Title: Black Christmas
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin, Lynne Griffin, Marian Waldmn, Keir Dullea, Art Hindle, John Saxton, James Edmond
Plot: A sorority house finds themselves being plagued with continual and frequently disturbing prank calls from an unknown caller. However its not long before things start to take murderous turn as the girls soon find themselves being preyed upon while Lt. Fuller (Saxton) tries to track down the source of the calls.
Review: Not only the first of the festive slashers, this film also has the distinction of being one of the first slasher ever while inspiring in its wake the likes of “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”. Despite this “Black Christmas” has never had the same following that “Silent Night Deadly Night” has despite coming out after it and even the superior “Christmas Evil”.
Directed by Bob Clark who over the course of his career would give us numerous cult movies including “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things” and the legendry teen sex comedy “Porky’s” and its sequel before being resigned to directing TV movies and more ashamedly the “Baby Geniuses” films. This film however really catches him in his prime as a director with this surprisingly tense and subtle slasher a style which would be lost on the later slashers of the 80’s which became more about the kill than the tension leading up to it.
Opening to the girls of the sorority house throwing a Christmas party while a mysterious stranger climbs into the attic before shortly afterwards the girls receive the first of the films prank calls. These calls are less the humerous variety and more of a madman’s ramblings seemingly intercut with records of screams and other disturbing noises all which unsurprisingly leave the girls as freaked out as it does annoyed by these calls which keep coming. This is a great setup for the events of the film while further topped off by one of the best kills of the film as Claire (Griffin) is killed with plastic wrapping before being placed in the attic and displayed in a rocking chair.
Unlike so many of the other Holiday slashers this film was a surprisingly subtle film and despite featuring a spattering of memorable kills this film is really more about building tension and suspense than focusing on the slasher working his way through the girls of the sorority house. That being said its not free from its share of truly random moments including several characters seemingly always drinking including most memorably the house mother who has hidden bottles all around the house to ensure that she is never without a drink. Barb (Kidder) meanwhile seemingly also never stops drinking from the first time we see her at the opening party to the next day when she is hosting with her foul mouthed boyfriend amusingly dressed as Santa a party for underprivileged kids, one who she is soon seen also giving alcohol to as well.
The killer here really brings something special to what could have been otherwise a run of the mill slasher as not only do we ever fully see who they are, with an eye and a hand being all we get to see of the killer outside of his shadowy outline. At the same time Clark perfectly distracts us with Jess’s boyfriend Peter (Dullea) a neurotic pianist who is struggling to deal with the fact that she wants to have an abortion. The fact that Jess is also the final girl and that the pure and virginal Clare is the first to die equally mixes things up and breaks the so called slasher rules before they even came into play.
The kills throughout are all creative from the opening plastic sheet suffocation to one of the girls being stabbed by a glass unicorn in one of the more creepy scenes, as her screams are drowned out by carollers while such scenes ensure that things are kept interesting especially when the killer is kept solely to the house which could have limited the film or descended into drawn out chase scenes which surprisingly it never does.
The cast are all likeable enough in their various roles with John Saxton especially standing out as Lt. Fuller who seemingly is the only cop capable of making anything happen in this town, especially when his fellow cops are so quick to dismiss the concerns of the girls when they attempt to report Claire’s mysterious disappearance, though why no one ever thinks to check the attic is beyond me and ensuring that the killer always has somewhere to hide out and generally set out grim displays with the bodies of his victims. The fact that seemingly the only way to track the killer is by keeping him on the phone while they trace the call at the telephone exchange certainly keeps the chase tense, especially as the calls become increasingly deranged and aggressive as the film progresses.
The downside to the film lies in its second half where the film really starts to falter thanks to some poor pacing and poor handling of the cops attempts to find the killer as the final half of the film feels like it could have been trimmed down which might ultimately have made me enjoy this film more than I did.