When the topic of the most influential ‘slasher’ films is brought up, the discussion often turns to shockers like Peeping Tom, Psycho and of course Halloween. However often omitted from this prestigiously terrifying list is Bob Clark’s 1974 festive effort Black Christmas. The film proved a success at the box office, has attained a cult status and, although not as accomplished as some of the aforementioned classics, still deserves recognition as both an archetypal ‘slasher’ as well as a thoroughly creepy Christmas film.
In this world of paranormal ghouls and evil Slovakian hostel’s, Black Christmas tells a simpler tale, one that involves a crazed maniac who leaves increasingly disturbing and obscene phone messages to the inhabitants of a girl’s sorority house at Christmas before embarking on a very ‘Grinchy’ killing spree.
Ahead of the pack of ‘slashers’ that followed, it’s influence is clearly noticeable, particularly with Halloween; take a seasonal setting, a (relatively) pure young woman almost all alone in a house for said occasion, and attempt to butcher the hell out of them with a lunatic, an assortment of sharp things and a whole lot of POV shots.
Much like Halloween, the film admirably does not rely on throwing endless amounts of blood and intestines at you to provoke scares. Instead it builds tensions and chills through both the phone calls as well as the POV photography from the killer’s perspective (borrowed from Peeping Tom). Ignoring the fact that the killer must be one hell of an impressionist, the phone calls themselves are incredibly disturbing whilst the POV scenes, particularly effective when capturing the killer alone and ‘chilling’, are masterfully handled raising the suspense to often hideously enjoyable levels.
The Christmas background makes proceedings far more unsettling. The inhumane atrocities occurring in the house are juxtaposed against the Christmas traditions, the decorations, the tree and the carol singers, which make events seem ever more chilling.
Unlike many of the aforementioned classics of the genre, Black Christmas is far from a masterpiece. The oftentimes dire dialogue will try to murder your sweet, sweet ears whilst the heroine oversteps the rootable Jamie Leigh Curtis figure and instead finds herself in annoyingly stupid ‘goody-two-shoes’ territory. Thanks largely to Scream as well as the countless meagre rip-offs a lot of the film will appear clichéd to modern audiences but this just cements both the film’s lasting influence and legacy and is testament to director Bob Clark’s work how Black Christmas still manages to shock.
Save for the odd misstep into predictability, the film remains scary almost 40 years later and looking back it is surprising that it did not spawn at least a few terrible sequels given the intelligent ambiguity of its ending. Black Christmas’s influence cannot be denied and is a must-see for horror aficionados.
So why not sit back and celebrate this Christmas by scaring the living shit out of yourself.
Black Christmas (1974), directed by Bob Clark, is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Metrodome Group, Certificate 18.