Horror Month 2016 Day 8: Black Christmas (1974)

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“The calls are coming from inside the house!”

“Oh, inside the house? I better go upstairs to investigate,” said no one ever. Unless you’re in a horror movie, then go right ahead. I saw Black Christmas for the first time when I was 12 years old (sorry mom) and it quickly became one of my favorite horror films. The pacing of the movie is a little slow at times, and it’s certainly not a gorefest, but it has plenty of moments that leave you shouting, “NOPE!” or “BITCH GET OUT THE ROOM!”

It’s Christmas vacation and the sorority sisters of Pi Kappa Sigma are getting ready to leave for home. There has already been one rape on campus and a 13 year old girl has been kidnapped, and is later found murdered inside a park. The opening scene is filmed from the killer/stalker’s perspective. He’s slowly scoping out the house, trying to find a way inside. He sees a garden trellis on the side of the chimney and begins to climb. He enters the house through a tiny window that leads to the attic. Once inside, the killer moves freely inside the upstairs part of the house. He then enters one of the ladies bedrooms and hides inside her closet. At that moment we’re introduced to Drunk Barb (Margot Kidder) who is constantly, well, drunk, our heroine Jess Bradford (Olivia Hussey) and the pretty little virgin Clare Harrison (Lynne Griffin).

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The movie then cuts to a ringing phone, Jess answers and calls out to the other ladies, “It’s him again, the moaner!” which leads us to believe the house has been receiving anonymous, creepy calls for a while. Jess holds up the phone for all to hear, and what we hear is hysterical laughter, gagging, swearing, and perverted sentiments being made in demonic voices. Fed up, Drunk Barb grabs the phone to tell this guy wassup. That didn’t make him too happy and the call ends with the killer calmly telling Barb, “I’m going to kill you.” Clare begins to reprimand Drunk Barb by saying, “You shouldn’t provoke him like that.” Drunk Barb gives Clare a verbal lashing and we see sad Claire walk upstairs to her room to finish packing. While in there, we’re introduced to the houses stupid cat Claude. We learn, at that moment, the killer is inside CLARE’S closet, and he has positioned himself behind clear, plastic dress covers. That’s when the music turns ominous. You begin to hear “meowing” coming from inside the closet. But it ain’t Claude, dummy, it’s the killer! Clare calls out, “Who’s there?” and begins to walk towards the open closet door. The meowing continues and as Clare moves closer, an arm reaches out, grabs her by the head and begins to suffocate her in the clear, plastic dress covers. We then see a shadow, carrying a lifeless girl, move across the hall, the camera pans up and you see the attic door slowly close. Remember that iconic image of the girl in the rocking chair with plastic wrapped around her head? That’s Clare. Let the killing spree begin.

Black Christmas set the stage for slasher movies, and even served as the inspiration for John Carpenter’s Halloween. This film always leaves me feeling uneasy afterwards, and as someone who lives alone it was hard to rewatch it to write this review. I found myself checking all my closets twice and deadbolting my door. The director, Bob Clark (who also directed A Christmas Story…What?) utilizes the atmosphere of the empty sorority house and his play with shadows and lighting really make for some effectively creepy scenes. Subtlety is definitely the name of the game. Even when it’s not the killer descending the stairs, you absolutely thinks it’s the killer descending the stairs. I also think this movie has one of the most shocking and terrifying endings in cinematic history. Even though I’ve seen this movie a dozen times, I always find myself saying, “Oh, shit.” as the camera slowly closes in on the attic. Seriously, police officers, CHECK THE ATTIC! Here’s the best part of the movie: You’re never told who the killer actually is and you’re never given an explanation. Brilliant. I love when movies do this because it’s always scarier when you don’t know WHY. You’re left with this uneasy feeling and for me, it’s definitely a movie that resonates a few days after watching it.

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I understand that this blog post is supposed to be about the upcoming holiday, Halloween. And while Halloween is the ONLY time of year I love, Black Christmas is my kickoff to the truly agonizing Christmas season. It actually makes it more bearable. Pair this movie with Die Hard and Silent Night, Deadly Night, you’ve got yourself the “Holy Trinity” of seasonal screen delights (Holy Trinities may vary).  It’s not as much a Halloween tradition for me as a Christmas tradition. You go ahead and hang your stockings, decorate your trees, and sing your stupid carols. For me, I enjoy sitting back to watch Drunk Barb be stabbed to death with a glass unicorn, or watch in horror as Jess bludgeons her boyfriend to death with a fire poker. The holidays truly are a magical time.

Liza Marie is a Milwaukee based standup comedian who enjoys all things sci-fi and horror.