Black Christmas (1974)
December 15, 2019 1:11 AM - Subscribe

A sorority house is terrorized by a stranger who makes frightening phone calls during winter break.

Five years before When a Stranger Calls, Black Christmas hit big screens. It boasts an all star cast including Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin, Marian Waldman and John Saxon.

It was directed by Benjamin "Bob" Clark also known for A Christmas Story and Porky's. He also directed the horror films Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things and Deathdream.
posted by miss-lapin (9 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
According to "Drive In Movie Critic" Joe Bob Briggs, Bob Clark claims that Halloween was supposed to be the sequel for Black Christmas. According to Clark, Carpenter asked Clark about a potential Black Christmas sequel. Clark said the story would involve the killer being institutionalized and getting out. Carpenter later used this idea to make Halloween, another holiday themed horror film. In addition, both Black Christmas and Halloween were initially titled The Babysitter Murders.

Briggs, however, finds the claim unlikely as apparently Clark was talented at making specious claims.
posted by miss-lapin at 5:03 AM on December 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I came to this one pretty late in spite of enjoying a steady diet of slashers and being a huge fan of Halloween. I was surprised by how well this holds up as a film. It has a lot of entertainment value beyond its importance as a proto-slasher.

It's a pretty bleak film and it does a good job in fleshing out the characters which is key for this type of film (and something a lot of the films that followed fail at). The killer being unknown and their motivations being unclear helps the horror as well.

The (first) remake is pretty terrible (mainly by fleshing out the killer with an unneeded backstory) but I've heard good things about the new one (even though the trailer gives away the entire plot and premise).
posted by slimepuppy at 9:01 AM on December 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Actually in the horror community I've seen nothing but hate for the latest remake, and it had a dismal opening weekend.

Apparently there is a detailed backstory for Billy the original killer in Black Christmas. Billy potentially raped and murdered his little sister Agnes when he was left alone to babysit her. Billy either escapes or is released from a mental institution upon which he returns to his childhood home, now a sorority house and torments the women inside calling them "Agnes." (Apparently the real estate agent didn't disclose that an escaped mental patient might show up.)

Admittedly it's difficult to tease out this story from the clues given, but I rather like that about the movie. It doesn't spoon feed you the villain's narrative/motivation and that is what makes it scarier. Also that we see almost nothing of the killer, partially because of POV cam, but his eye. He remains unseen and uncaught (frickin canandian cops!). He could literally be anyone. This is emphasized by "his" voice, which was in fact voiced by more than one person and distorted as well.

The POV cam makes me think of Peeping Tom.
posted by miss-lapin at 10:10 AM on December 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

Bob Clark is seriously one of the great unsung American auteurs -- for real. I doubt that John Carpenter story, but I don't doubt at all that Black Christmas influenced Halloween. (We don't need to discuss the Baby Geniuses cinematic universe.) A Christmas Story is Clark's finest hour -- I'm from Cleveland, and may be biased -- but this is an excellent little gem of a horror film. It is, as noted above, surprisingly bleak.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:20 AM on December 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

As I have said more than once before on the blue, it is a supremely effective film that goes entirely underrecognized. And while I knew nothing of the second remake, I will repeat something I said about the first: the original is the source of so many tropes of the sub-genre, any remake would either have to be faithful (and look like a bunch of clichés), or jettison almost all of the story (in which case why call it a remake)? So a filmmaker remaking this has only to choose in which of the two ways their movie will be pointless.

Once in a while I go past the house where it was filmed and mutter to myself, “Agnes, it’s me, Billy! Don’t tell them what we did!”
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:50 PM on December 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

I showed this to some friends years ago and I was kind of stunned at how much they hated the ambiguous ending. That kicked it into classic status for me the first time I saw it. Oh well.

Also, if you like Bob Clark's style as a very "grimy 70s" horror filmmaker, I highly recommend both Deathdream and Murder By Decree (not really a horror movie, but a Sherlock Holmes/Jack the Ripper thriller).

Then if you're really hard up for more, Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things has some of that too but is kind of a slog to get through, with an obnoxious lead performance (from Alan Ormsby, co-writer of it and writer of Deathdream).

To dive in even deeper, you can check out Deranged...It's basically the Ed Gein story, written & directed by Ormsby and the guy who played the mall Santa in Clark's A Christmas Story. It's...something.
posted by doctornecessiter at 10:22 AM on December 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

After watching this I thought it must be weird to be Bob Clark and hear people go on incessantly about Halloween or other early horror when this movie is an early forgotten giant. It doesn't even seem to have cult status, I assume because it's not shitty enough.

It's just.. good. I really liked the fakeout with Peter. Hussey and Dullea are so well cast. I also liked that despite dumping on the prudish dad for jokes pretty heavily, he sticks around to keep looking and is there to faint at the end to set up the horrifying ending.

I sure didn't recognize Clare as the heiress from Strange Brew though I kicked myself once I looked her up. Also it was strange seeing Andrea Martin who is so vibrant and goofy, in this role, looking basically eternal. Also I like how Margot Kidder's otherwise wild character gets so deflated after talking to her mother in the beginning.

I just watched Tenebrae too so it's fucking John Saxon all the time in this house coincidentally.
posted by fleacircus at 1:01 AM on February 24, 2021

This films feels sordid and a bit mean to me, but I love it in spite of that--especially for not hewing to the moralizing of so many later slasher films, and for its bravery in that ending.

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things is not one of Clark's better films, I think, but there is a scene towards the end where one of the undead horde gives the protagonist a look of such reproach and disbelief that it made me laugh. I'm surprised it didn't get cut; maybe the filmmakers didn't notice on location and didn't have coverage to handle it without the jump cut (or maybe they also recognized that that was one of the few delightful moments in what they'd put together).
posted by johnofjack at 4:43 PM on December 19, 2022

I was a latecomer to this movie (I love horror but have no particular fondness for slashers or non-ghosty Christmas horror), and absolutely loved it! The characters feel fully realized, and like they all have their own full lives outside of this plot. I saw the 2019 remake first and thought it was fine, if super on-the-nose. When I saw the original afterwards, I was stunned by how much more progressive (and funny! and scary!) the original was.
posted by quatsch at 12:33 PM on December 20, 2022 [2 favorites]

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