At last it’s time for the sixth and final installment of Dread Central’s Six Slays of Christmas feature! We’re now just one day away the year’s biggest holiday, and to celebrate the coming of Saint Nick (or whomever you believe in), we’ve been taking a look at a different yuletide horror flick each day until the 25th! Think of it as a cinema crazed Advent calendar!
Although the Six Slays of Christmas have come to you in no particular order, it’s fitting that today’s entry was saved for the finale. For Day Six we feature an absolute classic, Bob Clark’s 1974 groundbreaking horror film Black Christmas, which proved to us that Canada has more to offer than just Pam Anderson, hockey and Molson Canadian Lager. The script was written by Roy Moore, who drew inspiration from actual murders that occurred in Montreal around Christmastime. And a horrific cinematic gem was born.
Filmed in just 40 days, the influence of Black Christmas can be seen in countless horror films that followed. In the initial scene we have the killer stalking around outside the sorority house. And as he walks and peeks in the window, we are seeing everything through his perspective. This certainly had to be an influence for John Carpenter’s opening scene for Halloween (which came along four years later). Or consider the scene in which the police trace the killer’s calls coming from inside the house. (And check out the high-tech phone-tracing machine they used…it was the size of a living room!) We have to at least consider the fact that the creators of When a Stranger Calls (1979) drew some influence here.
And how about the infamous phone calls themselves, which terrorized the girls of Black Christmas? What starts as an almost comical nuisance becomes extremely creepy as the film rolls on. Clark (who also appears as the prowler’s shadow) and veteran actor Nick Mancuso (who appears as the actual prowler) were responsible for creating the creepy calls…as well as an unidentified woman. Judging by the voices on the calls, I would be willing to bet the woman involved was outstanding voice actress Mercedes McCambridge, who delivered a similarly disturbing performance in The Exorcist one year earlier. There’s no proof that she was involved, but that voice does sound eerily familiar.
Black Christmas, at least in name, underwent many changes before finally settling on its memorable title. Upon initial release the film had also carried the titles Stop Me, Silent Night, Evil Night and Stranger in the House. In preparation for its US release, Warner Brothers even tried to convince Clark to change the ending to have Clare Harrison’s boyfriend, Chris, appear in front of Jess and say, “Agnes, don’t tell them what we did,” thus revealing him to be the killer. Thankfully, Clark knew the film worked much better with the mystery killer ending and left it as it was…to the delight of decades of Black Christmas audiences.
Not only was it a trailblazing film as far as creating unique imagery that would be mimicked by films that followed, Black Christmas was a truly effective horror film overall. Clark managed to create real discomfort and tension with the outlandish phone calls and grim shots of the killer stalking his prey. It’s hard not to gnaw your fingernails to the quick as the initial victim, Clare, slowly walks toward her closet following what she believes is the sound of Claude, the house cat, when in reality we know the killer is waiting to pounce on her. And tell me your skin didn’t crawl a bit when Jess (Olivia Hussey) sees the killer’s eye staring at her from behind the door. That was some truly effective horrific filmmaking.
Clark wove the story masterfully around the scenes of violence, working in Jess’ pregnancy issue as a key point of the story, bringing drama into the fold to enhance the horror. And we mustn’t forget the comedic elements of the film. In addition to creeping the shit out of you, Black Christmas will make you laugh out loud. It’s a complete work.
From the unforgettable image of Clare’s suffocated body sitting in the rocking chair to the vicious murder of Barb (Margot Kidder), Black Christmas consistently delivers. It’s amazing to think that the film is nearly 40 years old and is as effective today as it was during its initial release.
As one of the original slasher films, Black Christmas has certainly entertained us all through repeated viewings. With phone calls to make your flesh crawl, murders to make you wince and an ambiguous ending to keep you awake at night, Black Christmas easily earned its place as the grand finale of the Six Slays of Christmas. Ho, ho, ho!
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