Movie of the Week: Black Christmas (1974)

Is it just me or has there always been something inherently creepy about Santa Claus?

Kris Kringle doesn’t just spy on us, he has us under an extensive, constant surveillance our enemies (or our own government) can only dream of.  He knows so much about each and everyone of us, he knows when we’ve been bad or good.   He keeps a detailed file on every individual, presumably on the entire planet, and he checks it at least twice.  Plus, the dictator of the North Pole enters our homes while we are asleep.  Within the broad spectrum of his information gathering campaign, I wouldn’t be surprised if good old Saint Nick and his web of elf agents didn’t enter our houses even when we were awake.

Thankfully, to my knowledge, Santa only uses his powers, and info, for good.  And when he enters our homes, he doesn’t have the hankering to slaughter families, sorority sisters, and policemen like homicidally-insane Billy in Black Christmas.

On a dark, wintry Christmas night, Billy (his name isn’t revealed until later in the movie) scales the side of a house and enters the attic.  The house belongs to a sorority chapter and the young ladies are having a small holiday bash before  they go their separate ways for Christmas celebrations.

During the fun is when they receive the first obscene phone call.  With highly imaginative, and fully vulgar, descriptions, some of the women are amused while others find it completely disturbing.  Clare, for instance, doesn’t find it funny at all.  She retires upstairs to pack and becomes the first victim.  Billy is hiding in her closet and suffocates her with a plastic bag.

One by one, the women are stalked in the house by Billy, who seems to know every inch of the place.  Among all the killings, the obscene caller continues with ever-escalating speeches which reveal a little more about him and an incident from his past.  It’s not long before the police are involved with Clare’s disappearance since she missed meeting her father.

Police guarding the house doesn’t stop Billy’s murdering spree and law enforcement tapping the telephone line deter the caller’s rants.

If there is such a thing as a cozy slasher film, Black Christmas is the progenitor.  It is dark, despite the  lights, garland and tinsel, and moves at just the right pace to both put the viewer at ease and keep the atmosphere slightly off kilter.  Far from claustrophobic, it manages a sense of isolation even when it goes beyond the house into the broader world.  The movie also has quite the sense of humor which isn’t surprising considering it was directed by Bob Clack of Porky’s and A Christmas Story fame.

I have to admit I didn’t see the original Black Christmas until after I had seen the 2006 remake, which is not without its merits (I have not seen the 2019 remake, but I haven’t heard many positive things about it; of course the first remake was exactly a critical or commercial darling).  If you want flash and gore, seek out the ’06 model.  If you want the superior, definitive edition, check out the 1974 classic.

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