Classic Intel: Black Christmas - Online Review

'Clark, not content with glorifying in the typical slasher 'kills' or letting the camera hang limply outside of the girls' sorority house, returns again and again to the film's scariest image'

Before the slasher was defined by Halloween in 1978, Black Christmas (1974) was doing its best to lay down the foundations of the sub-genre. All of the elements that would come to typify the slasher are here, four years before John Carpenter's film would arrive to wow audiences. There's a group of young - mainly female - protagonists, led by Olivia Hussey's Jess, terrorised by an unknown assailant. The camera pirouettes from regular shooting angles to 'killer's eye view', lurking outside windows and behind trees. And the now infamous (thanks largely to Scream) 'menacing via telephone call' happens frequently, often signifying an imminent attack.

For sheer voracity of timely ideas, Bob Clark's film is significant and, more than that, significantly well handled. Clark, not content with glorifying in the typical slasher 'kills' or letting the camera hang limply outside of the girls' sorority house, returns again and again to the film's scariest image. The very first murder sees a girl suffocated with a plastic bag. The killer hides her body from the characters but Clark can't resist returning the audience to it time and time again and every time he does so the visual shock of it increases tenfold.

At a decent ninety-eight minutes it's surprising that one of Black Christmas' prevalent problems is pace. Whilst Clark starts the killing off quickly he gets bogged down soon enough afterwards by spending too much time with both Mrs Mac (Marian Waldman) and Barb (Margot Kidder, who would go on from this to be Lois Lane in the same year Halloween was released).

The film is also beset by flawed logic and the typical idiotic character decisions. Why Jess goes upstairs towards the end of the film is mind-blowing and Clark's playful ending would have been umpteen times more powerful had he cut to black a couple of minutes earlier, retaining a little more ambiguity. Still, as historical evidence for the evolution of a sub-genre this is unmissable and as a claustrophobic creep-fest in its own right, it easily does better than average.




Black Christmas was available via Lovefilm's Watch Online service for users with an appropriate subscription.

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'though I don’t want to get into a lot of the urban legends and historical context about Black Christmas and Halloween, I do think it’s more than safe to say that if we didn’t have the former – and the template it provided for future horror filmmakers – then we wouldn’t have the latter' - Wonders In The Dark

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