Black Christmas (1974)
black christmas | bob clark | roy moore | olivia hussey | keir dullea | margot kidder | thriller | canada | proto-slasher | john saxon | marian waldman | andrea martin | james edmond | doug mcgrath | art hindle | lynne griffin | michael rapport | christmas | mystery
Film: Black Christmas
Director: Bob Clark
Writer: Roy Moore
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea and Margot Kidder
This film is one that I’ll admit, I really did care for the first couple times that I’ve seen it. I don’t want to make it sound like I hated the film, but it just wasn’t one that really hit me. When I saw that it was playing at my local theater, I decided that I would check it out on the big screen to see if that altered my thoughts. The synopsis is during their Christmas break, a group of sorority girls are stalked by a stranger.
We start out inside of a sorority house in college. Christmas is right around the corner and the winter break is starting. They’re having a party and a good time going on inside. We then see someone stalking outside of the house. They climb up the side and enter into the attic through a window.
Inside we see that one of the sisters, Barb (Margot Kidder), notices that the front door is open. She closes and goes back to the party. The other sisters are Jess (Olivia Hussey), Phyl (Andrea Martin) and Clare Harrison (Lynne Griffin). Barb has a bit of a drinking problem. There’s a phone call for her and it’s her mother who scolds her for drinking too. She tells her that she can’t do the original plans and invites her and her sisters to come skiing. Everyone agrees except for Clare. Barb and her do not get along as Clare is more reserved. She calls her out for being a virgin and Clare goes to her room.
The phone then rings and they have been getting prank called by someone who does heavy breathing and says some inappropriate things. Barb calls the person out this time and he yells some things are her. The house mother, Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman) then shows up. She has bottles of alcohol hidden throughout the house and takes drinks whenever she can, which is quite funny.
Clare plays with the house cat in her room while packing and hears something in the closet. The crazy person is in there and he attacks her. He kills her with a plastic bag and pulls her up into the attic. It should be pointed out that he sets her up in a rocking chair with a baby in her arm right in front of a window. He rocks her as well as speaks with her, but we don’t get a good look at him.
Clare’s father, Mr. Harrison (James Edmond) arrives the next day to collect her. She doesn’t show up to where they’re supposed to meet. He’s not very happy with what he is seeing from her sorority sisters, Mrs. Mac or the place that she is living. He also says that he didn’t send her to college to drink and be loose.
Jess then goes to see her boyfriend, Peter (Keir Dullea). The night before she called him and he was short with her. He lives in a conservatory and he wants to be a concert pianist, so he doesn’t get a lot of sleep as he practices a lot. He has a big performance later that day. Jess drops on him that she is pregnant, but she is going to have an abortion. This upsets him that she made this decision without him and he wants to change her mind. She doesn’t want to hear it though
Clare is not at the Christmas Party and this makes Mr. Harrison quite upset. They go to the police, but they won’t do anything at first. It isn’t until her boyfriend, Chris Hayden (Art Hindle) comes down to the throw a fit that Lt. Ken Fuller (John Saxon) gets involved. There’s a 13 year old girl who goes missing around this time as well. A search results in a grisly discovery and Jess reports the obscene phone calls to the police. This leads them to tapping the phone so they can trace where the calls are coming from. It leads to quite a shocking discovery as we see other members of this house fall victim to this madman.
I can say, much like how I felt after my second viewing, I do enjoy this film more and more with each viewing. After my second viewing I did know that this film is interesting is that it is regarded as influencing Halloween. There was almost consideration of making more horror films around holidays like this. Something I have to give this film is that basing it around Christmas is great. You have students going away for the holidays or just going home for them, so people can go missing and no one notices it.
The killer in this film is quite creepy as well. The prank calls he is making are quite unnerving if I’m going to be perfectly honest. What I find interesting is the remake uses the things he says in this one to expand the story of the film for that one. I almost like that we never really figure out why some of things are said or who the names correlate to. I do like that he incorporates conversations from the house though, because it points to Peter as the prime suspect.
I’ve heard debates whether this film is a slasher or if it is proto-slasher. There aren’t very many kills in this one. They’re spaced out quite a bit and it really focuses more on the mystery of who is doing it. That almost makes it feel more like a giallo. The issue then becomes though the ending of the movie. I don’t want to spoil it, but that doesn’t really mesh with how those films normally end. This does give us quite a bit of police procedural.
There are still some glaring issues with this film for me though. The first is how no one discovers the body of Clare. She is positioned right in front of a window and we shown that you can see her from the street. I get there could be frost on the window, but at the end of the film, no one checks the attic. This is just kind of laughable to me after everything that goes down. The next issue I have will be with the pacing.
I’ve already kind of touched on this. I just feel this film is a bit boring. It gets right into it, we get our introductions to the characters and the first murder is right there within the first 15 minutes. We do go through quite a bit of a lull before anything else happens. I like the investigation aspect of trying to find the missing girl. We just get a lot of drama aspects and kind of shy away from the horror for just a bit too long. I do think that the film does find its way and builds tension, but just some lulls I have issues with.
The acting of the film is good. I absolutely love Hussey. She is quite young in this film, but I love her determination here. This film is actually ahead of its time here as she is a modern woman that is going to abort her pregnancy because she isn’t ready for motherhood yet. This is actually very relevant now and she won’t be told what to do by Peter. Dullea I think is good and it is interesting, because he really shows us toxic masculinity. I get part of it is the time this film came out, but that doesn’t change it. Kidder is solid as the drunk and actually brings some good humor, the same with Waldman. It was fun seeing Saxon and Hindle in this film. I think that the rest of the cast really do round out the film for what was needed as well.
I’ll move next to the effects of the film. To be honest, they really aren’t a lot of them as they do hide quite a bit. I do like the look of Clare after she’s been killed. The blood in the film is a bit orange, but I chalk that up to being the era of the film. Mrs. Mac’s death is also pretty cool as well. I’d say that overall, they were done practically and look fine to me.
Now with that said, I give this film a lot of respect for its significance and its place in history. My rating does seem to be keep coming up with every viewing I have of it, so that is it too. I like the idea of this film, but I would have liked them to go a bit farther. I don’t need everything explained, I just like more than what we got. It does get a bit boring as it focuses on some things that can bog it down. The climax and ending are good. The acting really does carry the film and the depth of the main characters is still socially relevant. It is a bit light on the effects, but they’re done practically so that really does help. The soundtrack of the film really doesn’t stand out, the Christmas music does set the mood of the time of year. I do think that this is a good movie and actually, it does have some socially commentary that is relevant. I would recommend this even if you don’t like horror as it is has a good mystery.
My Rating: 8 out of 10