigate. There she finds Clare’s body on the rocking chair but the killer has set a trap for the old lady and lunges a heavy hook into her face. Why there’s a hook in a sorority house attic is debatable but its a nicely done kill scene nonetheless.
The search party eventually finds the other missing girl which they ascertain was murdered. When Jess returns to the house she receives another obscene phone call. She then alerts the police about the calls. Peter still distressed about Jess’ decision to have the abortion confronts her at the house. Jess is unwavering in her decision and Peter leaves more frustrated and hurt when Fuller and a technician arrive to bug Jess’ phone. Fuller also stations a squad car outside the house just in case.
A very drunken Barb makes a fool of herself in front of Clare’s father and Phyl and is sent up to bed to sleep it off. Moments later as Jess enjoys some carolers at the front door, the killer enters Barb’s room and repeatedly stabs her with a glass unicorn tchotchke. This scene works incredibly well as the murder is juxtaposed with the carolers singing O Come O Ye Faithful. Jess receives another obscene call that references some of her argument with Peter earlier. Unfortunately the call length was too short to make a trace. Phyl goes to Barb’s room to check on her and is attacked offscreen.
More lewd calls from the killer come in and Jess manages to keep the killer on the phone long enough to make the trace. Fuller is informed that the calls are coming from inside the house!! Fuller tells the dimwitted Nash to politely and calmly get Jess out of the house without telling her that the killer is in the house. Jess is not that cooperative with Nash and Nash is forced to tell her the origin of the calls. Instead of leaving right away, Jess tries to call for Phyl and Barb, who unbeknownst to her are already dead. She arms herself with a fireplace poker and goes upstairs to Barb’s room. There the killer attacks her and chases her down to the basement, where Jess successfully locks herself safely. While in the basement, Jess sees Peter at one of the cellar door’s windows. Peter breaks the window to enter the basement. Fuller arrives on the scene and finds the cop stationed in the squad car has been killed. When the police find Jess alive in the basement they also find a very dead Peter, bludgeoned to death by Jess.
The police are satisfied with Peter being the caller and killer and leave Jess to rest in her bed. They also mention that Clare’s body is still missing. Once the bulk of police leave the house the phone starts to ring again. We then see the bodies of Clare and the housemother still in the attic. We also hear the same obscene voice that was calling the house. The phone is still ringing as the end credits roll.
Is It Actually Jolly: Only if you’re an obscene, misogynist, psychotic rapist/killer. The tone of the film is highly creepy and frightening. We never see the killer, save for a close-up of his eye and his voice is actually three voices together to make a very unnerving experience listening to it. While outside the house is snowy with festive lights and Christmas trees, the remaining girls are quietly and slowly terrorized. While most “slasher” films are formulaic with most victims dying in over-the-top and graphic ways, in this film we barely see the kills and it’s stylized in a very frightening way.
Jolliest Moment: We’re definitely barking up the wrong tree here but the funniest moment is when the imbecile naive Nash is given the phone number to the house by Barb as having the exchange prefix of “Fellatio” and Fuller having to school him that he’s been had.
Dumbest Moment: Truth be told even for a Christmas horror slasher film this is one decent film and not too much to nitpick. In fact, it’s one of the better slasher films I’ve ever seen. It is downright creepy and a fun thriller to watch despite its age. If I had to pick a dumb moment it would have to be Jess not leaving the house right away but I suppose I would try to get my friends out too. But if my friends don’t come down or answer me in one minute I’d bolt.
Overall: Coming from the same director as the still hysterical and iconic A Christmas Story, I find it hilarious most people do not know about this slasher gem. Speaking of slasher it’s worth noting that this film predates John Carpenter’s Halloween by a good 4 years making it more-or-less the first modern slasher film, again overshadowed somehow by Michael Myers and the rest of the slasher clones. It also predates When a Stranger Calls for the “calls are coming from inside the house” bit. Truth be told I haven’t heard of the movie until a few years back so somehow it’s been obscured and now a cult classic. It’s finely acted, paced, styled and effective in its thrills and chills. It’s a great counterpart to the other holly jolly Christmas films.Score: 8 (out of ten)