Black Christmas

Black Christmas (1974)

Directed by Bob Clark, written by Roy Moore.

Bob Clark’s 1974 Canadian holiday horror is something of a minor masterpiece that holds up even today. Featuring a very strong cast, including John Saxon, Olivia Hussey, Kier Dullea and Margot Kidder, this is considered by many horror buffs as the proto- slasher that paved the way for Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) – even more than Hitchcock’s Psycho (1962) or Michael Powell’s brilliant and (sadly, often overlooked) Peeping Tom (1960).

There are many reasons for Black Christmas‘ success beyond its fabulous cast. The cinematography by Reg Morris is certainly a cut above a lot of horror releases of the day. Like many Hitchcock films, it employs the technique of not showing a lot of blood and gore (apart from a few key scenes) but rather, character reactions which are far more chilling. It was also an early adopter of not showing the antagonist but filming a moving camera from the killer’s PoV.

The music by Carl Zittrer is minimal and incredibly atmospheric and was considered very avant garde for its day. Some of the choices haven’t aged so well but for the most it adds a great deal to the narrative tension without getting in the way.

But above all, the story is solid and Roy Moore’s screenplay allows for plenty of development, giving the actors a lot to work with. This results in a film inhabited mostly by believable, fully fleshed out characters. It also allows room for some really quite funny moments that doesn’t feel out of place or tacked on. Marian Waldman’s deliciously drunk Mrs Mac is a particularly fine example of this.

I confess I haven’t seen the remakes (I think there are two?) but I don’t feel it would do much other than make me want to watch this again. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Sadly, Black Christmas isn’t available currently to stream in Australia, but the fine folks at Newcastle After Dark have it on their YouTube channel.

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