42nd Street Cinema

Black Christmas (1974)

Season's greetings. My apologies for the lack of posts here at 42nd Street Cinema, I've been somewhat busy as of late and as a result my movie watching and reviewing has been drastically affected. However, I'm back for the festive period and with it I bring the obligatory Seasonal themed horror film review. So, unsurprisingly, as it is, I've chosen to talk about Bob Clark's proto Seasonal slasher Black Christmas.

Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin, John Saxon and Marian Waldman.

Along with Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) and Mario Bava's Twitch of the Death Nerve/Reazione a catena /Ecologia del delitto (1971), Bob Clark's Black Christmas is widely believed to be one of the most influential films in the initial development and pioneering of the Slasher film sub-genre. By introducing a set of plot devices that would eventually be reused over and over in countless productions; Teenage characters/protagonist, POV shots coupled with heavy breathing, a nameless killer with an unknown origin and hazy backstory. Perhaps it was unbeknown to Bob Clark at the time, that he would unwittingly create this formulaic guideline, which would quickly become the conventional method for a film of this type.

So, in the universe of Black Christmas, it's Christmas break and a houseful of sorority sisters are throwing a party in celebration. However, unbeknownst to them an uninvited guest creeps around the exterior of the house, before entering the house through an open attic window. Downstairs, Jess (Hussey), Barb (Kidder) and Phyl (Martin) are enjoying the festivities. Until they receive an obscene phone call, to which Barb begins comically retorting to the pervert's remarks only to hear calmly spoken on the other end "I'm going to kill you.". I find this line to be utterly chilling and ultimately important in the development and possible understanding of Billy's characteristics. This use of telephone terrorization would later become integral to the 1979 film, When a Stranger Calls - which oddly enough was also remade in 2006.

Within the first 10 minutes of Black Christmas, the film's atmospheric tone is quickly established and we're introduced to our main protagonist and secondaries. Opening with a static shot of a house decorated with Christmas lights, while a rendition of 'Silent Night' plays over the soundtrack, the viewer is gently eased into the narrative. Quickly cutting away to a shot of a party guest entering the said house. Clark makes no attempt at trying to delay the film's pacing, as right at the 2 minute mark we see our first POV shot.
The point of view shots are skillfully executed by Clark. Using what appears to be a wide-angle lens and a shaky 'handheld' camera, the viewer is literally seeing through the eyes of Black Christmas' psychotic antagonist, 'Billy'. Clark also goes an extra mile by adding footsteps, grunts, snorts and heavy breathing to these sequences, adding to the already distorted and warped visuals, this efficiently helps convey Billy's character (as well as his possible mental state) to the audience as his true appearance is never revealed.

Unlike contemporary slashers, Black Christmas has very little of the red stuff, instead, most of the kills are shot in a very stylish-come-gialli-esque manner or happen off-screen. Instead of relying on copious amounts of gore and depravity à la the 2006 remake, Clark's masterpiece really gets under your skin, especially with the thought of someone else living in your house, without your knowledge, hearing everything you say, possibly watching everything you do. It's this omnipresence that really makes my skin crawl. The film's soundtrack is also full of eerie organ moans and whispers that will be sure to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

So, instead of subjecting yourself to the crap on TV this time of year, why not sit down this Christmas with a copy of Bob Clark's seminal masterpiece, Black Christmas.


Dempsey Sanders said...

i watched this sometime ago and quite liked it, great post

Unknown said...

Love this film - I watched it again over the holidays.

And congratulations! You have won an award -


geralmar said...

To continue the Christmas theme, Clark also directed the now holiday TV staple, A Christmas Story (1983).

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