black christmas video cover
5 stars

"If this movie doesn't make your skin crawl... IT'S ON TOO TIGHT!"

directed by: Bob Clark
starring: Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, Kier Dullea, Jon Saxon, Andrea Martin, Marian Waldman, Art Hindle, Lynne Griffin

(back of video blurb):


       ' Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, a creature was stirring. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, but it was hardly St. Nicholas soon to be there. In the college town of Bedford, several unsuspecting people are about to receive Season's Greetings- of terror.

       'Black Christmas' is a stark and stylish exercise in suspense that turns everyone's favorite time of the year inside out. Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder star as two among an ill-fated handful of sorority sisters celebrating the season and semester's end when an obscene phone call interupts the festivities. The caller rings off with a death threat, which proves all too real. Is the killer a brilliant music student (Keir Dullea) who has gotten one of the women pregnant? No one is sure. And no one can stop the deadly calls preceding the attacks.

       Predating 'Halloween' and 'Friday the 13th' by several years, 'Black Christmas' effectively laid the groundwork for the murder thrillers that would follow through it's clever interplay of tension, shocks- and humor.

       Producer/Director Bob Clark earned his reputation as a hitmaker for the first two 'Porky's' films, but here works in a vein closer to his higly-applauded Sherlock Holmes caper 'Murder by Decree', exploring the underside of the holiday he so affectionately- and somewhat sardonically- celebrated in the jovial 'A Christmas Story'.

       So have yourself a scary little 'Black Christmas'. It's not at all like the ones you used to know."

choice dialogue:

"'s me, Billy."

slash with panache?

        Hell yes! For once a movie that does live up to its tag-line. BLACK CHRISTMAS is a superb ‘psycho-thriller’. A film that is, in places, quite literally terrifying.

        A mournful ‘Silent Night’ accompanies the opening shot- a sorority house, at night, illuminated with garish Christmas decorations. From inside come the muffled sounds of people laughing and chattering. Out in the darkness someone circles the house, hiding in the shadows, peering through the windows. Unseen by those inside. His breathing heavy and laboured. We watch, through his eyes, as he climbs up a trellis on the side of the house and through an attic window....The party winds up and the sorority girls kick the boys out for the night. Many of them are packing to leave in the morning for the Christmas break- although a Barb (Margot Kidder) gives the crank caller a mouth fullfew have chosen to stay behind. The phone rings and the girls gather round to hear ‘the moaner’- an obscene phone caller who has been bugging the house. One of the girls (Kidder) winds the caller up and makes fun of him. The phone call ends on a more sinister tone than it has before, this time the caller tells Kidder that "I will kill you!"....Soon the attic door creaks open and whoever is up there begins to descend into the house....

        Yes, I know that sounds like a cliché- but BLACK CHRISTMAS was one of the movies to do it first. It is evidence of the quality of this film that it still retains the ability to shock and to frighten despite the fact that many of its plot devices have been numbed by a modern Olivia Hussey peers out onto the Winter Wonderlandfamiliarity. HALLOWEEN (1978) and WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979), were hugely influenced by this movie and, in turn, spawned a whole plethora of similar movies themselves. It may be the fact that because BLACK CHRISTMAS set the mould, that it was actually free from some of the subsequent restraints and rules of the sub-genre. By this I mean that many of the different elements of the film may seem a bit oddball, and perhaps refreshing, to a modern audience. HALLOWEEN set the template for the modern killer/monster in US slasher cinema (itself influenced by the silent black gloved assassins of the Italian giallo), but the killer in BLACK CHRISTMAS displays a much more orthodox insanity- that of the raving lunatic. Far from being the silent, deadly killing machine typified in the many of the later movies, here the killer is clearly unbalanced- with bursts of sudden rage and tantrums, and the many splintered personalities, which he gives separate voices as he torments the ‘final girl’ (Hussey) over the phone.the telephone calls get more and more disturbing... And it is the phone calls that are perhaps the scariest and most disturbing thing in the film- the killer argues with himself, using wildly different voices; squealing like a pig, making the shrill sound of a child screaming and ranting in a demonic tone (perhaps influenced by THE EXORCIST (1973) ?). He also, terrifyingly, lets slip little snatches of information about Hussey that only a few could possibly know! Another thing that sets apart the obscene phone messages in BLACK CHRISTMAS is that they are actually obscene- especially the first one where he taunts the girls, repeatedly saying the word "cunt". It is hard to imagine any mainstream horror film that employs the phone as an object of terror- the SCREAM movies for example, ever actually taking the basic premise that far. It is this dialogue between the killer and Hussey which is a constant in the movie and directly leads to the films’ chilling climax.

