Christmas has always had a freely acknowledged dark side. Though for most, it is a time of togetherness and joy, for many it is a time of great loneliness and depression. When our holiday entertainments touch on this, it is usually in a comedic context. When it is not, it cruelly puts the burden on the depressed - as if they just don’t “get” the season. Either way, sometimes we just need to retreat from all of the holiday cheer and get a little dark. In 1974, a Canadian film was released that not only brought a little darkness to the most jolly of holidays, but also introduced a new sub-genre into the world of Horror. For the cynic in us that sometimes can not bear the holiday season, I give you the Horror classic BLACK CHRISTMAS.
Directed by Bob Clark (who would go on to give us A CHRISTMAS STORY), BLACK CHRISTMAS tells the story of a group of sorority sisters who are terrorized by a serial killer over Christmas break. The killer taunts his victims over the phone and slowly reveals the awful source of his derangement. One by one the students are picked off until one of them, Jess (Olivia Hussey) finally confronts the killer - or does she?
Though screenwriter A. Roy Moore always maintained that the plot of the film was inspired by a true series of Christmastime killings that happened in Quebec, the bulk of the story is inspired by the urban legend commonly known as “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs”. The legend, in a nutshell, is a babysitter receives a series of menacing calls that tell her to go upstairs and check on the children. She calls the police who trace the call when the stranger calls again. The police then call back and tell her to get out of the house because the call is coming from a second line upstairs. The killer reveals himself just as the babysitter gets away, and it turns out that he had murdered the children and was lying in wait to kill her once she checked on the kids.
BLACK CHRISTMAS takes this basic idea and runs with it. The killer on the phone is an utterly deranged, psychotic character that is as haunting as he is horrifying. The cat and mouse game than he engages in as he stalks his victims is a tense, frightening affair that keeps you guessing at all times. Bob Clark approaches the Horror in a measured, deliberate pace and the cast - including Margot Kidder, Keir Dullea and John Saxon - turn in excellent performances. The result is a classic Horror experience.
Indeed, BLACK CHRISTMAS is so effective that it is often credited for creating the “slasher film” sub-genre of Horror. It is a credit that is not without merit, as there had never been a Horror movie quite like it before. It is also a strangely cathartic film to watch during the holidays. BLACK CHRISTMAS supplies a nice antidote to those of us who sometimes find the season to be a little too much.
BLACK CHRISTMAS fun facts - The original title of the film was “Stop me“.
Composer Carl Zittrer created the other-worldly piano sound by tying silverware to the piano strings
Olivia Hussy almost didn‘t take the role of Jess. She was convinced when a psychic told her that the film would be a big boost to her career.
The Killer - Little baby bunting/ Daddy‘s went a-hunting/ Gonna fetch a rabbit to skin/ to wrap his baby Agnes in.
The Killer - Filthy Billy! I know what you did, nasty Billy!.
Sergeant Nash - I know, the address is something dirty, isn’t it?