August 8, 2013 by Derek Smith
Black Christmas (1974)
Directed by: Bob Clark
Written by: Roy Moore (screenplay)
I used to work at a video store. While I walked through the horror movie section, putting movies back on the shelves, I always saw BLACK CHRISTMAS. It was never rented out, for it had a thin film of dust over its VHS case. I was big into zombies, and Black Christmas seemed to lack them. Why bother? The director, Bob Clark, went on to direct A CHRISTMAS STORY after BLACK CHRISTMAS. How scary could it really be?
Fast forward many years later: I was no longer at the video store, but had decided since I had cleared out the zombie section, it was time to start expanding my horror repertoire. Why not pick up the dusty old tape I’d passed by so many times before? In the time of DVD’s, the poor VHS had been forgotten. Luckily I still had my VCR.
At first glance, the movie seemed harmless enough. Someone screaming vulgarities into the phone, preying on young sorority girls – it didn’t seem original to me. I had already seen enough horror films with girls being scared. I wanted something new!
By the first death though, I was hooked. “Who was the killer?” “Why is he still calling the girls?” I continued watching; waiting for the inevitable exposition and climax – the showdown between the killer and the main character, Jess (Hussey).
By the end credits, I was left with chills. Black Christmas successfully did what rarely any movie could do to me: leave me speechless. I had to watch it again.
Years later, I now own it both on DVD and Blu-Ray. But what about Black Christmas that makes it so different?
While the film initially starts with showing several girls at a sorority house preparing for Christmas break, it expels itself to be so much more. In 1974, sorority horror films, let alone slasher films, had yet to impact the genre. Black Christmas was one of the first, or arguably the first, film of its kind -it even inspired John Carpenter create Halloween.
But with an ambiguous villain and often disturbing phone calls, the viewer is purposefully left uneasy with the whereabouts of the killer. From the haunting sounds of the house, to the portrayal of children singing harmless Christmas carols, no matter what scene you’re in, you’re never comfortable.
That’s just it: you’re never comfortable. Right up to the end of the film, the viewer is never left a sense of relief. The tension builds up and leaves no room for breathing. The phone becomes an unfamiliar stranger. The town too, seems to disappear leaving the large sorority house to become the only place of commonality. Even then, it too betrays as it tightens in on you. What room is safe? Which cast member will survive? What will happen next?
Oddly, one of the incredible things I took away from the first slasher film was the lack of slashing. Leaving the viewing to only ponder what had taken place, it all adds into the chaos that you’re left feeling. That feeling won’t go away when you’re done watching either.
Looking back, when working at the video store, I wish I had seen Black Christmas. I passed it off for a lack of “originality.” For an older movie, it certainly presents something new. That, and it was disrespectful for me to let it collect all of that dust.