Holiday Classic Review! Black Christmas (1974)

Happy Holidays! It’s that time of year again, and I figured I’d have to celebrate the season by settling down and watching a classic Christmas/Horror hybrid that I’ve never actually got around to seeing, Black Christmas from 1974. It was honestly pretty enjoyable overall, but one of the best things is that it’s totally free (and legal!) for streaming on YouTube, which caught me by complete surprise. Truly a Christmas miracle! 

There’s a lot of fun stuff to talk about in Black Christmas, so I’m gonna go ahead and not worry about spoilers since it is 46 years old now, and I don’t think the statute of limitations for spoilers stretches back quite that long. However, if you do care about that stuff, you should just go watch it (did I mention it’s available for FREE??). 

Here’s the one-sentence rundown for the film: A group of college girls is staying at their sorority house during their Christmas break, and some psycho decides it would be a fun way to spend the holidays if he lived in their attic and picks them off one by one. Sounds festive, no? 

Lynn Griffin gets a surprising amount of screen time as Girl-With-A-Bag-On-Her-Head

Starting off, I have to mention that Black Christmas is directed by Bob Clark, who clearly has a thing for the holidays since he’s the guy probably best known for directing A Christmas Story. For one thing, this establishes him as having the most weirdly diverse filmography imaginable. For another, I’m sure we could develop some Black Christmas/Christmas Story shared universe theory — a Bob Clark Cinematic Universe, if you will — but I digress. The real takeaway is that Black Christmas, and thus Bob Clark, is one credited with helping create the slasher genre, coming out the same year as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and predating Halloween by four years. 

This was actually kind of a revelation to me (and a noticeable gap in my slasher history), and I was kind of amazed by how much Halloween takes from Black Christmas. There are many examples (the holiday-aspect being obvious), but I think the one that struck me the most was the opening sequences of both share that first-person, creepy shaky-cam thing that puts the viewer literally inside the killer’s point of view. I had unknowingly always credited Halloween with establishing that slasher/horror movie trope (taken to an extreme in other slashers like 2012’s Maniac). Still, I guess we owe that one to Black Christmas.

Our protagonist Jess, played by Olivia Hussey, decides she doesn’t want to have the baby of a man who can’t pull off a green turtleneck

It’s interesting that Black Christmas, for all its influence on the slasher genre, actually does a lot to break the so-called “rules” of the genre. For one thing, it’s surprisingly restrained for a slasher. Pretty much all of the kills take place off-screen or just out of frame. We do get a few peeks of the aftermath, but even then, it’s far from the splatter-fest we’ve become accustomed to. Also, if we were to get into the whole Christian-allegorical slasher thing (which would seem appropriate for a Christmas themed film), then Black Christmas can actually be considered pretty subversive since it kills off our sweet, chaste character first. Our final girl, Jess, is the one who’s been talking about how much she wants to abort her and her boyfriend’s baby the whole film (basically a two-for-one in terms of traditional Christian no-nos). But I guess it’s hard to give credit to the film for subverting those expectations when it was made long before those expectations were ever established and then deconstructed in slasher parodies like Cabin in the Woods and my personal favorite, Dude Bro Party Massacre 3.

The ultimate genre-subversion (and potential let-down) is the complete lack of a scary-killer-guy, à la Jason or Michael Myers. Instead, we have the shadowy attic-figure who exists almost entirely as a voice through the phone; and who is never revealed to anyone other than some unknown shadowy maniac. Just because of my expectations, this complete lack of a twist became its own sort of enjoyable twist in its own kind of way.

Ok, so all genre-rambling aside, the real reason you should watch Black Christmas is the performances, which run the entire gamut from painfully forced and unfunny comic relief to actual inspired comedic fully-embracing campiness. I have to give the (completely unironic) blue ribbon to Marian Waldman as Mrs. Mac, the crude, alcoholic, sorority house-mother. She clearly just totally understood what Black Christmas was, at its heart, and accordingly completely hams it up. I was honestly sad when she gets a hook to the throat about a third of the way through since it meant we would be without her Sherry-infused antics for the rest of the movie. 

The runner-up performance award has to go to Margot Kidder, almost solely for her entirely out-of-the-blue, drunken monologue on watching turtles have sex. I honestly don’t have much more to say about that.

Margot Kidder (pre-Lois Lane fame) also gets away with drinking a beer at a police station. Total frat move.

Unfortunately, our main character/final girl, Jess, is a bit bland, and most of the drama with her and her total nothingburger-character of a boyfriend almost put me to sleep. John Saxon, best known as the cop in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, ten years after Black Christmas), also plays a cop in this. I guess if you’re an actor with a severe case of cop/authority-figure-face, then you end up playing that role. 

So that’s Black Christmas! It’s definitely worth watching if you’re interested in seeing one of the foundational slasher films. However, it is also more than entertaining enough to merit a watch just as a fun semi-festive holiday-horror. So tonight, when you’re basking in an egg nog-induced coma by the fire, debating which Christmas movie best fits the evening’s mood (A Miracle on 34th StreetIt’s A Wonderful LifeDie Hard?), keep Black Christmas in mind. Sometimes watching glorified movie-murder is the best way to remind us what we’re grateful for in life, right? ‘Tis the season.

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