Black Christmas (1974)
Director: Bob Clark
Starring: Olivia Hussey, John Saxon, Margot Kidder
As you are all well aware by now I love horror movies, and since it is now December I thought we'd take a look at one of the best christmas themed horror flicks of all time! Not only is tonight's film a classic but it is also one of my own personal favorites of the genre. Because of this fact, this isn't quite a normal review, but rather me trying to explain why I love this movie so much. A side effect of this is I have to warn you there are some minor spoilers ahead. Ready? Okay! So without further flim-flam lets dive right in!
The plot is deceptively simple: it follows a group of sorority girls during their Christmas break who are being terrorized by and unknown assailant in their sorority house. The real fun comes from the twists and turns along the way and the "who done it" nature of the film which keeps you guessing the killers identity up to the final frames.
In 1978 John Carpenter's immortal classic Halloween ushered the "slasher" sub-gere into the spotlight. The sub-genre was extremely successful for most of the early to mid 1980's, but you may have noticed up above Black Christmas was released in 1974. Thats a full four years before Halloween! You may be asking yourself "why is that important?'. Well its very simple. You see even though you can trace the influences for the sub-genre back to 1960's Peeping Tom and Hitchcock's masterpiece Psycho, the "standard" slasher film followed a simple set of rules that Black Christmas pioneered!
Rule #1: The main characters are always a group of teens or young adults who usually indulge in sex, drugs, and alcohol.
Rule #2: They do so in a secluded and/or isolated location.
Rule #3: A masked or rarely seen assailant who kills the group in various and often elaborate ways.
Rule #4: A "final girl" that abstains from the aforementioned sex, drugs, and alcohol. She often ends up besting, but not always killing, the assailant.
Now not only does Black Christmas pioneer these rules, it also shows the influence of "Tom" and "Psycho", in adopting the "first person" camera perspective used in those films to put the audience in the killers shoes. Another notable entry into the sub-genre was 1979's When A Stranger Calls, which followed a baby sitter in a remote house receiving increasingly threatening phone calls. It coined the memorable phrase "The calls are coming from inside the house!". Or did it? Thats right folks, Black Christmas did it five years beforehand! Now all this trail blazing means nothing if the rest of the film is no good.
As you may have guessed by now though all the elements of this film work to perfection. The cast all compliment and play off each other exquisitely and theres not a bad performance to be had from the lot. My own personal favorite character is the girls' hilarious and perpetually drunk "house mother" Mrs. Mac. The killings are all largely bloodless, which lends the film a more psychological thriller feeling then your average "slasher" gore-fest. As far as direction goes, that is another interesting anecdote. You may have read up above that Bob Clark helmed this feature and if his name sounds familiar that is because he would later go on to direct yet another christmas movie classic: 1983's A Christmas Story! All of this combined adds up, in my opinion, to not just a great "slasher", but one of the best horror films ever made. So if you're looking for something a little more offbeat for this years holiday movie viewing I suggest you start right here!
Fun Facts from IMDB for Black Christmas:
In 1986, Olivia Hussey met producers for the film Roxanne (1987), since they were interested in casting her for the title role. Roxanne co-star Steve Martin met her and said "Oh my God, Olivia, you were in one of my all time favorite films." Thinking it was Romeo and Juliet (1968), Olivia was surprised to find out it was actually Black Christmas (1974). Martin claimed he had seen it around 27 times.
According to director Bob Clark, there were three voices used for the frightening phone calls, including actor Nick Mancuso, an unnamed actress, and himself. During a FanExpo panel in 2014 Nick Mancuso said that the actress was probably Ann Sweeny though he was not entirely sure as the film came out 40 years prior and could not remember properly.
When NBC showed the film during prime time (under the title "Stranger in the House"), it was deemed 'too scary' for network television and was pulled off the air.
The original title of the films script was "Stop Me". It was director Bob Clark who came up with the title "Black Christmas" saying that he liked the irony of something dark occurring during such a festive holiday.
Well that wraps up this first experiment for my "Favorite" series. Look for more of these in the future but as always thanks for reading and I'll see you next time!
P.s. A remake was released in 2005 and while it features none of the subtlety or class of the original I get a strange kick out of it. Worth a watch only for the curious or die hard slasher fan.