Horror 365 Movie 10: Black Christmas

The women of ΠΚΣ don’t know it yet, but their ongoing obscene phone caller problem is about to escalate. Black Christmas (aka Stranger In The House and Silent Night, Evil Night) is often cited as one of the scariest movies ever made (which might be a little over the top) and one of the 100 best horror movies of all time (which is fair).

It’s certainly a landmark piece of cinema in that, along with Psycho and Peeping Tom, movie helped pave the way for Silent Scream, Halloween, Friday The 13th, and the countless subgenre flicks that followed.

There is much in Black Christmas that seems old hat now, but would have been new and exciting in 1974. The murderer’s POV, the “killer in the house premise,” the final girl (not, incidentally, a virgin), ineffective cops, the “not over yet” ending, and other elements that will become standard fare throughout the 80s are all predated here.

Bob Clark (who would go on to direct, yep, A Christmas Story) also infuses Black Christmas with a giallo kind of feel. We don’t see the killer, it’s unclear what motivates him, and there’s a decent red herring. Not surprising given that by 1970 Dario Argento was churning out what would become classics like The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, The Cat O’ Nine Tails, and Four Flies On Grey Velvet in rapid succession.

Speaking of giallo, let’s look for a minute at Olivia Hussey. Sandwiched between Romeo And Juliet in 1968 and Turkey Shoot in 1982, she plays Jess in Black Christmas. Born in Argentina, Hussey moved with her mother to London at age 7, and never lost her fantastic accent–one more contributing factor to the movie’s giallo atmosphere.

The murders add their touch as well (skip if you wanna be surprised):
1 dry cleaning bag suffocation (no surprise there–it’s an iconic image and is on the poster)
1 pulley hook to the head (technically a snatch block hook–Googled that shit cuz I’m all about the research)

1 glass unicorn stabbing (I have to wonder if Bob Clark saw The Abominable Dr. Phibes)
1 run-of-the-mill throat cutting
2 off-screen kills

Just for laughs, let’s throw in cult movie legend (and no stranger to giallo himself) John Saxon, a pre-SCTV Andrea Martin, and a boozy, foul-mouthed Margot Kidder.

Don’t get me wrong. Black Christmas is plenty tense, just not one of the scariest movies ever made. It unfolds a little slowly which is fine if such a pace is in service to upping the dread. That’s not really the case here, not when the plot drifts in and out of police procedural waters from time to time, almost like a giallo version of CSI or SVU.

Hell, it’s already been remade twice. Wonder what David Caruso is up to…

 

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