Bob Clark’s name is easy to recognize around the holiday season for having directed both a slasher film set around the season as well as arguably one of the most popular films all about the nostalgia of being a kid at Christmas. But Black Christmas isn’t solely known for being one of the most popular horror films about the holiday season, but also it has been widely considered the first slasher film alongside its reputation as one of the most successful Canadian films from the period. With its reputation as the first slasher film and eventual influence on later films of the period, the question that begs to be answered is how well does it hold up today?
All around, this movie carries the perfect template for a slasher film from the setting and its own characters. This film is set within a sorority during the holiday season as one girl picks up a morbid phone call, that soon comes back to terrorize the sisters living within the home. The basic formula for the slasher film is present here, because of the fact that we have a group that will slowly get killed off one by one by the mysterious killer and in the end, we know that one will reign atop all others. It’s the basic formula that we’ve come to know, and that’s a part of where the most entertaining aspects of Black Christmas still retain their charm.
But considering how this formula seems to have been done many more times within the future, it’s quite clearly just a bare bones horror film at the most. This film is merely just bare bones in the sense that it doesn’t seem to have much more to go beyond what it already has established its own self as, and even there you know where everything is set to go because the script seems to have set everything to come by out of mere convenience. Nevertheless, it’s made worthwhile because of how the mystery about the killer is kept intact, and as led by Olivia Hussey (who is fantastic) – there’s really no reason not to stick with the sorority, and that’s where the film finds itself at its best. Outside of that, it seems to be too caught up even in its own mystery about who the killer is, which is both a blessing and a curse.
It’s a blessing because you know that the killer could be anyone and the best horror films place one within a situation where everything feels so close up. But from Jess, what’s also present is a perfect challenge for later slasher films when it comes to how gender roles are handled in these films – because the vibrance that Hussey carries inside of her performance is outstanding. But the sort of growth in her own character arc is one that almost seems rare for the slasher genre, and it’s nice enough for Bob Clark to give her the courage to find her own independence – even if it had cruelly come at the cost of the deaths of the other sorority sisters, but they weren’t given terribly much to worth with in retrospect.
When the film ends, you’re only left with the question about what’s left to make of Jess. And considering we never saw who the killer was, it feels nice enough for Bob Clark to have left another piece of the puzzle unsolved. But in the end, the ambiguity of that sequence settles why Black Christmas still manages to triumph over the many aspects of it that haven’t particularly aged the best. You can only come so far with a slasher film like this, but what’s the point in sticking for the ride if you didn’t care what was going on? And soon that’s where Black Christmas showed off itself at its most twisted. It solidifies its own legacy amongst all the slashers that have come after, not even a remake or anything that’s clearly done it better would have been able to tarnish it.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Film Funding Limited of Canada and Ambassador Films.
Directed by Bob Clark
Screenplay by A. Roy Moore
Produced by Bob Clark
Starring Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon
Release Year: 1974
Running Time: 98 minutes