Director: Bob Clark
Screenplay: Roy Moore
Producer: Bob Clark
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Marian Waldman, Andrea Martin
BBFC Certification: 18
Duration: 98 min
Black Christmas (our competition prize for the week) is often classed as the first true slasher movie. Some argue that the title belongs to Bava's Bay of Blood or even Psycho but this shares much more of the hallmarks of films traditionally settled in the sub-genre and it pre-dates classics such as Halloween and Friday the 13th by several years. You've got a crazed killer stalking sexually active teens in a sorority house, prank phone calls, bumbling police detectives, the works. So I guess the question is, how does a film that has been copied so many times hold up today?
Pretty well actually. Black Christmas is set in the holiday season (obviously) in a college sorority house when most of the (all female) residents have already left to spend Christmas with their families. The girls have been getting disturbing prank phone calls, but think nothing of it until one of their fathers shows up to take them home and finds his daughter is no where to be found. The body of a teenager is found in the park and troubled English student Jess (Olivia Hussey) turns to the police for help as all around her start to drop like flies. Unfortunately for her, one of the suspects also seems to be her boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea – better known as Dave from 2001: A Space Odyssey).
It's a surprisingly entertaining film that doesn't really offer many frights until towards the end. Other than some disturbing moments here and there, mainly surrounding the killer's maniacal babbling which is over the top but generally effective, the film was actually quite funny. The dialogue is littered with barbed comments, which although hardly witty (Bob Clark did also direct Porkys and it's sequel) make for an amusing venture into the stalk-and-slash genre. Housemother Mrs. Mac is the standout (and star of our caption competition) with several enjoyably silly scenes involving hidden bottles of booze and her failed attempts to uphold a wholesome atmosphere for parent Mr. Harrison (James Edmond).
Being a film made in the mid-seventies there's a naturalism to it all that is refreshing. Less time is spent on gory set-pieces and more on hanging out with the characters, not necessarily fleshing them out with back-stories, just letting them breathe and gain some audience sympathy. That said, I didn't think much of Jess' pregnancy plot strand, largely because Hussey's performance is pretty poor. This is one of the main stumbling blocks of the film. She becomes the lead gradually after more of an ensemble-led first third and doesn't have the acting chops to fully pull it off. I grew used to her by the end but she gets off to a ropey start – you've only got to listen to her phone manner in the first scene; pure comedy.
The film builds to a suitably tense climax and follows with a twist that's very predictable, yet the bleak circumstances and final reveal are handled with enough creepiness to provide a satisfying payoff. This, alongside some nicely shot sequences and the humour and naturalism mentioned previously combine to produce a slasher film that although now seemingly cliché, still has enough going for it to be a fun Halloween treat over 35 years later.
The DVD is released by Metrodome on 18th October in the UK. The DVD is a bare bones release, but the transfer is decent, with a crisp and naturally grainy image.
Review by David Brook