There are a lot of Christmas-themed horror movies. There’s nothing more effective than taking the so-called most cheerful time of year and using as the backdrop for something sinister, whether it be a serial killer in a Santa Claus costume (Silent Night, Deadly Night and a slew of others), a killer snowman (Jack Frost) or just an angry psychotic stalker, like in 1974’s Black Christmas.
Those who believe the slasher genre was invented in films like Halloween, Friday the 13th and Prom Night might want to check out Black Christmas, which came out four years before the first of these three films was released (Halloween, to be exact). Black Christmas is an entertaining little thriller which contains many elements which are now standard slasher tropes while throwing the occasional curve at slasher fans who think they know the genre inside and out. It may also be the first film to use the plot twist of a killer terrorizing his or her victims on the phone, only to have them find out later when the police trace the calls that the phone calls are coming from within the home.
The story of Black Christmas involves a house full of sorority sisters being knocked off one by one by an unknown stalker. The stalker is never seen – most of the scenes involving the mysterious person are shot from the killer’s point-of-view. The story, I believe takes place in Chicago, although the movie is a Canadian production. As for the sorority sisters, you’ve got:
- The Princess, Jess, played by Olivia Hussey, best known for playing Juliet in Zeferelli’s Romeo and Juliet
- The Frump – aka, Whatshername – Phyl, played by Andrea Martin of SCTV
- The Virgin, Clare, played by Lynne Griffin, an unknown. Black Christmas is her only screen credit.
- Finally, The Slut, Barb, played by Margot Kidder, who – of course – was Lois Lane in the original Christopher Reeve Superman films.
Last, but not least, there’s Mrs. Mac, the sorority’s alcoholic house mother, played by veteran Canadian stage actress Marian Waldman. There’s also Jess’s boyfriend Peter and Clare’s boyfriend Chris. If you want to know who plays the dudes, look it up on IMDb. It’s really not that important though, because the ladies are the stars of the show.
The movie opens with a surprise if you’ve seen a lot of slasher films, as Clare is knocked off within the first 20 minutes – basically letting you know that this isn’t going to follow the “end girl” formula with which horror movie fans are accustomed. Before this happens, the girls receive a creepy, sexually explicit phone call. These unidentified calls, which precede every kill, wind up being the trademark of the unknown stalker – who we’ll call “Billy” for all intents and purposes since he (or she!) repeatedly mentions the name with each call. Clare is strangled with a plastic bag and, after she’s dead, the killer stashes her body in the attic of the house.
Mrs. Mac is next to be offed, courtesy a metal hook to the head – the most creative kill in the film. Around this time, the other sorority sisters begin to wonder about Clare’s disappearance. They contact the police. The fuzz isn’t very helpful at first, but steps up their act when news gets out about a young girl who has also disappeared, whose disappearance may or may not be related to the sorority case.
As the police attempt to trace the crank calls which keep coming to the sorority house, a few more of the sisters are murdered. I’ll not say which ones, as to leave the plot of the movie somewhat of a surprise. The police begin to suspect that one of the girls’ boyfriends may be involved in the killings until they realize the source of the calls, which, as I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, are coming from a separate phone line in the sorority house. This is a big problem, since the remaining girls have locked themselves inside in an attempt to stay safe. Sweet irony!
Who lives? Who dies? I’ll not reveal the answer to those questions. The only thing I will say once again is that Black Christmas does not follow convention, mostly due to the fact that in the mid-70s, the rulebook for slasher movies had yet to be written. Black Christmas is the kind of film where anything can happen … which is why I was mildly disappointed when it was over and the only thing I could think was “So … that’s it?”
Half the fun is getting from point A to point B, however, so I will recommend Black Christmas. It’s got a great cast, a cool soundtrack with an interesting story behind it, a few laughs and a decent amount of twists and turns to keep you watching even if it does leave you a bit cold in the end. Most of all, Black Christmas is worth watching as a piece of horror history as it’s clear directors John Carpenter and Sean Cunningham borrowed from it when it was time to make their own contribution to the popular slasher genre.