Directed By: Bob Clark
Written By: Roy Moore
Produced By: Bob Clark
Cast: Lynne Griffin, Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin, James Edmond, John Saxon
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 97 minutes
Review Date: December 24, 2010
What a pleasant surprise this film was. Being a film buff, I was surprised that I had never heard of this film. Well, to be more specific, I had never heard of the 1974 horror classic Black Christmas. Having viewed the appalling 2006 remake that was critically lamented, I wasn’t particularly excited to watch this film. I was certain there was no way that this film could top the original slasher classics Halloween or Friday the 13th. But when I learned that this was one of the very first slasher flicks ever conceived, I gained an immediate reverence for the picture. I can tell you with complete confidence that this film is a horror classic that should be ranked in the same echelon as my aforementioned favorites.
Since this film has been made, there have been hundreds off knock offs that have entered the market. Most of them are god-awful terrible (Valentine, the Black Christmas remake, Urban Legend) but some happen to be surprisingly memorable (most recently, the Scream franchise). While the Scream films certainly don’t skimp on gore, it emulates much of what makes Black Christmas so especially horrific: Suspense. It’s an element sorely lacking in today’s horror films that was captured so brilliantly in this one. Director Bob Clark really ratchets up the tension by disallowing the viewer any insight into the killer’s motives or physical characteristics. He just exists, killing off girls, one by one.
Better still, the prey are composed of beautiful and interesting sorority girls. By lending the characters their respective idiosyncrasies, it was easy to distinguish the characters from one another and actually invest ourselves in their drama. One is Clare (Lynne Griffin), who is the first to meet her demise (this happens within the first five minutes, so make no fuss about it). She’s the pretty, innocent one with the curious cat. When she mysteriously disappears, her “sisters” Barbara, the drunk (Margot Kidder), Phyl, the timid (Andrea Martin), and Jessy, the conflicted (Olivia Hussey) become increasingly alarmed. To compound things further, a mystery man continuously makes perverted calls to the woman. Jessy, in particular, has a sub-narrative about abortion that’s truly nasty and compliments the main story quite well. Each character is strikingly distinct and makes for a refreshing change of pace from the interchangeable protagonists that often disgrace the horror movie genre.
Other interesting characters include the concerned father (James Edmond) and the valiant Police Lt. Fuller (John Saxon). While it may sound like I’m making a list, I think it is important to note that these now exhausted archetypes were wholly original for their time. As a standalone film, Black Christmas is entirely outdated by films that boast better acting, better production value, and bigger budgets. However, when viewed through the paradigm that this is the film that launched a sub-genre, it becomes something else entirely: an irrevocably influential benchmark in cinematic history that is essential viewing for filmgoers.
Kyle Kogan is a film critic living in Chicago.