Film, Go To

GO TO: BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) dir. Bob Clark

Screens Friday, 12/15 @ Coolidge


Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story has been a part of many household’s holiday must-watches, along with Elf and the classic stop-motion animated specials of Rankin-Bass. The 1983 film is special, and arguably Clark’s most well-known. But his first Christmas film, 1974’s Black Christmas, is held in equally high regard, a totally opposite piece of slasher exploitation that has become a favorite for horror buffs who feel like the holiday season is a bit too cheerful. Both films leave one feeling like they should be with friends and family, though the latter is more for security and reassurance that someone is not hiding in your attic. 

The setups Clark creates are not complex, yet they are ridiculously effective at getting under your skin, something that the poster keeps its word on. The killer is a fully realized idea from beginning to end. A first viewing can lead someone to rethink the killer every few minutes or so. The red herrings appear in various ways, from character drama to great edits. Keir Dullea’s character, Peter, cathartically smashing the piano may tempt a conclusion, but so does the shadowy male figure at the beginning of the film, transitioning to a POV shot of the killer getting into the sorority house. Who the killer is and where the fuck they are hiding remain constant tension builders. Creaks and groans from the house during quiet moments are terrifying, especially when paired with shots of the shadowy hallways or the winding staircase obstructing the full view of the floor above. Towards the end, when our final girl runs away from the killer, Dullea’s character appears behind the frost-tinted window of the basement door, a shot that one can interpret as Clark giving the audience a nod asking, “Is it really him?” 

Clare’s (Lynne Griffin) bedroom scene is one of a few haunting moments. It is clear where the killer is, but because the image of them is perfectly obscured, one may squint or think again if a psychotic individual is there or not. Could it be the boyfriend (Art Hindle) who just left the house to surprise Clare, or it could be the killer? The killings themselves are equally grueling to get through, no thanks to the phone calls the killer makes as well. Imagine the days of no caller ID and having to pick up a phone for a nutjob screaming indecipherable gibberish, only for them to end the call by saying, “I’m going to kill all of you.” The insecurity and panic of real-world suburbia Bob Clark pulls into Black Christmas makes it a horror movie that hits way too close to home. 

John Saxon, Margot Kidder, Olivia Hussey, and the rest of the cast are all phenomenal. Kidder is great to watch stumble around drunk, even letting the kids with Santa have a sip of champagne. The locations and costumes are also very memorable. Again, Kidder comes to mind when she has on the long black robe with the roses; the lighting dimly hitting the dark red and black curtains is just spot on. It’s easy to get lost in the film’s visuals. Lastly, upon a second viewing (my first was a bit over five years ago), one may pick up on the digs at cops Bob Clark clearly writes in. Early on, the casual manner of the cops that there’s a little girl murdered in a park and more crimes clearly coming into focus feels like jabs at local enforcement. The “nothing happens in our little town” mentality of law enforcement frustrates viewers (in a positive way). The mortified faces of family and friends concerned for their loved ones are met with chuckles, leaving them to feel like nothing more than nuisances for the people they put their trust in. To further bang the head of the nail, during the last minute of the film, the cops just leave Hussey unattended, and the phone, the catalyst for this nightmare, rings louder and louder as the credits roll, uninvestigated by the officer right outside the front door. This all could have been avoided if the right people used their brains, and that is what is so brilliant about Bob Clark’s film. Something to think about 50 years after the film was released.

Black Christmas
dir. Bob Clark
98 min.

Digital restoration!
Screening Friday, 12/15, 11:59pm @ Coolidge Corner Theatre

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