As winter break begins, a group of sorority sisters, including Jess (Olivia Hussey) and the often inebriated Barb (Margot Kidder), begin to receive anonymous, lascivious phone calls. Initially, Barb eggs the caller on, but stops when he responds threateningly. Soon, Barb’s friend Claire (Lynne Griffin) goes missing from the sorority house, and a local adolescent girl is murdered, leading the girls to suspect a serial killer is on the loose. But no one realizes just how near the culprit is.
Release Date: 1974 | Runtime: 1hr 33min | Genre: Horror | Source: Streaming | Country: Canada | Content Warning: Following review | Rating: Starred
Black Christmas Review
My reasons for wanting to give the original Black Christmas a watch were threefold:
- It’s THE Canadian horror movie, directed by Bob Clark and filmed in Toronto;
- It’s regarded as the first real slasher, coming out 4 years before the first Halloween movie; and
- People (read: mostly white dudes) were very unhappy about the prospect of the 2019 remake being a feminist horror movie.
Coming at the movie with those three points of interest definitely made for an intriguing first viewing. For a movie that’s 45 years old, it holds up surprisingly well and the horror is still very effective. It was also way, way ahead of its time.
Obviously as the first true slasher, it was fun to see where some of the later tropes originated. But what was even more interesting to me was seeing just how far off this movie from some of the clichés in the other big franchises that followed like Friday the 13th and Halloween. From the very start, it flies in the face of the tropes we’ve come to know so well: the virgin is the first to die, and our final girl is an unwed pregnant woman who openly discloses she plans to have an abortion. Especially for its time, there are some very feminist undercurrents here (which leads me to believe that the people bitching on Twitter have never seen the original if they don’t think this has always been a feminist story). I appreciated that the main characters are only very rarely treated as dumb sorority bimbos, and on the odd occasion where it did happen, the character treating them that way gets called out pretty damn fast. Even when the main character has to disclose her plans for an abortion to the police, she’s treated with respect and there’s absolutely no shaming. Honestly, it was refreshing to see.
While the movie is low on gore, the murders are still shocking. Most of them are flashed only briefly on screen, but the viewer absolutely gets a sense of the killer’s intent and the grotesque natures of the killings. Again, similar to the killings in the first Friday the 13th but to me, the concept was much more successfully executed here.
This movie definitely had its flaws, especially when it came to the ending both in terms of the vagueness and the bad decisions made by the supporting cast (Horror Movie Logic™) but looking at it as being the first of its kind, there was a lot to like here. This is definitely required viewing for anyone interested in classic horror.
Black Christmas 2nd Review (Possible Spoilers)
It was fun watching this with Sam and it was great for some really interesting discussions. I thoroughly agree with everything Sam said above and would like to add a few things.
It was a lot more character driven than I expected. They spent a lot of time building the characters of the girls and that doesn’t happen often in slashers so I honestly wasn’t expecting it. I feel like that is the result of more modern horror movies that pay homage to classic slashers. I feel like a lot of them think that throwing lots of boobs and blood at the screen equals a classic. It doesn’t. If you look at a lot of the originals there is very little nudity. In Halloween there is only one boob shot. In My Bloody Valentine there is one make-out scene and the girl has a bra on.
Which kind of makes me wonder why everyone is so up in arms about the 2019 remake being PG-13. For starters, there have been some really good horror movies that are PG-13. In fact, if it weren’t for the pervy phone calls and Margot Kidder’s lines I really think the original Black Christmas could pass for a PG-13. There is very little in the way of gore.
For not seeing the murders straight on they still feel very brutal. They are all ingeniously shot to heighten the tension. Like the murder of the dorm mother. The lighting is very unique and really makes the whole scene uncanny.
As Sam mentioned, it breaks a lot of conventions that have become part of the standard horror movie tropes. Which is funny since this is such an early slasher it defies the tropes associated with them. I thought I knew where a lot of things were going but was surprised when they made a sharp left. I liked it very much.
The acting was well above what I was expecting. I’m not a huge Margot Kidder fan but I really loved her character, She was really funny (minus one line that didn’t age, too well). Olivia Hussey was excellent at her part. She seemed very frail at times but then had a solid backbone when confronting her boyfriend about the pregnancy and her decision to abort it. It was a very well-thought out scene(s) with logic battling emotion and they were some of the better dramatic parts. But it never felt like it was being used solely for shock nor to slut-shame her. One of the scenes that really impressed me was when the police officer is questioning her about the phone calls that they’ve been receiving and the disappearances/murders. She tells the detective about her abortion and his only interest in it was the possibility of her boyfriend seeking revenge. There were no weird looks, no recriminations, Not even a hint of “Well, you brought this on yourself by getting pregnant”. It was such a nice change. Along with the police taking them seriously and not acting like they’re a bunch of hysterical girlies. So that was very refreshing.
The ne thing that really bothered the both of us was the ending. I know they wanted a more ambiguous ending but with all of the set up and red herrings it felt kind of cheap to end it where they did. They had set up so many different characters on being the killer that it was disappointing to not have something. I had my money on one of the cops.
I can’t believe I’d never watched this before and I’m so glad I did. I would love to see the 2019 remake and the (seemingly) forgotten 2006 one. Anyone who hasn’t watched it definitely needs to add it to their watchlist.