Editor’s Note: Justin here, hope you’re not done with the holidays just yet! Our contributor Josh Soriano is back to give the season a bloody yuletide sendoff with A LOOK BACK at Bob Clark’s perennial slasher classic, BLACK CHRISTMAS!
Well that magical time of year is nearly upon us. Silver bells, sleigh rides and Santa Claus. For most, Christmastime is filled with joy,laughter and exchanging of gifts but what if it were also a time for a deranged psychopath to crank call a sorority house and terrify young co-eds? You’re probably thinking, “why would anyone want to think about such things during this wonderful season?” It’s because BLACK CHRISTMAS is one of the quintessential horror-holiday classics and rightfully earns its place as not only the best Christmas slasher film there is to date, but arguably, the first slasher film period. If you haven’t experienced the tension and fear from watching this movie then you’ve never truly experienced Christmas in the horror world, where our twisted minds run 365 days a year. If this movie doesn’t make your skin crawl, it’s on too tight! (I’ve always wanted to use that in a sentence).
It’s starts off like any other Christmas week with the young women of Pi Kappa Sig living it up and hitting the liquor to ease midterm tensions. All is calm and bright until they start receiving the creepiest prank calls ever. Seriously, these maniacal calls make Curt Duncan from WHEN A STRANGER CALLS look like one of the Jerky Boys. At first, they think nothing of it; they even find them a bit humorous. It’s not until Barb (played by the scene-stealing Margot Kidder) mouths off to the mystery caller do things get troublesome. After squealing and groaning on the telephone, the creep has a schizo change of tone and says, with the upmost certainty and calm in his voice, “I’m going to kill you”. Margot Kidder, who later became Lois Lane, is relatively unphased; surely Superman’s foes have made bigger claims than that. Jess (played by ROMEO AND JULIET‘s Olivia Hussey) knows the calls aren’t something to take lightly though because she’s shaping up to be our final girl.
Director Bob Clark was no stranger to horror, having previously lensed the horror comedy CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS. He implements some scenes of true horror and anxiety throughout Black Christmas, playing on the “babysittier receiving disturbing prank phones calls” urban legend, and setting it up during Christmas break. Clark manages to create a film that induces pure dread at a time of year when we try to forget that evil is still among us. It’s a juxtaposition that is so unsettling that it stays with you after the movie. It makes every twinkling light in the film feel more like a red alert. John Carpenter would do the same for the month of October four years later. In the modern age, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t very long ago when someone could be terrorized via telephone or be completely helpless without the aid of a cellular. We know these women are in for a gruesome fight for their lives once we’re subjected to the image of a suffocated co-ed in a rocking chair (like your sweet grandmother’s) in the attic of the sorority house.
While setting the bar high for the average slasher, a ‘whodunit’ is lightly woven into the fabric of BLACK CHRISTMAS which chillingly reveals the killer’s image in possibly one of the creepiest moments in slasher cinema history. Keir Dullea, the man who would challenge super-computer Hal in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, gives an unsettling performance as Jess’s boyfriend, Peter, whose sanity comes into question after she expresses the desire to have an abortion. Genre titan John Saxon tops off the diverse young cast. With each character being somebody you actually care for, the tension eventually winds so tight that, by the film’s end, you need to pick your jaw up off of the floor.
Before the slasher genre began inadvertently lampooning itself, directors were still using their finess to craft films that worked beyond their one-two punch. HALLOWEEN may forever be the godfather of holiday horror pics but BLACK CHRISTMAS will always be the actual first. It may just be me but I still can’t look at a Christmas the same since watching the movie over 15 years ago. When children are wondering if the thumps upstairs are Santa Claus, I’m stuck thinking Billy has come home and is hiding in the attic, brandishing my favorite glass unicorn statue to poke my eyes out with. I wouldn’t prefer it any other way.
Merry Christmas girls and boys.