13 Days of Christmas 9: Black Christmas

Posted: December 19, 2011 by StayFrosty in Film, Reviews

On the Ninth Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… Nine Obscene Phone Calls, Eight Santas Bleeding, Seven Cookies Snarking, Six Trees-a-Slaying… FIVE GARBAGE DAYS!… Four Naked ElvesThree Death CarsTwo Curling Duels and a Hell Goat in a Pear Tree

“Agnes? It’s me, Billy.”

In Bob Clark‘s Black Christmas (1974), an ill-fated houseful of sorority sisters is stalked by a psychopath during the holiday season. (Fun fact: Bob Clark also directed A Christmas Story. Whaaa?)

StayFrosty: This was the second time I saw this movie, and the first time I didn’t like it very much.  Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, because I really enjoyed it this time around.  It manages to maintain a creepy atmosphere and the ladies are surprisingly proactive for the time period.  While I love Halloween, I have to admit that many of the tropes made popular by the John Carpenter classic seem to make an appearance in Black Christmas.  POV from the killer (though I maintain that Carpenter used this to much greater effect), a cast of realistic female characters and a killer who mainly stays out of frame.  Black Christmas goes the extra mile by having the killer never reveal himself fully – the most we see is a shadowy outline and one fucking creepy eye through a doorway.  Seriously, it’s pretty damn creepy.

I would remiss in my duties as a member of a feminist blog if I didn’t mention that the female characters are very well done in this film.  Unlike the cardboard cutout, topless, one-dimensional sex and drug craving party girls that seem to inhabit most modern slashers, the ladies of Black Christmas are multi-dimensional.  They have goals and problems and like sex and have fun – in short, they’re girls in college.  When things start to go wrong, they take action.  They go to the police.  And they aren’t just the virgin and the whore.  Our final girl is clearly sexually active and dealing with serious issues like abortion, something not often seen in these types of films.  I find it admirable that these ladies are dealt with in a realistic manner and are allowed to be “normal girls”.

Black Christmas (1974), predating When a Stranger Calls (1979), may very well be the first use of the common "The calls are coming from inside the house!" trope in genre film. Olivia Hussey does not like it one bit.


Jenny: Like Frosty, I was revisiting Black Christmas this past weekend. It had been a while since I’d seen it last and, more than anything, this watch hammered home just how repugnant the remake truly was. Not just a badly done cookie-cutter slasher, but a travesty that guts the original story of all of its mystery and dread. This is most evident with our deadly slasher, “Billy.”

Billy is a tortured voice on the phone that contains murky secrets. A pair of hands. A terrifying glimpse of an eye. (Agreeing with Frosty on all counts here. If it wasn’t for the company, a brightly lit room, and years of watching hardcore horror films, there is a moment here that would have kept me up at night.) Other than groaning threats and muttering about “Agnes,” a baby, and a horrible deed, we know nothing about Billy. It works. When a skilled filmmaker trusts the viewer’s imagination to fill in the blanks, the results can be thrilling and extraordinary. In the remake, said blanks are filled in with smears of shit. Billy is an abused boy born with bright yellow skin. Or something. Avoid.

Although we chose not to include the leading lady Jess in our list of Top 10 Final Girls (for reasons best left unsaid), I agree that she is an excellent example of the slasher heroin. Genre fans uninterested in slashers due to stereotypical characters, needless nudity catering to a male audience, and/or gore may actually find a lot to love about this festive horror film. Recommended.

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