Black Christmas (1974)

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  • Writer: Roy Moore
  • Director: Bob Clark
  • Starring: Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Andrea Martin, Keir Dullea
  • Medium: Shudder (Streaming)

 

Synopsis

It’s Christmas time. a 13-year-old girl has been found dead in a local park, and a sorority house is receiving distressing telephone calls, as some of the girls start to disappear. Is it Jess’ (Olivia Hussey) boyfriend (Keir Dullea), who does not want her to abort their baby? Is it someone else entirely (the caller keeps referencing “Billy” and telling “Agnus” not to tell what they have done)? The police put a trace on the phone to try to find out where the calls are coming from, only to find out they are coming from…inside the house.

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If someone comes up your trellis in this movie, RUN!

Review

 

Although not the first film to do so, Black Christmas is credited as one of the original “call from inside the house” films. The idea is considered cliché now, but it was still pretty fresh when this film was created. The film itself, although dramatic when the police discover where the calls are coming from, does not make the premise a secret, as you know from almost the beginning where the killer is. The calls are unnerving as the killer uses multiple voices in what is the only insight into the killer’s mind, allowing the viewer to come up with his/her own back story.

The film is well-made. The acting is great with Olivia “Juliet” Hussey, John Saxon, Margot “Lois Lane” Kidder (who plays her part very well – of course, her character is drunk most of the time she is awake…), and Andrea “Aunt Voula” Martin. The story keeps moving with plenty of levity at the expense of Sergeant Nash and real concern from the police once the complaint of the caller is taken seriously. For humorous purposes, maybe Marian Waldman (as Miss Mac) camps up the character a little, but I think she was even believable as the House Mother.

The tense scenes are built-up more by waiting for those phone calls and the bizarre exchange from the other end. The kills themselves are not too shocking and tense. It’s everything around the kills that builds the atmosphere, and I think it is a perfect blueprint for what’s going to come in future slasher films, with a few of the scenes seemingly to influence the “greatest slasher film” of all-time…that being Halloween. The John Carpenter film has the seemingly perverted phone call to the heroine (we find out later it was just her friend eating an apple) and then being on the phone while a friend gets strangled…sounding like a dirty phone call instead. There is another scene where Jess’ boyfriend emerges from the shadow, which I think is Halloween’s greatest visuals, as Michael Myer’s mask suddenly becomes visible from the shadows. Also, there would be many holiday-themed horror films to come after.

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10 years later, it’ll be his daughter, Nancy, giving him a call at the station

Some people will complain about the open-ending, but I think it works. On the one hand, I’d love to know Billy’s story. Why was he there? Just a random house to be at? What did he do in his past? I have my ideas. Of course, with the motives not explained, I get to come up with my own back-story for him, which is great. You don’t always need to have the killer explained. The randomness of it can make it even more frightening.

 

The styles are fun to watch. The rotary telephones. There is the ’70s kitsch while watching it, but I feel like the film still holds up well. While you may put on films from a previous decade and laugh at its cheese factor, I didn’t catch that at all in this movie. Bob Clark (who would go on to direct another holiday classic – A Christmas Story) knew what he wanted, and the final result shows that he was able to get the performances he needed from his actors and was able to display just the right amounts of the story.

Film Rating: 8 telephone calls out of 10 | Another example of how the 70s may have been the greatest decade for horror. I have not yet seen the remake but think I may see how much integrity they were able to keep.