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
We at The Arts Desk hope that you have been enjoying our coverage of the arts. If you like what you’re reading, do please consider making a donation. A contribution from you will help us to continue providing the high-quality arts writing that won us the Best Specialist Journalism Website award at the 2012 Online Media Awards. To make a one-off contribution click Donate or to set up a regular standing order click Subscribe.
With thanks and best wishes from all at The Arts Desk
BFI reissue of the mother of all vérité docs
Brit crime caper hits new lows, despite strong cast
Robert Siodmak's brooding film noir shockingly subverted gender stereotypes
Nihilism stared down in Alexei Balabanov's bleak look-back to Russia in the Nineties
Baz Luhrmann's Fitzgerald-spawned epic is busy and brash and big - but great? No, except for Leo
Not quite the perfect classic, Visconti's movie is a halting monument to Sicilian decadence
Fine filmmaking and decent performances work hard to redeem an infantile musical
Documentary paints the legendary Cream drummer Ginger Baker as an irresponsible genius
Some subtleties lost in adaptation of Mohsin Hamid's bestselling plea for understanding
theartsdesk recommends the half-dozen top movies out now
Bruno Dumont’s oblique meditation on salvation and punishment
Lightning doesn't quite strike twice as JJ Abrams returns to the Enterprise