“The sort of Christmas you don’t dream of” – Black Christmas (1974) tagline
The time has come for holiday-themed spooky stuff, and I knew the perfect one to review: Black Christmas (1974). Black Christmas is a movie I probably never would have heard of without the community I have found in writing this blog. It even made the list of my Top 10 Scariest Movies after only watching it once. Check out the linked post to find out why (spoilers)!
Important fun fact: Bob Clark, the director, also directed A Christmas Story (1983). So, yeah…respect that range.
The movie begins as many Christmas movies do: a nighttime shot of a house covered with Christmas lights and carols playing. Following the opening credits, the mood shifts drastically. The perspective shifts to a point-of-view shot of someone approaching the house and breathing heavily in the dark. The view looks through the first-floor windows at the gathering inside. The figure climbs a trellis on the side of the house. The window to the attic is unlocked, and the intruder enters. Downstairs, the housemates (a sorority) celebrate the end of the semester before heading home for the holidays. The house starts receiving obscene calls on the house phone from a male caller. The protagonist, Jess (Olivia Hussey), answers the phone each time and tries to get the caller to stop. The calls continue throughout the movie (the caller is identified as “Billy”). The calls become more violent and angry, and eventually other voices appear on the line (these voices are screaming for help).
When a father shows up at the house the next day to take his daughter home, it becomes clear that she has gone missing overnight. The women in the house grow panicked when their friend remains missing and their house mother (Marian Waldman) also disappears. Jess goes through a separate, personal conflict during this time; in some of the calls, the killer says things to her that no one else would know. The camera cuts to the attic where Billy is hiding throughout the film. He has not only brutally murdered the missing women, but he has also manipulated and displayed their bodies in disturbing tableaux. While Jess struggles to locate the caller, the police are now juggling multiple cases related to the sorority. The presence lurking in the house looms closer with each scene, and more horrors occur just out of the characters’ sights.
Watching this movie a second time, I have decided Jess is one of my favorite slasher film heroines. Not only is she brave in the face of a threat to herself and her housemates, but she is also a symbol of independence and reproductive freedom in the movie. She learns she is pregnant and tells her boyfriend that she wants to get an abortion. When he demands that they get married and warns her not to get the abortion, she stands her ground and refuses to back down on her choice. Given that Roe V. Wade was made into law just the year previous to Black Christmas‘s release, it does not surprise me that this subject was present in this movie about young college women.
Black Christmas was released a few years before Halloween by John Carpenter, and many aspects of the former are comparable to the latter. The 1970s were the birth of the slasher subgenre that we still enjoy today, and this movie demonstrates what makes these slasher films so impactful and timeless. On top of that, the cozy holiday atmosphere provides a gorgeous juxtaposition (even if those 1970s Christmas lights look like they could burst into flame at any moment). Movies like Black Christmas allow horror fans to indulge in some of our favorite movie tropes while also enjoying a holiday film. Overall, it’s just a good time (not for the characters, but for us at least).
Until next time,