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In Association with
Black Christmas (1974)
Director: Bob Clark

review by A.E. Grace

This film is one of those little horror gems that makes the genre still worth defending, because it's a great example of how horror really works; or at least, how it should work. Nowadays, directors don't seem to grasp the concept of 'less is more', and practically make us shake hands with the antagonist and invite them to an intimate dinner for two. What we can see and interpret isn't nearly as frightening as something that remains ultimately unknown and undiscovered; an ambiguous monster is a gruesome splice of all our fears, unpredictable, and limitless.

One of the best aspects of Black Christmas is the subtext, consisting of bold statements regarding feminine status in the 1970s, a time when feminists were fighting fiercely for liberation from the homemaker and sacrificial lamb roles, which were very present in most early horror films, and especially literature. Dracula, for example, wouldn't entail a fifth of Stoker's genius had Lucy and Mina not been involved.

That's not to say that what made this film was the strong female elements; the subtlety was the real art here. However, something must be said about the writer's intentions, because I admired them. It'd be far too easy for some critic to accuse this film of being just another sorority slash-up, and that just wouldn't be true.

The females in this film represent various forms women take at such an impressionable college age - the brash and seductive, the level-headed, the prudes, the boffy poetic types, etc. But what I found interesting was the creation of the vulnerable first victim, openly inviting love, peace and sex, only to be snatched up first, with her saran-wrapped face left gawping at the audience like a weeping angel throughout the rest of the film. Juxtapositions and metaphors in horror are best served cold and chilling, after all.

There's also a religious vein running through the film, with crucifixes popping up here and there to remind us of the stain our protagonist is creating upon her religion; a result of her impending abortion. It is attention to themes like this that really make this film work - and I wish I could take my amateur analysis further, but I'm already digressing. Needless to say, this film has many layers.

Silence is golden when it comes to pre-1990s films, and that's something I've always loved - something modern horrors don't appreciate. Horror is a genre that requires great attention to two things: atmosphere and anticipation. Time and time again this film builds you up for a fright with eerie silences, gradually adding to the psychological pinch, until you're so spooked you don't know where to look. The antagonist makes himself present in fits and moans from a location unknown to the girls, and just like the fear, he's already breathing down their necks before they can ask who's calling.

On an incredibly low budget and pretty much a single location, this film - which underwent many transformations before becoming Black Christmas - is an absolute genre success, even down to the cherry-on-top scene during the credits. Well paced and genuinely spine-chilling, I'm actually rather ashamed not to have seen this film before. It's not just 'a good addition to your shelf' as I often say, but an absolute essential.

Black Christmas

copyright © 2001 - Pigasus Press