Christmas Eve is upon us, friends, and for the fourth of our “Five Days Of Christmas” holiday-themed horror film reviews, we offer my very own of one of the greatest (and my personal favorite!).
Ahh, Christmas Eve! I dunno what you Fellow Fans out there will be up to tonight; partying with family and friends, struggling to get little ones to sleep, or just sitting up waiting on Santa to make his way through your neighborhood. Whatever it is, I hope you enjoy yourself, and that it carries on through tomorrow! I myself typically enjoy an evening of family gathering, some visits from friends, and enjoyed some classic Christmas films like A Christmas Carol and Frosty the Snowman on this particular night…of course, once everyone is gone from my house and the midnight hour creeps ever near, I always partake of a little cinematic Christmas tradition of my own; one that only folks like us really appreciate…
Arguably the very first (and I would argue one of the best ) films of the genre that would become known as the “slasher flick”, director Bob Clark’s 1974 production Black Christmas is a film that was largely overlooked during its time, but has been vindicated by history (and horror aficionados), being now recognized as a true classic.
It’s Christmas time, and the girls of the Pi Kappa Sig sorority are having their holiday bash before they part ways for the holiday break; some boyfriends, some booze…all in all a typical college get-together sharing in the festive season. Amongst all the joy however, there’s always some inconsiderate bozo that wants to get his jollies at the expense of the young women, right? It seems there have been some strange, obscene phone calls made to the sorority house, but as they progress, they become more disturbing, more threatening…more frightening. Brushing it off, the girls prepare for their individual departures in the morning (those that aren’t hanging around for the holiday)…however, the next morning, Claire fails to meet her father as she had promised to do. This begins a search for her by her father, friends, and the local police…but there’s more afoot than a wayward student; the body of a missing child is found brutally murdered in the park near campus.
Fearful residents begin to barricade themselves indoors for the usually festive time, and armed search parties roam the grounds searching for a brutal killer. Thinking there may be some connection between the murder, Claire’s disappearance, and the strange phone calls to the Pi Kappa Sig house, detectives tap the phone; they hope to trace the caller…but what they discover is more terrifying than any of them could have imagined…
This film has a particular place in my favorites list for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it’s genuinely scary. Director Bob Clark did a masterful job of using shadow and things you couldn’t quite see to develop the narrative, fostering palpable suspense that keeps you leaning into the screen while you watch. The brilliant (and for the time, most innovative) cinematography on the parts of DP Reginald Morris and cameraman Bert Dunk created what still hold up as some of the most sinister POV shots committed to film. Using a rig to mount the camera to his shoulder, Dunk was able to really put us in the killer’s shoes, not just lurking down hallways, but climbing trellises, sneaking into bedrooms, and even having some psychotic freak-out moments that were quite disturbing. The acting was top-notch, with a lot of faces that would go on to become quite familiar to movie-goers, including the lovely Olivia Hussey, the sassy Margot Kidder, and comedic favorite Andrea Martin. These three weren’t the only names you’ll recognize, however; favorite John Saxon took a turn as the insightful police detective, and Art Hindle had a early role as one of the boyfriends.
Speaking of boyfriends, Keir Dullea brings out a convincing and pivotal performance as the jilted beau of Olivia Hussey’s Jess; I won’t go into detail, but there’s a lot going on with that couple that could potentially be deadly. Special effects were kept minimal, but they worked; the telephone calls were deeply chilling with their multi-layered vocals and frightening intonations. Visually, you didn’t see much; but what you did see, coupled with the harrowing phone calls, that mounting suspense I mentioned, and the general feeling of wrongness that the clever script and direction fostered, made for a scary and psychologically disturbing film.
Like later films that it obviously inspired (most particularly, Carpenter’s Halloween has several moments that seem as if they were inspired by Black Christmas ), the real beauty of this flick is the lack of background you get regarding the killer; there’s no rhyme nor reason to his rampage; it simply is. Just as his reasoning is unexplained, the identity of the vicious psychopath is shrouded in shadow as well; although there are several possibilities that will come to you during the runtime, whether or not there is an actual solution to that question is one that I, like Bob Clark, will leave for you to decide.
I’ve watched a lot of Christmas horror films, folks; a lot of them I’ve seen in the past, a lot I’ve sought out recently, in the spirit of the holidays (heh-heh); I’ve enjoyed some more than others. Still, I have to count Black Christmas as my very favorite Yuletide-themed scare-flick, and it rides high on my list of horror films, period.
It’s an effective psychological thriller combined with the elements that would later become staples of the hack ‘n’ slash, but it wrapped it all together with a real sense of menace and some wonderful performances. Despite it’s being forty years old, it still holds up with the best of them, and other than the clothes, the telephone technology, and the wallpaper, it doesn’t really feel dated at all.
Most of all, it’s actually scary…and that’s good enough for me.
Merry Christmas to all you Fellow Fans out there; I sincerely and whole-heartedly wish you and yours the very best!
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