Black Christmas (1974) | 31 Days of Horror: Oct 15

by Jovial Jay

I’m dreaming of a Black Christmas!

Black Christmas stands as one of the earliest slasher films paving the way for hundreds more in later years. It was also one of the earliest horror films to center around a holiday, feature a sorority house, as well as create the most endearing trope of all horror films.

Before Viewing

In case the title Black Christmas doesn’t give it away, the trailer lets you know this is a horror film that takes place during the Christmas holidays as someone murders a family in their house. An extended sequence explains some of the issue, with a killer telephoning the victim and the police chief tapping into the line. But will he be able to stop them in time?

Presented below is the trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - Halloween

Black Christmas

Black Christmas title card.

After Viewing

It’s Christmas time at a sorority outside a college campus in Toronto. A mysterious figure cases the house before scaling the wall and entering into the attic. The girls of the sorority get another call from “the moaner,” as they’ve dubbed him–a pervert calling and making obscene noises. Barb (Margot Kidder) takes the phone and ridicules the prankster before hanging up. Clare (Lynne Griffin) heads upstairs to pack for the holiday break when a figure jumps out of the closet, suffocating her with a plastic bag.

The next day Clare’s father (James Edmond) comes to pick her up but no one can find her. They head to the police station to make a report, but Officer Nash (Doug McGrath) puts it off as a girl shacking up with her boyfriend somewhere. Meanwhile, Jess (Olivia Hussey) gets into an argument with her boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea). She is pregnant with his baby but does not want to keep it.

Jess and Chris (Art Hindle), who is Clare’s boyfriend, return to the police station to make sure the police take this seriously. Chris is friends with Lt. Fuller (John Saxon). While there, they  overhear a mother reporting her missing 13 year old daughter. A search party is assembled that evening with the town folks to look for the young girl. Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), the sorority house mother, hears Clare’s cat in the attic and goes to look. She too is killed by the mysterious figure, but no one notices since she’s supposed to visiting her sister that night.

Later, Jess answers another apparent prank call, but this time it’s a person impersonating several people, asking to be stopped, and speaking as a mother and a child in a weird conversation, referring to Agnes and Billy. She reports this to Lt. Fuller who has the phone line tapped, and links the sorority phone to the police station so he can monitor any weird calls. Peter threatens Jess not to have the abortion, and storms off.

Black Christmas

Jess and Phyllis answer questions from Lt. Fuller about Clare’s disappearance.

Barb, who is a heavy drinker, goes off on a rant to Mr. Harrison, Jess, and Phyllis (Andrea Martin) about being blamed for Clare’s disappearance. Phyllis tells her to go sleep it off, and then leaves with Mr. Harrison to search again for the missing girl. Barb is attacked by the killer while asleep in her bed. Jess does not hear due to carolers coming to the front door. Lt. Fuller finds Peter suspect in his recent actions and the things he has said to Jess.

When Phyllis returns, she goes to check on Barb and is also killed. When the killer calls again, Jess is able to keep him on the line long enough for the trace to happen. Fuller gets word that the calls are coming from the sorority house. He corrects the technician, that the calls are going to the house. But he then realizes that the killer is calling from the other house phone. He has Officer Nash warn Jess while he drives over.

Jess is freaked out by the news and grabs a fireplace poker before being attacked by the killer. She manages to lock herself in the basement. The killer stops banging on the door, and shortly Peter arrives outside the window looking for her. He breaks in to see her. The film cuts to a later moment with an exhausted Jess sitting with a dead Peter in her lap. She killed Peter thinking he was the killer, which seems to satisfy the police. They sedate her and put her to sleep, leaving her alone in her room. The camera drifts back into the attic where the undiscovered bodies of Mrs. Mac and Clare still sit, along with the killer. As the camera drifts away from the house, the phone begins to ring again.

Jess, the caller is in the house. The calls are coming from the house!” – Officer Nash

Black Christmas

A thrilling shot of the killers shadow just before he slays Barb.

Black Christmas has all the hallmarks of the modern slasher film, having invented a number of the tropes. Premiering in December 1974, just two months after The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was released, this film is thought by many to have helped films like Halloween and Friday the 13th come to pass. It takes place over a holiday (in this case, one known for good cheer) at a girl’s sorority house, featuring an unseen and unknown killer stalking the girls one by one. The ending is completely ambiguous, more so than most horror films, and features a number of grizzly killings.

But the most famous aspect for this film, that many might recognize but not know from where it came, is the trope of the killer being in the house. Five years later this idea received wide acclaim in the thriller When a Stranger Calls, which features a babysitter and a killer. Both films took inspiration from the urban legend of the babysitter and the man upstairs, but Black Christmas did it first. This is a widely known, and mocked, trope for horror films having appeared as parody in dozens of films, TV shows, and memes. It was also the basis for the opening of Scream, which is a film that 31 Days of Horror will be looking at later this month.

Black Christmas

John Saxon plays a similar role, as a police detective investigating a murderer, in “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

Black Christmas has received two remakes, in 2006 and 2019, even though the most recent one is really using just the title, and not the content. It presents a chilling an claustrophobic look at serial killings without much of the artificial characterizations seen in modern films. The audience never finds out who the killer is or why they’re doing the killings. There are possibly reasons that can be extrapolated from the film, but none are ever confirmed. This almost concludes the look at holiday horror films, with just one more to go tomorrow.

Black Christmas

Olivia Hussey, here taking a call from the killer, might be better known for her role in Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

Assorted Musings

  • Lynne Griffin in another Canadian horror film Curtains (1983), as well as the Bob & Doug Mackenzie film, Strange Brew.
  • Margot Kidder is probably best known for her roles as Lois Lane in the Superman films, but also was famous for her role in The Amityville Horror.
  • Andrea Martin is probably better known for her role on the Canadian sketch comedy show SCTV, or the aunt in the My Big Fat Greek Wedding films.
  • Director Bob Clarke was famous for another Christmas themed movie, A Christmas Story, as well as the first two Porky’s films, Turk 182, and Baby Geniuses.

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