Black Christmas (1974)
I’m home now for winter break and my dad and I decided to get into the holiday spirit with a light, family-friendly Christmas movie. Then we realized that’s not us, threw Frosty out the window, and popped in Black Christmas. And what a treat this was.
I had never seen Black Christmas before and I had expected a crappy b-horror, I’m not sure why, maybe it was just the title or maybe it was based on my dad’s track record with movies. I was totally wrong about it, this is actually a pretty good, fairly scary and well done.
Black Christmas uses a fairly typical slasher formula: sorority house is getting creepy calls, they start getting killed. However, I wouldn’t call this a formulaic, predictable slasher in any sense. This movie takes slashers and puts some interesting spins on it. My dad and I were talking about it afterward and we said that the movie really could have a PG rating if it weren’t for the language used by the killer and some of the girls. All of the kills are done off screen, so you don’t see anything particularly graphic until the climax of the movie.
*spoilers from here on out*
The movie begins with a party at the sorority house that is coming to and end and the girls get a creepy call. It’s revealed that this has happened a couple times already (unclear how many calls or how often the calls come in). One girl (Barb, played by Margot Kidder) gets a call from her mom saying that she shouldn’t come over for Christmas because the mom has a new boyfriend or something along those lines. Barb asks the other girls if they want to stick around for a couple days at the house before heading out for a ski trip. Meanwhile, another girl (Clare, played by Lynne Griffin) goes upstairs to pack because she’s leaving the next morning to go home. She thinks she sees something in the closet and goes towards it, only to be killed by someone hiding in there. Clare is the girl we see on most posters for Black Christmas (photo below) and we actually see her quite a bit throughout the movie. Her father comes to look for her at the house since she didn’t meet him the next day. The girls start to get more nervous about Clare since no one can find her and the police get involved. Scenes of them looking for Clare and trying to figure out what could have happened to her are punctuated with a shot of her dead in the attic of the house.
Most of the movie is spent watching Clare’s father, boyfriend, and the other sorority girls search in vain for Clare. Police lieutenant Fuller (played by John Saxon) takes on the case and tries putting the pieces together. They continue to get creepy calls and we occasionally get shots of the killer (named Billy in the credits but he’s never really named within the film). It’s unclear for the first act of the movie who our heroine is but Jess (played by Olivia Hussey) slowly shows herself to be our main character. Jess goes to meet her boyfriend Peter (played by Keir Dullea) and tells him that she is pregnant and going to get an abortion. I thought this was really incredible for a movie from the mid-70’s. Jess stands her ground against Peter, who wants to keep the child, and stays true to her decision. She argues that there are still a lot of things she wants to do with her life and that having a child would impede those goals. Peter offers to quit school, get a house, and marry Jess and she tells him that though he might be willing to change/quit his plans, she’s not. This was so wonderful to me, for a movie to even breach the subject of abortion is pretty incredible but for it to be in this manner, a woman deciding to have one and sticking with that decision no matter what everyone else says, is just fucking awesome.
The calls start to become more personal to Jess, mentioning children and even quoting some of the things Peter had said to her. At this point, we know that the house mother has been killed but the characters are still just trying to find Clare. When a local girl goes missing, Fuller decides to gather a search party. Unfortunately, they find the young girl dead (we only see the mother’s reaction and not the body). Everyone goes back to the house, feeling more and more like maybe Clare is dead. Barb kind of freaks out a little bit, she’s pretty drunk and feels guilty about Clare’s disappearance. They tell her to go to bed, but this ultimately leads to her demise. Another cool thing about this movie is that the most we see of the killer are his eye and his hands. We really have no idea what Billy looks like except for his weird eye.
Jess keeps getting these awful calls and goes to the police to report them. There’s this idiot of a desk clerk at the police station who kind of bungles a lot of the situation in this movie. Fuller gets word of the creepy calls and taps their home phones. Jess just has to keep the killer on the phone long enough for them to trace the call. As the calls get more specific and therefore more creepy, we start to think that Peter may actually be the killer. He hadn’t been on screen any of the times a call came in and why else would the killer want to torment Jess on her decision to get an abortion? Fuller wants to investigate Peter but he’s nowhere to be found. Jess is the only one awake (and alive) in the house at this point and another call comes in. They manage to trace it and it turns out…the calls are coming from inside the house! The police try to warn Jess and tell her to get the fuck outta there but she wants to get Barb and another girl (honestly forgot her name, sorry) out with her. The only graphic scene in the whole movie is when Jess goes upstairs and finds Barb and the other girl murdered and bloody in Barb’s bed. There’s a really creepy shot of Billy hiding behind the door, looking at Jess through the slit between the door and the wall. Jess runs downstairs but realizes that she has essentially locked herself in with the killer.
She grabs a fireplace poker and hides in the basement and somehow Peter finds her there (still unsure how he knew she was down there). He breaks into the basement and is coming towards her when we cut to outside the house where Fuller has shown up and we hear Jess screaming. They find her, alive but in shock, with Peter dead in her arms. She’s brought upstairs and put into bed. They assume Peter was the killer the whole time and that the nightmare is now over. I am going to guess that they did not find Clare and the house mother, who’s bodies are hidden in the attic, because if they found them they probably would’ve found Billy. The last scene of the movie is chilling, as we see Jess helplessly asleep in her bed, the police are outside but no longer in the house, and we hear Billy upstairs followed by the phone ringing inside the house. The credits roll as the phone continues to ring and we see the exterior of the house and no one going to help Jess.
Overall this movie was really well done. I thought it was really interesting that we didn’t see the killer, there was no big reveal or anything. I also thought that not seeing the deaths added to the mood of the movie. If you’re looking for a slasher or a holiday horror flick, this one is definitely worth checking out. It’s got a lot of good elements and builds the story nicely.
I’d say a 4/5 for this one.
Happy Holidays everyone,
Your Final Girl
PS: If you were considering buying this movie, Scream Factory did a release of it recently that is totally worth picking up. It’s got tons of extras, including two or three documentaries on the movie, several commentaries (including a hilarious one from “Billy” where he just kind of mumbles and eats through the whole thing), and much more. Plus it looks really good in Blu-ray.