Black Christmas 1974 Review
Written by: deadhorse13
The formulaic conventions so often applied to the modern day slasher can be directly traced to this seventies horror milestone. Bob Clark expertly conducts this frightening holiday tale that uses its modest approach to its advantage. Look no further for your pioneering template: a sorority house, check; a lone female heroine, check; POV from the killer’s perspective, check; total ambiguity of the fiend and his motive, check and mate.
The sisters of Pi Kappa Sigma are about to go on Christmas vacation. Before they leave they throw a big party, but the event keeps getting interrupted by an obscene caller. The calls become increasingly perverse and threatening, but are not taken too seriously by the merry bunch. However, when one girl turns up missing the next morning, her protective father alerts the authorities. They are reluctant at first, but an observant Lieutenant (an always dependable John Saxon) finally starts to put the pieces together and initiates an investigation. In their search for the missing student they uncover a trail of grisly murders with few suspects. Can the boys in blue corner this gravely Grinch before he stacks his stalkings, or will the demented psychopath be left to his coal-coated customs, tune in to find out.
The influence of Black Christmas cannot be argued. The camerawork manipulates the audience to see things from the killer’s perspective, a relative novelty at the time, but aped repeatedly ever since. The restless movement of the lens is extraordinary, and manages to make the location as ominous as the stalker it conceals. The refusal to reveal the face of the protagonist was another ground breaking concept, the film doesn’t conform to the standard thriller conventions in its creative expose. Certain plot points have been bastardized repeatedly as well: the sorority house setting, a holiday celebration gone bad, apathetic officials investigating the matter, and the discovery of distressing calls that are coming from inside the house, are just a few examples of such.
Black Christmas is skillfully directed and never panders to the audience. The plot is concise, the performances are persuading, and the atmosphere is thick and hearty. The film percolates to a fine boil and the unexpected ending still resonates with menace. It holds up well (aside from the fashions), never looks dated, and the violence leaves more to the imagination in its careful depiction. The highly unusual score adds to the dread tastefully in its intimidating execution. Some mild humor is thrown in for good measure, but not surprisingly it is of the darker shade. Overall Black Christmas is a classy shocker by every stretch of the imagination, and a true hallmark in the annals of horror cinema. Not to be missed.