The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

black christmas 1974 review
A killer terrorises a sorority over the holidays.

Review by Jason Abbey

Directed by: Bob Clark

Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Marian Waldman, Art Hindle, Lynne Griffin

black christmas 1974 101 films

Bob Clark's Black Christmas is a film that has all the trappings of a Halloween knock off, but just happens to pre-date John Carpenter's seminal work by four years. It manages to include POV shots, a sorority house full of college age ladies and an unknowable killer in the form of Billy, whose modus operandi remains unclear right up to the ambiguous finale. The extras for this disc imply that Carpenter may have nabbed his title after Clark's plans for a Halloween based sequel fell through. Halloween may have been the slick, precision tooled scare fest that took the template and refined it to a diamond polish, but Black Christmas is an eight-track rough demo that still has much to recommend.

black christmas 1974

Black Christmas sets its stall out quite early when an unknown stalker breaks into a sorority house full of sassy students, none of whom behave in the manner of the final girl established by Carol Clover in her book Men, Women and Chainsaws. Even the house mother is a dyspeptic wise ass with a fondness for booze. A series of explicit deranged calls from someone called Billy seem to amuse more than unnerve the house, with Margot Kidder acting particularly street wise as Barb, giving it full Noo Yawk by way of Toronto. As expected in a template this film helped set, various members of the house are bumped off, but not in the order you would expect.

There is something more depressing than normal in Clark’s killer; he remains faceless throughout with just a very scary wide eye visible when seen. Billy's predilection for phone calls is something genuinely disturbing, a howl of inchoate sexual rage, like a masturbatory form of primal scream therapy. It gives the film a queasy psycho sexual energy that the puritanical Michael Myers does not have. The murders may be staged in a matter of fact way, but there is always the concern that once he has staged his grim tableaux, what will he do with the bodies after? It will leave you feeling as grim as the cold surroundings in which the film takes place.

black christmas 1974

Clark also seems more interested in his characters than most slasher movies. Playing it more as a whodunit, he draws out flaws and potential traumas in the girls that may unveil the killer in their midst. Barb is often an unlikeable character, brittle and hard with clear alcohol issues, but also set up as the lead female of the group. The male characters range from ineffective, be they boyfriend Chris (Art Hindle) or virginal first victim Clare (Lynne Griffin) or her milquetoast father who has come to pick her up. Even the ever-reliable John Saxon as the chief of police seems more interested in horse play than crime solving. Keir Dullea, only slightly less spaced out than he was for Kubrick, is the most plausible suspect mainly because he appears to be acting in a different movie.

Like Wes Craven’s far grislier and depressing The Last House on the Left, there is a certain loss of nerve with the subject matter, Clark shoehorning comedic asides in a way that unbalances the carefully set tone established by the director. This is none-more evident than in the drunk house mother (Marian Waldman), a character that soon becomes wearing, resorting to the type of Lou Costello routine that has no place in this film. There are even a few police precinct knob gags that seem more in tune with Clark's later Porky films.

black christmas 1974

As a killer in the house movie it works best in the claustrophobic surrounds of the house, most particularly in the archaic methodology used to track where the calls are coming from; suspense only increasing when the most useless member of the police force is required to save the day. Restored here in grainy '70s splendour, Clark's film is tense and unnerving, with a denouement that is the equal of its more famous holiday cousin.

Pour some mulled wine, put on the Christmas lights and relax as Billy spews Christmas filth into your ears for a yule time treat only marginally less disturbing than a Cliff Richard Christmas album.

A detailed set of cast and fan oriented extras, including interviews with Canadian genre star Art Hindle and actor/victim Lynne Griffin, who waxes lyrical about the late Bob Clark. Both also appear on a reunion panel from 2014 with the curiously ageless John Saxon. The meat here is an hour-long documentary with the surviving cast members and fans of the seminal work. You also get TV Spots and a trailer that posits the question “if this movie doesn’t make your skin crawl it’s on too tight”. A nifty package for a film long deserving of the high definition treatment.

Black Christmas is on dual format blu-ray/DVD now from 101 Films.