Normally, we review one adaptation or another of Dickens’ celebrated blend of Yuletide and spooky. This year, we’re looking at another take on that particular holiday mix, one Dickens didn’t inspire and would not have approved.
John Carpenter’s Halloween gets credit as the original Mad Slasher film (and its success certainly kickstarted the genre), but the tropes appeared together a few years earlier in a low-budget, initially overlooked Canadian film with a Yuletide setting and a reputation that has grown over the decades.
It also inspired a twenty-first century remake, which inspired no one.
Title: Black Christmas aka Silent Night, Evil Night aka Stranger in the House
Cast, Crew, and Other Info:
Directed by Bob Clark
Written by Roy Moore
Olivia Hussey as Jess
Keir Dullea as Peter
Margot Kidder as Barb
John Saxon as Lt. Ken Fuller
Marian Waldman as Mrs. Mac
Andrea Martin as Phyl
James Edmond as Mr. Harrison
Doug McGrath as Sargeant Nash
Art Hindle as Chris Hayden
Lynne Griffin as Clare Harrison
Michael Rapport as Patrick
Leslie Carlson as Graham
Martha Gibson as Mrs. Quaife
John Rutter as Laughing Detective
Robert Warner as the Doctor
As Christmas approaches, the inhabitants of a sorority house receive threatening phone calls.
Then the killing starts…
Jaws and Halloween get praised for using predatory point-of-view shots as a key element of the suspense/horror film, but this film made effective use of the technique before them. And while some of the horror scenes may feel old-fashioned to modern viewers, the finale proves intense. Before Halloween‘s Laurie, Black Christmas gave us a resourceful Last Girl.
The police leave Jess alone at a major crime scenes—which they also fail to search? Awesome police work, that.
Originality: 4/6 Although it had loose predecessors, this film did the modern slasher first. It took its inspiration from a real-life case and a popular urban legend, so today it would likely claim to be “based on a true story.”
Effects: 3/6 Like a lot of low-budget horror films, this one lacks real effects, but it deserves some credit for its impressive camerawork.
Acting: 5/6 The acting varies but the girls of the sorority, who include Zeffirelli’s Juliet, a future Lois Lane, and a soon-to-be SCTV star, do well.
Story: 4/6 The story occasionally moves forward due to aggressively stupid decisions, but it remains superior to many of the 1980s slashers.
Emotional Response: 5/6 Although some of the attitudes may be dated, the film holds up surprisingly well.
One of the interesting consequences of finally seeing this film is that I’ve had to rethink the Originality of Halloween. Carpenter made a better film, to be sure, but one which follows and improves the beats of this one. Carpenter viewed this film, and knew the director, so the influence is not accidental.
Overall: 5/6 Black Christmas, which did not do especially well on initial release, has grown into something of a cult classic. In addition to its use of the now-familiar slasher tropes, it may also be the first film to have the killer’s threatening phone calls come from within the house (a fact the audience learns early on). As a bonus, John Saxon plays Lieutenant Ken Fuller; he would go on to portray a similar character in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Black Christmas gift-wrapped the genre and served it to Hollywood.
In total, Black Christmas receives 30/42.