Review: Black Christmas

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Black Christmas is a 1974 Canadian independent horror film directed by Bob Clark (Pork’s, A Christmas Story) based on a script written by A. Roy Moore.  Moore was inspired by an urban legend about a babysitter harassed by creepy phone call and a series of murders committed in Montreal in the 1960s by a psychotic killer nicknamed Bill.  Shot in Toronto in the winter of 1973, the film stars Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder (Lois Lane in the Christopher Reeve Superman films), Andrea Martin (future SCTV icon) and Keir Dullea (Dr. Dave Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey).  

Black Christmas centres around a group of sorority sisters spending Christmas break together when they are stalked and murdered by a killer hiding in their sorority house. The film was interestingly paired with a screening of White Christmas (1954) as a double-bill, hosted at the Ottawa Public Library. In a year where Barbenheimer was a hit at the box office, why not?

Generally considered to be one of the first slasher films, it is easy to spot several elements that have developed into tropes of the genre—a killer in the house terrorizing women, girls being picked off one by one, the killer’s POV shot, the phone call coming from inside the house.  It is interesting to compare Black Christmas with John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), which kickstarted many clones and the mainstream popularity of the North American slasher genre.  

Even though it is clearly a product of the 70s and portrays many prevailing attitudes and social norms of the era, I am struck by several elements of Black Christmas make it seem surprisingly modern.  A good example is when Hussey’s character Jess tells her boyfriend that she is pregnant, wants to have an abortion, and that she is not going to marry him.

Peter: Now, just hear me out. Will you hear me out, please? Now, I’ve lived in one room for eight years, and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of having to line up behind six people every time I wanna take a bath. I’ve had it! I’m quitting the conservatory, and we’re getting married.

Jess: Do you remember when we first met? You told me about your wanting to be a concert pianist. How it was your greatest dream. And I told you about some of the things I wanted to do. I still wanna do those things. You can’t ask me to drop everything I’ve been working for and give up all my ambitions because your plans have changed. Be realistic. I can’t marry you.

The slasher formula dictates promiscuous characters, or characters consuming drugs and alcohol, would be the first doomed to horrible deaths at the hands of the killer.  Jess, on the other hand, is the hero of this film, a strong, independent character and speaks to today’s audience. 

While the slasher genre is not one of my favourites, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the writing and the ingenuity in how the film was shot. Limitations of the technology at the time lead to most of the violence being off-screen, which, in my opinion, added to the tension and scare-factor.

Extra: Black Christmas was set to premiered on television on 1978.  Around the same time there was a string of sorority house murders near SFU, that ended up being committed by Ted Bundy.  Several television stations refused to air the film.

More info & links:

  • Director: Bob Clark
  • Cast: Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, Keir Dullea, Andrea Martin
  • Black Christmas on IMDB

Jith Paul

Web Designer, Editor, Film Reviewer

Jith Paul is an independent filmmaker based in Ottawa. While pursuing a career as a software engineer, he decided to take a detour to follow his passion for film and filmmaking, establishing Treepot Media in 2010.

He is a co-founder of the Ottawa Canadian Film Festival, and editor of the film613 blog.

When he is not busy fighting crime, he coordinates the efforts of an international team of software developers and service providers as the Team Lead for Digital Development at CPAC, the Cable Public Affairs Channel.