From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
In 1974, the world of horror hadn't seen a film quite as daring and unique as Bob Clark's cult masterpiece Black Christmas. 30 years after its initial release (which was pretty dissapointing at the time), it has gained a huge cult following and has shown to be a true precursor to the entire 80s slasher genre. This film influenced films like John Carpenter's Halloween, the Friday The 13th series and the A Nightmare on Elm Street films. Black Christmas is essentially the first actual all out "slasher" film, (influenced largely by Italian giallo cinema) and it was the innovator that introduced the killer's Point of View shot (see the opening of John Carpenter's Halloween for another example). This way the audience not only felt the horror of the violent attacks by the killer, they saw them though the attackers own eyes.
Black Christmas takes place around a sorority house (the film was shot around Toronto Canada). The house itself has a creepy look in its architecture which only adds to the mysterious aura. At the film's opening we see a Xmas house party going on and quickly we realize that we arent alone, the mysterious killer is the one watching from outside and we see this through his eyes. In the first really great POV shot of the movie, we see the killer climbing up the side of the house and into the attic.
One of the young pledges is Clare (Lynn Griffin). She hears a noise in her bedroom closet. It sounds like the house cat meowing, but when she goes to inspect it, the killer takes a plastic clothes bag and wraps it around her head and strangles her. Then he drags her up into the attic and puts her in a rocking chair. The camera shot of Clare with the plastic wrap over her face is the most iconic image from the film.
Meanwhile downstairs, Barb (Margot Kidder) one of the older girls in the house is drinking and rambling on. She's sort of the wild child of the movie. She's very loud and is mostly drunk through the entire film adding a comedic touch. The other form of comedy relief is the sorority's headmistress named Mrs Mac (Marian Waldman). Mrs Mac also loves to drink and throughout the film we see her secret booze stashes all over the house including in the toilet tank. She also uses lots of colorful language which is fun.
One of the creepiest things in the film are the obscene phone calls the girls receive. After this film was released there were many horror/thriller films that used the "obscene phone caller" plot device as well. It really spawned its own subgenre in the horror ouvre. With Black Christmas' calls theres some very graphic language used and when you hear how it's done, it will make you uneasy. This only adds to the unique creepiness of the film.
After Clare goes missing, the girls goto the police station and file a missing person report with the sargent. While there, the local police chief Lt Fuller (John Saxon) begins working on the case. Note: Saxon actually replaced veteran actor Edmond O'Brien who was originally cast as Fuller but had to be let go from the role due to his increasing Alzheimers disease.
The English girl Jess (Olivia Hussey) is the most elegant and beautiful in the film. She is the conscience of the film, while everyone else is running around, Jess is trying to deal with the goings on. Jess' boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea) is an aspiring concert pianist and one night during a recital, he goes bezerk and smashes his piano after the recital gets a bad review from the audience. One thing Director Bob Clark does is allude that Peter may in fact be the psycho killer, but you really don't know for sure. The killer's body shape is very much the same as Peter's.
When the police finally trace the phone calls, they find out that the killer has been calling from inside the sorority house. Lt Fuller calls Jess and tells her to get out, but Jess goes looking for others who might be still upstairs. She opens the door to Barb's room and sees two dead bodies and then we see the killer's eye behind the closet door and hear his bizarre rambling. This is really all we see of his face in the entire film. The killer chases Jess around the top floor then she runs down into the basement, locks herself in and waits to see what the killer does.
Outside the police hear a loud scream and they rush inside and break down the basement door. They see Jess lying with Peter (who's dead) and we slowly we see she's alive. As Lt Fuller and the other police leave the house, we see Barb sleeping after her terrifying ordeal. The camera pans around the top floor of the house and slowly moves to the attic door, where we see a light flickering, and the sounds of someone talking. We see the unfound dead bodies, and then the phone begins to ring.
Director Bob Clark (who later went on to direct comedies like Porky's and Police Academy) was at his best with Black Christmas. The way the film was laid out and executed was totally original and groundbreaking for its time. This film really set the standard for all the popular slasher films that followed. It was very much in the tradition of Hitchcock since the horror comes from the audiences own psyches. Another thing that was great, was the comedic flourishes. There's several really funny scenes in the film in between the killings and other craziness going on. It makes the film flow even better. Blood and gore is virtually not even shown save for a couple quick shots. The use of visual imagery, sound and acting is what makes this film a classic work of horror cinema.
- This review is dedicated to the memory of Bob Clark -
Peter Roberts is the co-founder/editor-in-chief of the Grindhouse Cinema Database (GCDb) and contributor to the GCDb's sister site Furious Cinema. A Massachusetts native, he is an avid film fan that has been immersed in the world of entertainment and pop culture his entire life. He is currently majoring in Communications and Interactive Media Design.