Title: Black Christmas
Release: October 11th, 1974
Director: Bob Clark
Writer(s): A Roy Moore
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon
*Warning, this review may contain spoilers.
Christmas is often the time of the year filled with cheer among family and friends, not the time for blood to be spilled on the snow. Even if we can’t stand our families and may want to take them out of our lives for a spell, we can always reconnect. There are very few films that actually pull off a balance between this wondrous snowy aesthetic and dreary horror to this degree. Are you having a Black Christmas this year? Or will your holidays be filled to the brim with laughter and festivities?
Set in the mid-1970s, Black Christmas tells the story of a group of sorority girls who are busy having the typical college Christmas party, getting drunk and causing all kinds of playful chaos. A masked killer with no discerning qualities climbs into the attic, foreshadowing the fate of our heroines. A phone rings throughout the house, waiting for someone to answer. On the other end of the line, the mysterious man berates and harasses the women, until they snap back. Let the murder spree begin, and don’t hold back. It may be Christmas time, but we need some cherry snowcones for our satisfaction.
Slashers: Untold Origins
Now that I am older and wiser (at least I would say so), I’m intrigued by how much of an impact Black Christmas had on the rise of horror throughout the 70s. Hailed as one of the first successful slasher films, Black Christmas is easily the origination of many horror tropes still used in films today. The film most notably showcases the concept of the “man looking from afar”, confused and plotting his next move. The foundations of more well-known killers such as Jason, Freddy Krueger, and Leatherface can be found throughout the film, showcasing Black Christmas’s long-reaching influence. Even though we can actually identify those killers by name and their iconic characteristics, something about this killer is utterly terrifying.
When you think of a Christmas horror movie, you would often assume that you would fall into a world of campiness. However, the original Black Christmas is in the very sought after realm of actually being a scary holiday movie. The film thrives on dread, as it tweaks the rules of traditional slasher tropes and makes you question the killer’s next move. Once the killer makes his first kill, you start to genuinely worry for the remaining girls’ safety as they start to drop like flies. Unlike many horror films in the 70s, the characters are actually likable and aren’t like the casual throwaway cardboard cutouts.
While Nightmare on Elm Street may be considered the pioneer of the slasher genre and Friday the 13th popularized the genre, Black Christmas easily predates them both. While Black Christmas has clear roots in Italian horror, it quickly has become a North American classic. While the movie devolves into a classic whodunit stalking murder mystery, audiences expect to have a clear answer about which character is behind the brutal murders and why they choose to terrorize their victims. Black Christmas sets up a handful of possible characters that could be placed within the killer’s shoes, but an answer will not be given. Due to this ambiguity and lack of clear motive, the dread, and dreary atmosphere lead to an enhanced viewing experience.
Don’t Throw Them Away Just Yet
You know how I mentioned that the characters are actually, for the most part, likable? This is because Black Christmas slates a fantastically well-organized cast, with quite a few standouts. Olivia Hussey leads to main cast with excellent performance of the film’s main character Jess, embodying the character as if it was written specifically with Hussey in mind. While Hussey takes the brunt of the work, the supporting cast fills in the gaps with plenty of solid backing performances. John Saxon plays the standard pissed off cop expertly like a veteran, and Marian Waldman’s performance as the girls’ landlord lends to the film’s lighter moments.
To put is simply, while I praise the horror and atmospheric dread the thrives throughout the film, even Black Christmas has fantastic light moments. While the comedy isn’t always good-natured, it doesn’t derail the original horror concept/story and fills in the gaps. There are plenty of moments that are pure comedic gold, i.e. Walman’s landlady moisturizing with booze (she’s a severe alcoholic), albeit incredibly dark and fitting of the tone. If anything, Black Christmas is a classic example of horror and comedy going hand in hand. For a more modern take, look at the work of Jordan Peele in Us and Get Out.
So what do you think of Black Christmas? Have you only seen the new remakes and need to be convinced to check out the original? One of the most fantastic Christmas horror movies, Black Christmas is a must for those who need a little darkness and blood to litter their snowy holiday.
Thanks for reaching the end of the article! This piece is apart of our Modern Neon Christmas Bonanza, where we are looking at 25 of our favorite or well-known Christmas movies. So click through to see the previous and next movie, or go back to the home page to find your favorite movie!
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