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Black Christmas


‘…disturbing, highly-influential horror sleeper…’

Let’s rewind all the way back to Christmas 1983, and I’m staying up late to watch Bob Clark’s jet-black 1974 horror film on its BBC2 tv premiere; there wasn’t too much musty about Black Christmas. Establishing POV shots long before John Carpenter’s Halloween, and pre-dating a specific strain of horror that would eventually become the empty-headed slasher cycle, Black Christmas is jammed with a range of serious and comic characters, some dense plotting, and a Bruegel-esque atmosphere that drips with verboten menace. Not just for Christmas, Black Christmas is part of a welcome three-film blu-ray release of Bob Clark’s early horror films from 101 Films, and we’ll get to the other two later this week, but first of all….let’s put out some shortbread and brandy for an unexpected festive visitor…

‘What time do the little bastards arrive?’ asks a dishevelled Santa as he prepares for an onslaught of greedy children; this is Christmas all right, but not the jolly one that Clark would explore in the more wholesome Christmas Story. So who exactly are we waiting for? We’re hanging in a crowded, then abruptly deserted sorority house where the girls have more on their minds than studies. ‘This is a sorority house, not a convent ‘ explains Margot Kidder, and she’s right; it’s not like a convent at all. The cops, led by John Saxon at his laconic best, have a job on their hands figuring out who is responsible for the obscene calls being made by an anonymous man to the girls; then we jump to the twist, and a killer line- ‘the calls are coming from inside the house…

This specific sleight of hand has since passed beyond cinema meta-data into general usage, but it’s one of several deceptive plots, one involving including Keir Dullea as a concert pianist prone to throwing furniture-obliterating rages. Olivia Hussey adds some age-appropriate angst, but just who is doing what to whom? One of the things that elevated Black Christmas into the rarefied realms of Picnic at Hanging Rock spiritual horror is that we never actually find out anything really about the mysterious presence in the attic. Is it a stalker? A ghost? A monster? We never get to understand what has happened, and the final shot is deliberately open-ended to chill rather than reassure.

‘No, Clare, it’s just the Mormon Tabernacle Choir making their annual obscene phone call…’ proves not to be the last word on the potential dangers here; Black Christmas has a wild, pagan feel to it, with the same diffuse lit decoration background that would turn up again in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. While the Steadycam isn’t particularly steady, Black Christmas went some way towards creating the moves of the modern cinema, establishing a foreboding atmosphere as we switch from the girls drifting around the dormitory to the anxiousness building at the police station; there’s also broad comedy interludes which still fit the anti-everything mood. While Black Christmas never had a sequel, and two spurious remakes took it away in equally erroneous directions of gore and feminism, it’s hard to imagine that they could re-capture the icy feel of this disturbing, highly-influential horror sleeper.

Bob Clark Horror Collection (Limited Edition) (Blu-ray)

£44.99 GBP Out April 3rd 2023 in the UK!

Special Features for Black Christmas:
• Commentary with director Bob Clark
• Commentary with actors John Saxon and Keir Dullea
• Commentary with actor Nick Mancuso
• Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle
• Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin
• Black Christmas Legacy
• 40th Anniversary reunion panel: Fan Expo Canada 2014
• TV and Radio Spots
• 12 Days of Black Christmas Featurette
• Black Christmas Revisited Featurette
• Midnight Screening Q&A with Bob Clark, John Saxon, and Carl Zittrer

Bob Clark Horror Collection (Limited Edition) (Blu-ray)


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  1. Saw this in 1975 on its ABC release coupled with Out of Season – Cliff Robertson/Vanessa Redgrave/Susan George. Couldn’t get a better double bill at a time when double bills were going out of fashion and local cinemas were starting to show big hitters for two weeks instead of one.

    • That IS a healthy double bill, back int he days when value was more important than coherence…

      • I’m not sure quite what prompted local cinemas into running movies for two weeks. Possibly threat, or equally likely lack of alternative product. My all-time fave is It’s Alive with Badlands as the support. Suffice to say it took me longer to recognise the delights of the former over the latter.

        • I can see how these two films might go together. But I’m sorry that the double bill had gone, kids today won’t go for that. Value for money and a great way to pass the afternoon. Bring it back!

  2. My records show I saw this in December 1978 in a double bill with Larry Cohen’s ‘It Lives Again’ at Shepherd’s Bush Odeon 2. Quite a pairing I think. It was the first Canadian ‘genre film’ that I watched – I was mainly familiar with National Film Board stuff and I avoided Cronenberg up until ‘Crash’. I’m intrigued with what you will make of Clark’s other films. I think the ‘Porky’s’ films ruled him out of consideration in the early 1980s.

    • You have out Black Christmas-ed me, by a good five years. I’d imagine this would have been a real shock to the system back in 1978…Clark has a diverse canon, he never made it out from under the shadow of his biggest hit Porkys, which I kind of think is better than its reputation, although the sequels are truly awful IMHO. But A Christmas Story is a US staple, and Murder by Decree is very good. I’ll post on Death Dream and Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things in the next few days, but while less than amazing films, you can certainly see that he’s a talented film-maker who generally covers a wide social spectrum in his films. The Pyx is another early Canadian effort that I like, but the market was flooded by the late 70’s…

  3. ‘What time do the little bastards arrive?’ asks a dishevelled Santa as he prepares for an onslaught of greedy children

    Is it wrong that I love movies where Santa hates the kids?

    • I’ve always though this was a terrific film, even when I was too young to see it. Very different from the slasher copies, and Clark goes up in my estimation to more I see of his work…

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