Trying to fit Christmas films into your end of year schedule can be tough but its made harder when you have to be in a specific mood for them. Saying this however, when its also a film I personally do not think is given its due in conversations about Horror cinema, and indeed when discussing the realm of the Christmas film, its something I try to make more of an effort for. This is the case with Bob Clark’s seminal 1974 effort Black Christmas.
It seems to me that when talking about Slasher films, two entries are seen as the key building blocks for the sub-genre, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and John Carpenter’s Halloween, however Black Christmas is just as important if not more so. Psycho is essentially a proto-Slasher, a film which contains many of the ingredients but is very much its own beast, the highest class B-movie you could possibly imagine, and Halloween brought in the iconic look to the killer and was the more important early example of the “final girl” but Black Christmas introduces a series of elements which have been aped for decades after.
The crank calls, the idea of the killer calling from inside the house, the suspicion on the boyfriend of the lead, the boozy comic relief side characters, the multiple uses of the killer’s POV and other aspects all meet in this film, one which isn’t afraid to be funny but also isn’t afraid to be absolutely bloody bone chilling when it wants to be.
The first half of the film has much more in the way of comedy than the rest but it shows a creeping dread. The crank calls are all intensely disturbing, both in the mania of “Billy” on the other end of the line but also in his odd more lucid state (try forgetting his simply stated “I’m going to kill you” to Margot Kidder in a hurry). The recurring image of his tragic first victim, suffocated in cellophane and placed on a rocking chair is also a profoundly upsetting one, made more so by the presence of her father through the film, a character who is the butt of jokes at times but also feels very human, a man out of his depth who loves his daughter very much, one we as an audience knows is dead.
All of this slips away later on however. Margot Kidder’s initially funny drunk becomes a more melancholy presence later on as she starts to blame herself and by the end this depression essentially leads to her death, one which she is powerless to stop both physically and mentally.
Olivia Hussey’s character also undergoes a torrid time throughout. Her initially virginal seeming character is painted as anything but and the fact she’s pregnant drives her boyfriend into intense rages, though because she wants to abort it rather than keep it, an interesting twist on the usual way films portray that particular dillema. Keir Dullea is nicely intense as Peter, seeming convivial but never all that far away from lashing out and by the end, you can certainly see why John Saxon’s Detective suspects him as much as he does. This thread is full of despair and even a brief respite Hussey has, watching Carolers at her door, is cut between this and Margot Kidder’s death. Clark’s vision here is viscous even though he also gets some fine comedy in at points as well.
Black Christmas is a film which aims to leave you freaked out and my word does it. On this umpteenth viewing of mine I saw a shadow moving in the background of one scene which I’d never noticed before and it terrified me over again. This along with an absolutely perfect, drawn out but just plain horrible ending marks it as an effort which practically demands attention if you’re looking for a bit of darkness amongst your lighter fare over the next couple of weeks.