        Bob Clark, BLACK CHRISTMAS’ director, not only managed to create one of the few truly frightening films, but also successfully managed to inject it with humour. Mixing horror and humour usually results in a trite mess- the film typically being neither horrifying or funny. However Clark understands the one basic rule of using both in a horror film- the scary parts should never be played for laughs. The humour is used for character development and, aided by a capable and talented cast, is able to create ‘real’ people you care about. The humour is caustic without being mean-spirited or silly, illustrated most notably by the house mother Mrs. Mack (Marion Waldman) who is outwardly sweet and maternal, but in private a foul mouthed lush with a razor sharp tongue- (a part which was originally offered to Bette Davis!) Margot Kidder is also great as Barb, a mischievous sorority girl with a wicked, drunken sense of humour which she uses to mask herin the (now) time-honoured tradition the 'final girl' arms herselfinsecurities..... The humour manages to diffuse some of the encroaching dread, but the audience is always aware that terror is constantly lurking in the background....In fact the cast is uniformly superb- Hussey as the demure, but evidently not virginal, ‘final girl’ is believable and sympathetic. Also John Saxon ,as the concerned police detective, helps achieve a fine dramatic balance, where an ensuing investigation into the disappearance of one of the girls compliments the main story, instead of impeding it.

        Before I go on I have to state that John Carpenters’ HALLOWEEN (1978) is one of my all time favourite movies and I would in no way charge him of blatant plagiarism, don’t have to have been to film school to notice some of the glaring similarities between Clarks’ and Carpenters’ films! Bob Clark, after the modest success of BLACK CHRISTMAS- it had been a hit in Canada but, due to indifferent marketing, had only been a sleeper in the US, was approached with the idea of doing a sequel. In 1975 he drafted a sequel called.... HALLOWEEN (!), where the killer from BLACK CHRISTMAS is caught and put in an asylum, only to break out on (you guessed it)- Halloween. Whilst Clark was putting this together he was also working on a separate screen play (for an unrealised project), with none other than John Carpenter! Apparently Clark doesn’t feel in the least bit aggrieved by Carpenters’ film and its subsequent success- as he soon ditched any plans to make a sequel to his own film, not wishing to become pigeon-holed as a horror director. He has also stated that he believes the two films are very different in tone- (if not exactly in content). HALLOWEEN does share some blatant similarities with Clarks film and some elements have been re-used, notably the scenes where; Hussey discovers the bodies in the bedroom and is subsequentlydead friends: a scene that was reworked in HALLOWEEN (1978)... attacked by the killer, the ‘shape’ of the killer silhouetted at the window unseen by Hussey and Martin and the prowling point-of-view opening shot as the killer circles the house- to name a few. However, it would be too easy to level the charge of out-right plagiarism at Carpenter. He has too much skill and his influences are varied (from Clark’s film sure, but also from the work of Mario Bava and Dario Argento), to let HALLOWEEN become purely a re-hash. The major difference being ,of course, the portraits of insanity of the two films’ ‘bogeymen’. The silent, emotionless killing machine that was Carpenter’s ‘shape’, guarantees the vital element which separates the two films. One thing that can be agreed on is that both films are bona-fide genre classics.

        BLACK CHRISTMAS is a masterpiece of tension suspense and horror. Makes my top five- I can’t give it any higher accolade than that!.....If you haven’t already- go see!

( Click here to see US cinema poster )

BODYCOUNT 7  bodycount!   female:5 / male:2
       1) Female suffocated with plastic sheeting
       2) Female killed with hooked pulley
       3) Young Female found dead (cause not shown)
       4) Female stabbed to death with glass unicorn (!)
       5) Female killed (cause not shown)
       6) Male has throat slashed
       7) Male killed with poker

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