The second instalment of my (diminishing) ‘Shitty Christmas‘ film selections, not only is the late Bob Clark’s Black Christmas a perfectly mean spirited holiday movie, it’s a highly influential horror.
It’s the week before Christmas break at a quaint American college campus. With red wine being sloshed and chestnuts roasting on an open fire, the festivities turn fearsome when a killer is let loose inside a sorority house. With each of the female tenants meeting their timely fate, it’s up to damsel in distress Jess (Olivia Hussey) to put her abortion debate with boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea) aside, and catch the killer herself.
I love Black Christmas. Even if time hasn’t aged it well, it’s still the perfect remedy of genuine scares and humorous bravado, without ever being trashy or pastiche. It’s great fun to spot the standardised tropes we’ve all become used to in horror movies. And wow, there are so many here including horny young girls, implausible ‘don’t go in there!’ plot points, seven absurd fatalities, melodrama screams and glimmers of german expressionism, maniacal phone calls, a stoic detective, an Oedipally complex serial killer and, best of all, Carl Zittrer’s clamorous score which combines the distorted sounds of cutlery clanging together and ominous analogue synths.
Alongside all this genuinely nuevo scares, horrophiles will relish in spotting the homages Bob Clark fits into the movie, with callbacks’ to the POV killings from Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, psychoanalytical paranoia stemming from Hitchcock’s handbook, and the same eerie claustrophobia as Robert Siodmak’s fantastic 1945 mystery The Spiral Staircase.
Far from formulaic, Bob Clark’s Black Christmas is the precursor to the Slasher sub-genre it would spawn, and it’s still better than most of it’s derivations today. Like John Carpenter’s Halloween, with added eggnog. Great stuff!
Fun fact: nine years later Bob Clark reembraced his inner Santa with 1983’s A Christmas Story. Dropping the horror bomb, it’s a much more conventional, family-friendly Christmas flick, and therefore a lot less fun.