Retro Reviews: Black Christmas (1974)

At the time of its release, this horror/slasher film was ground-breaking. Written by Roy Moore and with Bob Clark directing, it impressed writer/director John Carpenter so much that he utilized the innovative style in his film- Halloween (1978).

Retro Reviews: Black Christmas (1974)

Black Christmas…Not what you’re dreaming of…

Reviewing this movie, which, by the way, scared me out of my wits, I remember the intense mood and the stark realism which perpetrates each scene. I want to allow viewers the full impact of its brilliance so will review it without spoilers especially since there’s a good few surprises at the dark heart of this film.

The setting is a sorority house during the Christmas break and employs the stark contrast of the joy of this time of year with the shattering ugliness of violence and murder. The evil is focused on some lonely sorority sisters (Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin)- all very familiar names now, but not so in the early 70’s. They, and the house mother- (Marion Waldman) are spending the break in their sorority house, but soon discover they are also spending the Holidays with a maniacal killer.

The plot includes a questionable boyfriend and the aforementioned “maniac” perpetrator who calls himself “Billy”. He begins his reign of terror when he revisits the home of his childhood which just happens to now be used as a sorority house, Never mind that this creepy horror is an escaped killer, his voice would make your skin crawl anyway. The horror seems to almost become the telephone and its effect each time it rings.

We are kept in fear and wondering who that killer is, while the intense atmosphere builds. We find ourselves jumping with fright whenever the phone rings. The sound of Billy’s voice along with the obscene phone calls become “the horror”, filling the viewer with dread. Indeed, the chills begin the very first time Billy scratches out, “I am going to kill you!” and as Billy’s promise starts to play out we find ourselves in full fear mode.

Then, as the body count starts to add up we literally stay on edge until the great surprise ending. Desperately, we hope that the police will find the perpetrator even as we try to deduce who the killer could possibly be—

This unassuming Canadian film really did do well for itself. Black Christmas was one of the highest grossing Canadian films ever made although it did not make big strides in the US. What it did do, however, was spur the next generation of slasher films such as Halloween, Scream, and Nightmare on Elm Street. Today it is considered by many a true pioneer slasher film of its genre for the groundbreaking direction and plot devices.

As you view this film, keep in mind its acclaimed originality, superb character portrayal and clever plot. It uses point of view, humour, and provides the intimate feeling that we are privy to more than the characters, in order to successfully build suspense and fear.

Dread Central stated that at its release it was a “mixed bag with critics.” They added, that “some loved it, some hated it. But it was the beginning of something special, and it has gone on to be recognized as one of the greatest independent films ever shot.”

Black Christmas has also been alternatively released as Silent Night, Evil Night and Stranger in the House. I rate it an 8/10 for originality, innovation and creep-value.

Full cast also includes John Saxon as Lt. Kenneth Fuller, Keir Dullea as Pete Smythe (the boyfriend), and Lynn Griffith as the unfortunate girl in the attic.

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