Director: Bob Clark
Writer: A. Roy Moore
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon
Before Friday the 13th, and even before Halloween, there was Black Christmas. A horror film with an influence still felt today. The story, which is based on an urban legend, follows a group of college students who are being harassed by a stranger over the phone, who breaks into their sorority house and kills one of the students, Clare. Not knowing what’s happened to her, the other students, as well as Clare’s dad, go to the police to try and get help. At the same time more phone calls are being received that are increasingly weird and creepy.
Black Christmas is an early slasher film, and it’s easy to see how this is the foundation that a lot of horror classic were built on, with so many things that would become staples of the slasher genre. The first-person perspective as we’re first introduced to the killer, the police dying while outside in the car while keeping watch on the house, the growing tension as you try to figure out who the actual killer is, and the excellent use of music. It’s all here, and that alone makes the film a must watch for any horror fan.
On top of that it’s also just a really good slasher film in its own right. It’s aged a lot better than a lot of the other films of the genre. Clare’s death is built up to brilliantly in the opening sequence, that swaps between the killer moving through the building, and the students having their Christmas party. You know immediately that something bad is about to happen, especially when the first of many phone calls is received. After that there’s a lot of time given to the rest of the characters to process what has happened. At first they believe that she will turn up, but slowly start to fear the worse. It makes everything feel real and grounded.
It all builds a really tense atmosphere that builds and builds as they continue to get more phone calls, and the night draws on. The ending is brilliant, as all that nail-biting tension lingers in the air with a suspenseful finale that leaves a lot of loose threads. It doesn’t solve all the questions, even though the police think they have everything under control. It leaves you with an unsettling feeling as the credits roll. The music, from Carl Zittrer, is minimal and adds to the tension perfectly. It also set a good standard for the music in future slasher films.
The film is an important part of horror history, and it’s also simply a really good horror film that’s stood the test of time. Some of the acting is a little suspect, but that’s easily overlooked. There’s not a lot of gore, but it gives you enough to make something horrific in your mind. What it does have is well written characters, a dark sense of humour, and a brilliantly unnerving atmosphere. A must see for any fan of the slasher genre.
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