12 Films of Christmas: Black Christmas | Film reviews, news & interviews
12 Films of Christmas: Black Christmas
Seasonal slayings and cynicism over cheer as a sorority house plays host to a killer
Flanked by the wonderfully weird tagline, “If this picture doesn’t make your skin crawl…it’s on TOO TIGHT”, 1974’s Black Christmas is amongst the first fully formed slasher pics. Based on a series of murders that took place in Quebec, this Canadian contribution to the festive canon is dripping with seasonal cynicism. From director Bob Clark, Black Christmas sees a psychotic prank caller offing the residents of a sorority house during the Christmas period, and is most famous for the chilling line, “The call is coming from inside the house”.
Black Christmas boasts a seriously impressive cast: Olivia Hussey plays our seemingly prim heroine Jess; stage star and comedian Andrea Martin is her housemate Phyl; John Saxon’s a concerned copper. But best of all are Marian Waldman as the alcoholic sorority mother, whose booze is stashed all over the house, and Margot Kidder as the appositely named sorority sister Barb, who spits insults with style. During a call home Barb snipes, “You’re a real gold-plated whore, Mother” and she sums up Jess with the withering, “I know a professional virgin when I see one”.
While the lunatic lurking in their loft undoubtedly has major issues with women, Black Christmas itself is far from misogynist fare - unlike many of the films it later inspired. Its killer channels a societal fear of female empowerment and sexuality but its women remain sympathetic, thrillingly smart, characterful and clothed. A key subplot involves Jess’ decision to have an abortion, having chosen her own ambitions over settling down with boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea, 2001: A Space Odyssey) – his reaction to this is tellingly depicted as completely deranged.
With its POV stalking, house of horrors, unseen killer, youthful victims and “final girl” this is a terrifying trailblazer. Admittedly Halloween (1978) did it (slightly) better, but Black Christmas did it first. Clark would go on to direct the more conventionally festive A Christmas Story in 1983 but his fifth film’s verdict on Christmas is a wickedly dismissive: “ho ho ho shit”.
Watch the trailer for Black Christmas
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Reflections on the Holocaust, and Alfred Hitchcock's attempts to sum up its visual testimony
Fans-only tribute to a tenacious musical eccentric
Emma Stone delights in Woody Allen's 1920s romantic comedy
The director of the Encounters Film Festival leaps to the short film's defence
A superb, elegant thriller that's excellent on the small screen
Nick Cave's art is exposed in a playful, funny doc
Sweden's succesful export talks about the humour in brutality, the nature of Scandinavia and Monty Python
Jim Jarmusch's timeless neo-noir fairytale – and how it augured 'Only Lovers Left Alive'
Philip Seymour Hoffman brings another le Carré spy vividly to life
theartsdesk recommends the half-dozen top movies out now
Juliette Binoche oustanding as a war photographer divided between home and away
History offers unexpected yet buoyant bedfellows in Matthew Warchus's stirring film