Years before Jason terrorized Crystal Lake and Michael came home, and more than a decade before Freddy haunted our dreams, there was Black Christmas (1974). So, with only the Christmas lights twinkling in the distance, let’s take a look at the holiday horror classic.
Director Bob Clark certainly has some highs and lows on his list of credits. Good would include films like Murder by Decree (1979) and A Christmas Story (1983) while bad would be such cinematic disappointments as Rhinestone (1984) and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (2004). However, the gems can outshine the trash and certainly Black Christmas should be considered a gem. For starters, you’ve got a great cast that includes such names as Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea and John Saxon. You’ve also got a unique holiday setting and, above all else, you have an original plot that was a bit ahead of its time. It offered up a slasher flick in which most of the victims actually had an IQ.
Our movie begins with the point-of-view of a man climbing up into the attic of a sorority house at Christmas. The girls are having a party down below and are oblivious to their new resident. Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet) is our lead as Jess Bradford, who answers the phone only to hear an obscene caller. However, this caller has called before and he is clearly not of sound mind. Local lush Barb (Margot Kidder, Superman The Movie) takes the phone only to yell and potentially upset the caller even more. Innocent Claire (Lynne Griffin) wonders why Barb would antagonize the caller and heads upstairs to pack. Minutes later, she is attacked and killed in her room before being relocated to a rocking chair in the attic, plastic bag still over her head and a baby doll in her hands.
As our story progresses and it’s discovered that Claire is missing, Jess seeks the help of the police in locating her. Claire’s boyfriend Chris (Art Hindle, TV series Dallas) has little use of the police but actually is useful in getting them to listen. Lt. Ken Fuller (John Saxon, Enter The Dragon) agrees to help and soon discovers that there is indeed a killer on the loose. Could it Jess’ boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea, 2001: A Space Odyssey)? After all, he seems pretty unstable after discovering that not only is Jess pregnant but that she is planning on getting an abortion. As the bodies begin to pile up and the police attempt to trace the call, its building up to be anything but a silent night.
Black Christmas capitalizes on the urban legend of the “babysitter and the man upstairs.” Now, if you aren’t familiar with that tale, don’t Google it until after seeing the movie. Despite borrowing on the legend, it does offer some original concepts that differ from many of the usual slasher flicks that would follow later in the 70s and on into the 80s. There are no sex-crazed teenagers here. In fact, everyone remains intelligent for the most part. Oh sure, there are some questionable decisions here and there, but not nearly as many as we’d get used to seeing just a few years later.
The list of potential cast members is quite interesting. Bette Davis was originally offered the role of the house mother while Malcolm McDowell was offered the role of Peter. Edmond O’Brien was originally supposed to be Lt. Fuller but ill health prevented him from doing the role. Even Gilda Radner was offered a role and even accepted before having to leave due to Saturday Night Live.
Black Christmas was not a success at the box office and initially received poor reviews. However, the film has since become a cult classic. Despite a short release under the studio’s alternate title Silent Night, Evil Night, director Bob Clark always preferred the Black Christmas title. So, if you are looking for something different and creepy this Christmas, you can’t go wrong with Black Christmas. The movie is available on YouTube, making it a pretty easy stocking stuffer. Just make sure you avoid that lump of coal remake from 2006. Going with the classic is the best choice and one you won’t regret!