Black Christmas (1974)
A tense, taut & thrilling nightmare whose relevance & potency hasn’t diminished one bit since it was released, Black Christmas is one of the finest examples of its genre that also ranks amongst the greatest works of 1970s cinema. Encapsulated with a chilling sense of dread & terror, populated with rich & believable characters you actually care about, and scoring high marks in all aspects of filmmaking, this Canadian horror is still terrifying in more ways than one, and is the slasher film that inspired every subsequent slasher film.
Set during the Christmas season, the story concerns a group of sorority sisters who find themselves being terrorised by an anonymous caller who keeps threatening & harassing them with obscene phone calls. The serenity of the sorority house is further broken after one of the girls goes missing the very next morning and despite reporting the incident to the police, their matter isn’t taken seriously at first. Festivities turn fatal when it becomes clear that the psychopath has been stalking their house and is killing them one by one.
Produced & directed by Bob Clark, the premise of this film hasn’t aged one day because it presents a situation that many women around the world continue finding themselves in even to this date. The predicament our characters face in this picture is no different from what a lot of women have endured in the real world at one time or another. Even though things may not have ended up as extreme for most as it does in this fable but the threat & its upsetting effect is more than relatable & just as tormenting on the psychological scale.
A. Roy Moore’s screenplay features a simple plot outline of women being stalked by some deranged killer yet what sets it apart from the norm is the effort put in to make sure that these characters come off as genuine & convincing. In fact, Black Christmas boasts better representation of women than most examples of horror ever bother to. They aren’t mere caricatures who exist to serve as death fodder. They have their own ambitions to pursue. Their lives don’t always revolve around men. Nor are their decisions determined by their partners.
Another notable element is how the film depicts the serial killer. By keeping his identity a secret, the story amplifies a sense of ambiguity and makes sure we are unable to relate to him on any level, thus having a more suspenseful impact on the audience. He is either always behind the camera or lurking in the shadows, plus his crazy & manic voice on the phone is enough to instil terror into the frames. Camerawork is outstanding, for the way it is manoeuvred actually mimics the killer’s movements, plus the chosen angles at times capture events from his point of view.
Clocking at 98 minutes, it is truly impressive how time simply flies by in this film’s case. The ominous ambience that builds up within the opening scene is effortlessly sustained till the end. Editing is immaculate, for there isn’t a single moment in the final print that seems irrelevant to the plot. It even finds some room to indulge in lighthearted comedy despite its dark subject matter. Sound design team deserves a mention as well, for their input makes sure we stay on alert mode throughout the story, and especially whenever any hint of danger detected. In short, the technical aspects are expertly executed.
Coming to the performances, Black Christmas features a committed cast in Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin, John Saxon, Lynne Griffin & others, amongst whom Hussey & Kidder impress the most. Hussey’s character is easily the best written of them all while Kidder makes her role stand out with her devil-may-care charm. Saxon is in as the police officer who presides over the sorority case and chips in with a fine input. Dullea plays the typical boyfriend who tries to prevent his girlfriend from aborting their child by trapping her into a marriage proposal, something she does not fall for. Griffin is splendid in her role of a lifeless corpse. And the killer remains uncredited.
On an overall scale, Black Christmas is an unnerving, unsettling & uncomfortable chiller with a simple & straightforward plot that is exceedingly well told. A masterwork of first-rate craftsmanship that is accomplished on both technical & storytelling fronts, the film is a fascinating blend of first-rate direction, tightly knitted screenplay, lively characters, clever camerawork, sharp editing, terrific sound & brilliant performances from its cast. One of the best films of its year, one of the finest films of the 1970s, and undeniably one of its genre’s greatest triumphs, this masterpiece has effortlessly stood against the test of time over the years and will continue to do so for many years to come. A timeless classic. Strongly recommended.