As I’ve described in this space before, horror movies are one of pop culture’s greatest tools for counter-programming. For nearly every popular trend or beloved tradition, there is at least one movie in which that trend or tradition is used to murder people. And as Christmas is one of the most heavily-programmed holidays of the year, it should come as no surprise that there are dozens – if not hundreds – of holly jolly fright flicks to please the more jaded reveller. While many of those films are beloved mostly for how much fun their names are to say, they count among them at least one out-and-out horror classic: Bob Clark’s BLACK CHRISTMAS.
BLACK CHRISTMAS takes place at a sorority house on a snowy college campus, where the last few students (including Olivia “Juliet” Hussey, Margot “Lois” Kidder, and a pre-SCTV Andrea Martin) make preparations for a low-key Christmas break. As one might expect, their holiday takes a turn for the worse when a mysterious stranger begins making sinister phone calls and bumping the sisters off one by one. If the story sounds familiar, there’s a reason: BLACK CHRISTMAS is widely considered to be Slasher Movie Patient Zero, the first film to wed the baroque aesthetic and structure of the Italian giallo movement to a cast of photogenic, doomed American teenagers. But BLACK CHRISTMAS carries itself with a stateliness absent from most of its progeny. For one thing, unlike the vast, vast majority of yuletide frightfests, there is nary a Murder Santa to be found. Indeed, the killer’s identity is never revealed, his presence an even greater vacuum than the blank Shape of Michael Myers (Clark further obfuscated his antagonist by having a different actor voice each phone call, a trick David Fincher would later use for his masterful ZODIAC). That, combined with the remarkable cast (which, in addition to the aforementioned actresses, includes 2001’s Kier Dullea and genre staple John Saxon) gives an unusual weight to the proceedings, with some of the murders achieving a sort of morbid beauty. You know, like any good holiday classic!
Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Clark would make another, somewhat different holiday favorite a decade later. Say what you will about Scut Farkus, at least he never smothered anyone with a plastic bag.
BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) dir. Bob Clark
Friday, December 12, and Saturday, December 13, 11:59 PM
Coolidge Corner Theatre
290 Harvard Street
Brookline, MA 02446