August 29, 2016
Taking place on Christmas time, like the title suggests, Black Christmas (1974) could be considered the greatest Christmas horror movie ever made. Could be. The introductory scene to this slasher classic is set at a holiday reunion. Yuppie students celebrate the coming of the holidays in a seemingly big sorority house. It is winter break. While they are hanging out they received a call from a psychopath called Billy: “welcome my choosy cock..” “piggy cunt, you want my fat cock” are some of the highlights of the conversation. The students tell him to stop being an asshole/creep, they just laugh about it. There is, however, someone else in the house. A pair of hands climbs outside to the second or third floor of the house. One of the girls gets choked with a plastic bag and the movie sets off as everyone in campus, including her father and the police, look for this young lady.
The film, set in Canada, predates the slasher film. The campus is somewhat empty due to the holidays. This helps the story not to clog with unnecessary characters. Our shadowed assassin starts killing victims, slowly. More than a slasher, the film is a Hitchcockian murder mystery. Directed by Bob Clark, he never reveals who the frightening killer is and we never learn what motivated him to do this murders. The direction of the film goes direct to the forming of tension that keeps the viewer trapped on his/her sit. It was made before the seminal Halloween (1978) and the creepy level of horror can be compared with the Mexican masterpiece Hasta el Viento Tiene Miedo (Even the Wind is Afraid) (1968), it has the same level of tense violence as Silence of the Lambs (1991) (that means not much, but smartly placed) and it works authentically as a mystery movie.
Jess (Olivia Hussey), arguably the main character plays one of the students. She is pregnant and the film revolves around the dilemma of abortion with her boyfriend, Peter, played by 2001: Space Odyssey’s Keir Dullea. It is suggested in the movie plenty of times that he is the killer. There is proof that he is not and other glances that he is actually the killer. This confusing tautness works relentlessly and provides doubt in the viewer. The only physical part we see of the actual killer (besides his hands on the first person POV shots) is an affable eye that makes it all the more creepy when he is making subtle advances towards Marian (Barbara Machenry), an old lady who hides whisky bottles all over the place, she provides the comic relief for the movie and it works well.
Although it has comic relief, the movie is still as scary as they get. There is no over-the-top death sequence, no unrealistic comic-book style events; the viewer is just presented with an unnerving tale. It easily has a strong basis in reality. If you are looking for that level of violence, stay away from this movie, gory movies are great in their own way but this film’s visual elements deliver the horror more on the empty and the silent than the splashy and the bloody. These aforementioned disturbing elements are cleverly placed together combined with a great cinematography by Reg Morris, who captures the bleak Christmas atmosphere perfectly with a wonderful use of silent snow-covered streets and other decoration. Let’s face it: Christmas time is probably the safest time to kill lonely people.
It feels like the movie has been forgotten by horror fans or shadowed by other popular horror movies that may be also great, only the really obsessed-cult fans seem to know of its existence. Outside of that it’s completely unknown. A true horror fan recommended it to me and he seemed to feel towards it the same way Golum feels towards the ring. It is with no doubt an underrated classic that deserves much more attention. A regular movie viewer like your correspondent should enjoy it the whole way. It will sound a bit extreme but Black Christmas seems like the perfect mystery horror film. Period. Everyone interested in the genre should consider taking a look at it.