Movie Reviews 198 – Black Christmas (1974)

Black ChristmasThere are plenty of debates regarding the birth of the slasher film and what impact some of those films had on others that followed them. Black Christmas was one of those that, while not making an initial immediate impact (it’s US release was terribly bungled) influenced many genre filmmakers in the following years and is now considered a cult classic. With good reason I might add.

The Canexploitation bonanza that resulted from the infamous Canadian Tax Credit program of the 70’s intended to invigorate the fledgling Canadian film industry gave us such films as Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine and even financed some of David Cronenberg’s earlier films. But Black Christmas was one of the more polished films and is easily one of the best products to emerge from the initiative.

Producer and director Bob Clark enlisted genre favorite John Saxon and a bunch of young actresses including star Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder and even SCTV alumni Andrea Martin to play the sorority house members that are terrorized by mysterious prank phone caller “Billy”. Having already begun murdering girls in town, Billy manages to enter and hide in the attic of the Pi Kappa Sig sorority house upon which he then targets the occupants remaining after most have left for Christmas vacations.

Lt. Fuller (Saxon) is the cop piecing together the clues including a hilarious sex pun left in an official police statement by Barb (Kidder), the obvious rebel of the bunch of girls. He’s also got to deal with a nip drinking House Mother who sneaks a swig every minute she’s alone, and the obvious suspect in failed pianist scholar Peter (Keir Dullea of Starlost, 2001 fame), a spurned lover of Jess (Hussey). One of the reasons for the films success is not only the range of suspects viewers have to judge, but the open ending that keeps “Billy” almost as mysterious as he was at the beginning. “Billy” will never be as Famous as Jason, Mike Myers or Freddy Krueger, but he paved the way for his bloody brethren.

SlientNightEvilNightAlso released as Silent Night, Evil Night and Stranger in the House, (that last title being ironic in that the movie When a Stranger Calls released five years later basically stole the premise of this movie), the suspense is thick throughout and the chills are as cold as the film’s winter Holiday setting.

Another great irony is that producer Clark is probably best known for another classic Christmas movie he made a few years later, the holiday favorite A Christmas Story. But in that movie the threat comes from a Red Ryder B.B. gun and the everyone’s fear that Ralphie will shoot his eye out. I highly recommend a double feature night where you watch both of these classics together and get the very best, if polar opposite, takes on Yuletide viewing.

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