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 10,000 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?
theartsdesk recommends the half-dozen top films out now
Exemplary package celebrating Ken Russell’s compelling DH Lawrence adaptation
Almodóvar's moving portrait of a mother's grief, adapted from Alice Munro
Alex Cox’s account of punk rock’s ill-fated duo takes a ride to the heart of darkness
Charisma battles desolation in moving documentary of Ukraine's lower depths
A reputation's tatters are shredded in convincing detail
Atmospheric debut film inspired by Sartre novella on the nurturing of a fascist
New horror franchise isn't scared enough of the dark
John Schlesinger's seminal British New Wave drama about a couple forced to marry
Reassuringly cosy adaptation of Arthur Ransome's 1930 children's novel
Trouble in paradise for Blake Lively courtesy of a hungry shark
Peerless Slovak Holocaust drama brings comedy into tragic context