I always want a little “Black Christmas”
The ultimate Cult-Christmas flick belongs to a movie that’s simply titled “Black Christmas” (1974). A low-budget Canadian effort that didn’t receive much fanfare when initially released; it has gained near immortal status among horror buffs ever since and for many viewers, like myself, it’s required viewing every holiday season.
Back in the day when I rented just about every horror title I could get my hands on I unexpectedly got hold of this film and have loved it ever since. It was so unnerving and, if memory serves, I can’t remember ever getting so excited over a horror movie ever since. “Black Christmas” may actually have spoiled all my future horror exposures simply because no matter how scared I was when seeing a new flick; I remember thinking to myself that I wasn’t as scared as when I watched “Black Christmas”.
Back in the day I wrote this:
A must see horror film
Predating “Halloween” (1978) and it’s countless clones in the stalk and slash genre, I have to say this movie really serves up the goods. Sure, to today’s audience it may seem a bit slow and dated but to the true fan, this is a masterpiece of the genre.
A madman hides in the attic of a sorority house, telephones the girls from upstairs and eventually starts killing some of them.
So many elements have been lifted from this film and utilized to great effect, think of “When A Stranger Calls” (1979), “Halloween”, “Scream” (1996) and countless sorority slashers to name a few, this movie has to be termed as somewhat of a ground-breaker. Filmed with a low budget, director Bob Clark relies solely on mood, lighting and atmosphere to give the film it’s edge. He succeeds brilliantly. Apart from a rather tedious 10-15 minute segment involving the housekeeper of the sorority the film absolutely keeps it’s tension filled grip on the viewer and doesn’t let go at all. I even found myself shouting at the tube, telling the girl “don’t do this, don’t go there”, and I can’t remember ever doing this before or after. Watching it alone (plus, it was at Christmas time) the film totally freaked me out.
Acting is way above average for a slasher flick. Olivia Hussey, besides being a total knockout, is very good in the lead role. Margot “Lois Lane” Kidder is a delight as the foul mouthed drunk, Keir Dullea is fairly creepy as Hussey’s not-so-sane boyfriend and genre favourite John Saxon is good as always.
For the most part, the humour goes down well also. One particularly funny scene involving a not so bright cop, but that seems to be a regular in Clark’s films.
If you’re a fan of horror films, it doesn’t get much better than this. Highly recommended.
- January 2004
This is a review I wrote and posted on IMDB some 14 years ago. Funny how little has changed. “Black Christmas” has been viewed religiously once a year ever since then and my opinion hasn’t changed that much. Today, though, I can’t think of how a 10-15 minute segment bugged me since today I find the film somewhat flawless. The comedy bits with Marian Waldman (as “Mrs. Mac”) as a booze hound who hides her bottles just about everywhere is a great addition as director Bob Clark cleverly inserted a little humour in his horror efforts (see also “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things” (1972) and “Deathdream” (1974) for further proof) and the bit with the cop, as mentioned in my earlier review, is priceless. Authority figures, be they sorority madams, cops or teachers get ridiculed in the hands of the late great Bob Clark.
The impact of “Black Christmas” on the slasher genre cannot be underestimated as it effectively laid the ground rules many others followed. The genre came to be known as a spiritual successor to the likes of “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955) in the sense that teenagers or young people (the ones usually preyed upon in these types of films) had to rely solely on themselves and not count on any support from parental figures or law officials. This is done effectively in “Black Christmas” as both the Law (personified by John Saxon) and Parents (personified by James Edmond, father of one of the victims who aids in the search for his daughter) are of no use. This would be the common trend until another horror maestro, Wes Craven, took the idea one step further and made both the Law and Parents directly responsible for their children’s demise in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984) – ironically both personified there by John Saxon.
But putting aside the film’s novelty and impact on the genre; “Black Christmas” is simply one of the most unnerving horror films ever made IMHO. By letting events take place on Christmas easily gives the film an aura of atmosphere and aided the filmmakers considerably as they were saddled with a low budget and simply the use of Christmas carols accompanied by horrific imagery helped deliver a disturbing experience for the viewer. The POW shots of the killer must have inspired the opening of John Carpenter’s classic “Halloween”. The mystery surrounding “Billy”, the killer, only adds to the film’s legacy and the fact that there’s no kind of closure does make the film quite unique as well.
When it comes to Christmas horror; “Black Christmas” has them all beat. It’s atmosphere and tension has yet to be matched, the villain is beyond creepy and all of this is superbly acted by a uniformly great cast; especially good here are Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder. As the rules for the genre were pretty much mapped out here there is a great distinction in one way; the lead heroine of the piece played by Hussey. While displaying all of the characteristics that the “Final Girl” of slasher films possesses she deviates from them in certain ways. Seasoned admirers of the film will know what I mean but that topic alone is essay worthy so I won’t go into it here. Regardless; the blue-print for the slasher is to be found here and not even “Halloween” topped this one.
It’s a shame that director Clark stopped making horror films after this and became a Jack-of-all-trades director with some obvious highlights (“Porky’s” and “A Christmas Story”) and some definite low points (“Baby Geniuses”, the first and second installments).
In the coming days I would like to share with you at least two other Christmas Cult flicks I had on my watch list this year. Which ones do you have that fit into this category?