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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Day 360: Black Christmas

Black Christmas
I'm dreaming of a Black Christmas

Merry Christmas to those celebrating and Merry Tuesday to those who are not. Hopefully you're spending time with your loved ones or at least people you can tolerate, having fun and eating good food. If you're working, at least you're getting bonus money while reading a blog about horror movies. That's a win in anyone's book. Since today is Christmas, I had no shortage in horror movies to choose from. As I expressed in my review of “Rare Exports”, there are a lot of Christmas horror movies. While holidays like Passover and Columbus Day are frequently ignored by the horror world. Christmas gets all the love. Granted, a lot of the movies are just slashers with someone dressed up like Santa. Creativity only goes so far for some people. The only way to properly celebrate this day is to watch one of the very first slasher films. Before Freddy, before Jason, before Michael Myers, there was Black Christmas.

Black Christmas is a 1974 holiday slasher film written by A. Roy Moore and directed by Bob Clark (Porky's, A Christmas Story). The movie stars Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet, Virus) as sorority girl Jess Bradford and John Saxon (A Nightmare On Elm Street, Enter The Dragon) as Lt. Kenneth Fuller. During a Christmas party at the Pi Kappa Sigma sorority house, an unknown man climbs up a trellis and sneaks into the attic. Jess receives an obscene phone call from a man the girls have dubbed “the moaner”. The calls have been going on for some time and have gone mostly ignored until tonight. An inebriated Barb Coard (Margot Kidder, Superman, The Amityville Horror) begins to provoke the moaner which causes him to utter “I'm going to kill you!” before hanging up. Another sorority sister, Claire Harrison (Lynne Griffin, Strange Brew, True Identity), goes to her room to pack for a trip and is attacked by the man who snuck into the house and asphyxiated with a plastic sheet. He carries her body to the attic and places her in a rocking chair with a doll in her lap. The next day, Claire's father comes to pick her up only to find her missing. A campus wide search begins to find Claire along with a 13 year old girl that was reported missing. Meanwhile, Jess meets with her boyfriend pianist Peter (Keir Dullea, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Good Shepard) who is preparing for an important audition. She informs Peter that she is pregnant and is getting an abortion. Peter is upset by her decision and ends up failing his audition. Back at the sorority house, Mrs. MacHenry, the house mother, is murdered by the killer who hangs her in the attic with a crane hook. The search party finds the body of the missing girl in the park, so Jess, Barb, and fellow sister Phyllis return to the house and receive more disturbing phone calls. Lt. Fuller puts a “bug” in the phone so the police can listen to the calls and trace them. Peter comes to the house and argues with Jess about the abortion. Soon, another call comes in mimicking the conversation she had with Peter. The police are able to trace the calls and discover that they are actually coming from inside the house. Who is the killer and will the girls be able to survive?

"No, my refrigerator wasn't running. Thanks for the tip!"

Being one of the first of anything allows you enormous amounts of freedom to do what you want. You are not hindered by previous ideas or expectations. This freedom allowed Black Christmas to be incredibly creative and extremely influential on future horror films. Up until Black Christmas, most horror movies were fairly straight forward with a strong hero and a clear, decisive ending. This movie gives us neither, which makes it truly disturbing. While Jess is considered the heroine, she spends most of the movie being harassed, by both her boyfriend and the killer. Even at the end, she is still shown as utterly vulnerable. While there is an ending, the movie does not have a true conclusion. We never see the fully killer or learn why he is there. We only have his disjointed, terrifying phone calls which come in different voices and tones. There's occasional talk about a baby and the line "Agnes? It's me, Billy." is repeatedly, though what it means is never clear. Later slashers focused on silent killers, but there is something truly scary about the incoherent rambling of the killer in Black Christmas.

From the very beginning of the movie, we see the film's creativity, shooting from the killer's perspective. Nowadays, that's fairly common, but in 1974, it was new and daring. What makes these shots so interesting is that they are done so in a disorienting way. The camera is uneven and wobbly with a semi-fish-eye lens, showing that the killer as unstable. There is plenty of suspense throughout the movie as we, the audience, know that the killer is in the house, but the girls don't. Added to the suspense is a dark, creeping atmosphere the never lightens, even at the end. There is some good violence and a decent amount of blood spread through out. While the movie is influential for a lot of good things that horror movies do today, it also had a bad influence in my mind: inept police and characters who ignore common sense. While I don't think either of these were intentional, most of the events in the movie would not have occurred if the police were not terrible at their jobs and the girls weren't completely oblivious. From the very beginning, the police do multiple things wrong and leave the girls in a lot of danger. Even the very ending is capable because of a complete failure to a) do a through check of the house and b) stay with the one surviving witness. The willful ignorance of the girls are also frustrating. Jess is told that the killer is inside the house and to just walk out. What does she do? She screams for her sorority sisters and then goes upstairs. Come on, if the police told you a murderer was in your house, would you make as much noise as possible and go wandering around? These things don't hurt the viewing experience, but it is fairly aggravating.

He must have seen mommy kissing Santa Claus

Black Christmas is a fun and creative horror movie that really set the standard for all future slashers. It's basis comes from real-life murders in Quebec which help give credence to the plot. It's funny how many horror movies involved prank or obscene calls, a plot device that is now moot thanks to Caller ID and cell phones. The acting is good and the direction is really solid. It's funny to think that the director behind such wholesome movies as A Christmas Story and Baby Geniuses also directed such a dark and disturbing movie. I really like that we never see the killer or learn his motives and the ending is quite unsettling. The obscene phone calls are also very uncomfortable and make the movie that much more frightening. There are some good kills and a decent amount of blood in the movie along with a few laughs. Black Christmas's influence can still be seen today in horror movies, an incredible accomplishment for a Canadian horror movie that received mixed reviews. Merry Christmas and Merry Tuesday to all and to all a terrifying night.


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