Horrortoberfest ’21 Day 31 – Black Christmas (1974)

One of the few remaining true classic horror films that I hadn’t gotten around to watching yet. Coming out in 1974, this movie would heavily influence later films like John Carpenter’s Halloween just 5 years later. It is considered to be the biggest precursor to the slasher genre as we know it today. It’s taken a while but now I can see what they were talking about and it’s interesting to see the way the things in this movie would be taken and evolved over time.

It’s Christmas time for the sisters of the Pi Kappa Sigma sorority house. Most of them are going away for the holiday but a few stragglers are hanging around with no place to go. Things seem nice and cozy but they have been receiving strange, creepy phone calls from a mysterious person. When one of the girls doesn’t show up to be meet her father to go home, it sparks an investigation that leads to finding a dead body in the woods and yet more phone calls. The caller stalks and kills his victims while the police try to figure out what’s going on but it may be too late when they discover that the call is coming from inside the house.

The film often goes to the killers point of view as he stalks around the sorority house and gets increasingly unhinged. It’s interesting to see how that exact killer POV shot gets used so often and yet there are still some other things that would get changed in the genre as it goes. Like most slasher films, the killer is a mystery but here he goes mostly unseen for the entire runtime instead of having a mask and more screen time. One of the other things that later slashers would focus on is the actual murder weapon. Freddy’s glove, Michael Meyers’ knife, Jason’s machete, and so on. Our killer here is much more about using whatever is at hand, including a great scene of using a glass unicorn as a stabbing implement. I also appreciate that a movie like this set in a sorority house has no scantily clad ladies running around, giggling. If this premise was made in the 80’s, it would be an entirely different and boob-filled movie.

One of the things about the film that simultaneously works to enhance certain parts and make others terrible dull is the pacing and presentation of things feeling removed or from a distance. The way that it will slowly linger in a scene where we know someone is in peril and often show a detached view of things going on helps to reinforce the methodical, stalker vibe of the killer. It is, however, still a 70’s movie so the pacing isn’t exactly what you would get from a modern movie. That said, once the movie really gets its feet under it; the tension stays relatively high even up until the very end of the film. It also isn’t interested in showing the gruesome details of the murders happening but will continually and almost lovingly linger upon the bodies after the fact; another glimpse into the mindset of the killer.

I was pleasantly surprised with how good this turned out to be. While I knew it was influential for the genre, I wasn’t sure that it would still hold up on a modern viewing. While certainly not the best horror film I’ve ever seen, it can still give some chills in key scenes.

Score: 4.5 out of 5

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