Thoughts on… Black Christmas (1974)

Black Christmas, 1974.

Directed by Bob Clark.
Starring Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, and John Saxon.


SYNOPSIS:

A group of girls are murdered one-by-one during Christmas break.


Christmas time – it always brings out the worst in people. For evidence, look no further than the surprisingly high amount of festive-themed horrors, which includes the memorable Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) alongside a plethora of films that barely merit a mention, and of course Black Christmas. Often considered as helping to spawn the wildly popular slasher craze (although credit also belongs to Psycho [1960] and the Italian giallo genre), Black Christmas is an enjoyably dark horror film.

Set during the holiday season, the inhabitants of a sorority house find themselves the target of a mysterious caller who moans and mutters obscenities down the phone. The girls are mostly frightened by this, although Barb (a pre-Superman [1978] Margot Kidder) delivers some witty retorts which serve to anger the caller further. As is pretty standard fare for slasher movies, over the next couple of days the girls find themselves being brutally murdered one by one. But who is the mysterious man on the other end of the phone, and perhaps more importantly, where is he calling from?

The girls are all fairly likeable, although characterisation is minimal. Jess (Olivia Hussey) emerges as the lead despite Barb taking control of most scenes she’s in, but the dynamic between the group of girls is an interesting one, especially when faced with impending death. As the mystery builds the girls are forced to turn to the police for assistance, with Lt. Fuller (John Saxon) taking on the case. The film is keen to keep the story in focus, and there are only one or two somewhat questionable minor performances that distract.

Director Bob Clark expertly creates suspense without relying on cheap scares and gore. Evidently working with a low budget, Black Christmas maintains an atmosphere of dread by refusing to reveal the identity of the killer. The Christmas setting provides an interesting juxtaposition to the dark subject matter, and is thankfully never overbearing. Certain tropes that became expected of the slasher genre are present here, although the final girl is far more progressive and interesting than usual. Black Christmas is an important film with an influence that can still be felt in horror cinema today, but the basic story structure has been replicated and to much better effect by several slasher films since.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★

Liam Underwood

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