BLACK CHRISTMAS is one of those films that has multiple titles. Regardless of what you'd like to call it, it is quite simply one of the scariest movies ever made. Boasting a plot point now often regarded as cheap and predictable, it was the first film that I know of that used this tactic, and it did it beautifully. Unlike most other horror films, which tend to use an omniscient point-of-view to create scares, BLACK CHRISTMAS also gives us the killer's point-of-view, so we see what the killer sees, albeit through a distorted lens. The effect is truly chilling.
The story consists of a group of young women living in a sorority house in Toronto, Ontario that becomes the target of a vicious cycle of obscene phone calls. Given that the film was made in 1974, the phone calls themselves are truly unnerving and sexually explicit, done brilliantly by an uncredited Nick Mancuso. Various events transpire to point the viewer in the direction of who may be the real killer, but we're constantly thrown off-guard.
BLACK CHRISTMAS represents horror filmmaking at its pinnacle. A strong story and equally good performances by Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Art Hindle, and Margot Kidder make for an appealing cast of characters. What impresses me the most about this film is that it is not exploitive or insulting to the main characters. Ms. Hussey portrays Jess, a young woman involved with Peter (Keir Dullea). Jess is pregnant and wants an abortion � Peter does not, and this becomes a central plot point (the Roe vs. Wade decision was just over a year old by the time this film was made). As the primogenitor of so many careless, promiscuous, and generally brainless female characters who "get themselves into trouble" or worse, killed, Ms. Hussey's portrayal of Jess is refreshingly mature � she's a strong-willed 24 year-old who decides she wants an abortion while aiding as best she can in the search for Claire Harrison (Lynne Griffin), one of her sorority sisters who has been missing. Ms. Hussey delivers a sympathetic and convincing performance of a woman whose mind is made-up.
The film benefits from a leisurely pace and a slow and deliberate build-up to suspense, even though the audience is privy to the killer's whereabouts. It also contains something that you NEVER see in a horror film � one of the characters breaks down emotionally, knowing deep down that their missing sorority sister is dead. This scene is just one of many that gives the film a humanity that is sadly lacking in so many of its imitators.
BLACK CHRISTMAS is one of the few horror films that manages to create a perfect balance of horror and hilarity. Doug McGrath is priceless as Sergeant Nash, the clueless police officer who thinks that "fellatio" is a new telephone exchange abbreviated as "F.E." Marian Waldman practically steals the film with her portrayal of Miss MacHenry, the woman in charge of the sorority house.
The most amazing aspect of this film is the ending - you really won't believe it.
The film was recently given a much-needed DVD upgrade that boasts running commentaries with the director and co-stars John Saxon and Keir Dullea. A nice little documentary with Lynne Griffin and Art Hindle takes a tour of the original house where the film was shot. I personally visited the house and the University of Toronto on August 26, 1999 � it was a lot of fun seeing where one of my favorite films was shot.
If you've never seen BLACK CHRISTMAS, you owe it to yourself to watch it, uninterrupted, with the lights out.
Here are some nice links about the locations and the film itself: