Black Christmas (1974)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Bloody Birthday

Christmas Evil

Don't Open Til Christmas

Silent Night, Deadly Night

Black Christmas

Lava Lamp

Our rating: one LAVA® motion lamp.

Tragically, Chrissie's parents
ignored the warning:
"This plastic bag is not a toy."
Imagine a slasher flick with an unusually low number of scares, impossibly unlikable characters, no gore, no sex, and when you get right down to it, no resolution regarding the killer and no ending. Sounds good, huh? If so, Black Christmas is the film for you. Granted, we should cut this movie a little slack for being the first of its kind. Four years before Halloween, this movie informally established most of the rules slasher films would follow for years -- albeit in a particularly slow and boring way. (One could argue that Hitchcock foresaw the evolution of the horror film by following many of the same rules with Psycho, but we prefer to think that Psycho stands in a class by itself.)

On paper, the set-up sounds good. Threatening and mysterious phone calls disturb the holiday cheer of a sorority house living in a world without Caller I.D. service. (Ah, back in the days when the world held more mystery.) Normally the word "sorority" in the context of any slasher film is a good thing. Nudity, lesbian encounters, pajama parties -- this is the stuff of solid genre fare. Unfortunately, the sorority in Black Christmas is devoid of such pleasures. For starters, these girls are located deep in the 1970's, so the interior decorating and fashions will make you want to claw your eyes out Ray Milland-style before the nudity can begin. Secondly, the only reason you'd want to see these women naked is because at least then they wouldn't be mixing stripes and plaid. The kicker is that one of the sorority sisters is Margot Kidder at her booziest, smokiest, and least attractive. At one point she tells the parent of a fellow sister that there are turtles that can screw for three days straight. "Could I make something like that up?" she slurs drunkenly. Typical of the other sisters is SCTVer Andea Martin as Phyl, who looks a lot like Dustin Hoffman trying to get a role on Southwest General.

Drink all you want --
it won't make this a better movie.
Our main character, however, is the fairly yummy Olivia Hussey as the indeterminably foreign Jess. She has a boyfriend named Peter (Kier Dullea) who is a misunderstood musical genius (we see him destroying a baby grand piano with a music stand). Peter got Jess preggers and now she wants to have an abortion against his wishes.

Oh, and there's a killer. In the opening scenes he murders a girl named Claire and stashes her body in the attic. When Claire's father comes looking for her the next day everyone -- the police, the other sisters, even the liquored-up den mother supposedly in charge of the house's morals -- tells him that Claire probably just shacked up with some boy for the holidays. Merry Christmas, Pa: your daughter's a slut.

Don Music found a more effective
method of dealing with stress
than banging his head on the piano.
Further examination of the plot is wholly unnecessary -- you've seen it before. The sorority girls die one by one at the hands of the mysterious killer. The body count is remarkably low, and much of the violence takes place off screen. There's a pointless subplot about the search for a 13-year-old girl who has disappeared. Apparently this was added to explain the appearance of a posse a few years too early for Fargo, while still keeping the sorority girls completely ignorant that anything is going on. At one point Phyl says, "I know Claire is dead, I can just feel it." Considering Claire has been dead for couple of days up in the attic we'd think she could smell it too.

Our favorite sequence has got to be the one in which the police detective (John Saxon!) in charge of the case stands by helplessly as the technicians try to trace the killer's calls in an hysterically dated phone switch sequence. No points will be awarded for guessing, at the mention of the housemother's private line, that the calls are coming from inside the house. Yes, the whole movie is based around a hoary urban legend.

Friday the 13th part 28:
"Jason Goes Hawaiian."
Meanwhile, Jess wastes everyone's time by wondering fretfully whether Peter's obsession over their unborn child has driven him into a murderous rage. As things always turn out in slasher flicks, the police are distracted long enough for the killer to get a shot at the remaining girls and Jess faces him in a solo fight to the finish. But only the most gullible viewer will believe that Peter was actually the killer, and the movie ends with the "twist" that the killer is still in the attic which the police, who still can't account for two missing people, never searched. Furthermore, they leave a sedated Jess asleep in the house while they all go out for donuts. We never find out who the killer was, why he was making phone calls, or Jess' final fate. If you're not trembling in rage by the time this movie ends, you're probably scratching your head, wondering what the hell just happened.

Director Bob Clark is, as it is always pointed out in reviews of his lesser films, the director of the now-classic A Christmas Story. The brief period of the early 1980s during which Clark directed A Christmas Story and Porky's is rightly considered the apex of his career, since he quickly followed up those successes with the agonizing Rhinestone. He did further damage to the cinematic landscape with the laughable Bimini Code and a pack of mediocre TV movies before completely pissing the world off with Baby Geniuses. Our normal rule when judging any artist is to say that he is as good as his best work. With this in mind, Bob Clark is either a hack who got extremely lucky in 1983 or a genius with the track record from hell. Let's hope Clark's genius or luck kicks back in soon -- if the IMDb is to be believed, sequels to both Baby Geniuses and Black Christmas are in the works with Clark at the wheel.

Review date: 12/31/2001

This review is © copyright 2000 Chris Holland & Scott Hamilton. Blah blah blah. Please don't claim that it's yours blah blah, but feel free to e-mail it to friends, or better yet, send them the URL. To reproduce this review in another form, please contact us at Blah blah blah blah. LAVA® , LAVA LITE® and the motion lamp configuration are registered trademarks of Haggerty Enterprises, Inc., Chicago, IL