Posted: 4/29/01

Black Christmas (1974)
by Barry Meyer

The tag line on the poster reads: "If this doesn't make your skin crawl, then it's on too tight."

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My skin will second that motion. Black Christmas is truly one of the creepiest movies that I have ever seen.

Right from the get-go this film pulls no punches, starting out with an unseen intruder entering a sorority house through the attic window, as the sisters, unaware, have their Christmas bash downstairs. There's no pretense to the story. No set ups. No urban legend style explanations. No character backstory. And no hip kids and their pop culture lingo. No nothing. Just good scares and good story.

As quickly as the intruder enters the house a series of obscene phone calls begin from someone who the sorority sisters have dubbed "the moaner". Let me tell you that this guy does much more than moan. Some of the stuff that this psycho lets loose is the most vile and downright disturbing things you'd ever want to hear. And as the calls progress, the filth gets worse, and caller gets more demented, even speaking in a variety of deranged voices - like a terrified child, who then, in turn, is berated by a bullying father, and then a disturbed mother crying, and then a wailing baby. Though we see very little of the killer throughout the picture, he is probably one of the most frightening characters in a horror flick ever, rivaling even Michael Myers and his sideways cocked, Shatner-masked head.

The first victim, one of the sorority sisters who is preparing to leave for home that night, gets struck down by the intruder who has hidden inside her closet. When she fails to meet her father at their predetermined meeting place, he and the other sorority girls alert the police. But they seem unconcerned, and even imply that the girl has probably run off with a boyfriend like they are so apt to do. Besides, they have more pressing matters, involving a rather eerie little subplot of a missing little 13 year old girl who never made it home from school. With the police not taking them seriously, the remaining girls are left alone in the big old sorority house with a scary stalking madman hidden in the attic. Naturally, the calls persist, and more girls fall victim, one by one, to the intruder and his sadistic ways.

The adorable Olivia Hussey plays the part of the heroine, Jess, who is having her own problems, besides missing girls and weird phone calls, with her boyfriend, Peter, played by the talented Keir Dullea. She is feeling anxious about her missing friend, and thinks the starkly foreboding phone calls, and her boyfriends obsessive behavior may be a link to all the madness. John Saxon gives his horror movie career a boost playing Lieutenant Fuller, the man with the unfortunate task of trying to resolve all the weirdness, while dealing with his less than skilled police squad. But, one of the best performances is from the pre-Lois Lane Margot Kidder, who does a convincing turn as the drunken, saucy sorority sister Barb, who just can't seem to take anything seriously. Rounding out the cast is SCTV's Andrea Martin, and Canada's answer to Doug McClure, Art Hindle, who plays Jess's newfound protector.

The script, written by Roy Moore (who has unfortunately only done two other movies following this one), is tight and well crafted. The characters that Moore creates are so rich that any one character in his script could have a story of his own. The director Bob Clark (who is the man behind the masterpiece A Christmas Story, and the anti-masterpiece Porky's) accentuates the script with an eerie atmosphere, and a creepy pacing.

Unlike many of it's slasher flix successors, Black Christmas is just a well put together film. It rises above the usual and standard scare tactics utilized by the glut of unscary horror films pumped out by Hollywood, by providing real scares. There are no leaping cats, no loud crescendos. There are no convoluted story-lines or endless red herrings thrown in at the expense of a good story just so the audience can remain confused as to who the killer may be. This is a horror movie, after all, not a murder mystery. Why is it that most horror movies today seem more bent on bewildering the audience, or providing laughs? What's that got to do with horror?

The DVD provides little as far as extras, so don't expect too much. There's a John Saxon interview that's nice, but not essential to the viewing pleasure of the film. And the original trailer. You'll see that not only has the art of making horror movies changed, but so has the style of making trailers.

One important matter that needs to be pointed out about this film is that it predates the onslaught of the slasher flicks that spilled out in the early 80's, coming out a few years before Halloween, and in the same year as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It's too bad that it doesn't get the credit it deserves for helping start the trend. Maybe Black Christmas gets looked over because it's a Canadian film.

If you're looking for a rating on this film - I give it 5 stars (out of 5, that is).

Barry Meyer is a writer living in New Jersey. He's worked in the film and television biz for the past 10 plus years.

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