12 days of Christmas horror (Day 1) – Black Christmas (1974)

Black_christmas_posterThere’s a reason why Bob Clark’s seminal 1974 slasher finds its way onto ‘top 100 horror movie’ and ‘macabre X-mas watching’ lists; it’s genuinely terrific and utterly unsettling. Not just that but it predates Carpenter’s Halloween by 4 years making it, arguably, one of the first Slasher films.

Clark’s Christmas nightmare works specifically because it’s part-farce part-gruelling stalk ‘n’ slash. Between the drunken matriarch Mrs. Mac and some of the dumbest police officers in horror cinema, a violent psycho known only as Billy makes regular trips down from the attic to gruesomely dispatch sisters of a sorority house in fitting yuletide fashion.

Innovatively, Clark sustains long stretches of stalking from POV and turns our stomachs with now-notorious lewd phone calls that get closer to capturing the ranting madness of a serial butcherer better than most slashers ever have. Between the comedy and the killing, a secondary story about abortion and failed dreams keeps this nasty little Xmas treat suitably grim.

Horror royalty John Saxon (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Blood Beach) stars as the only useful cop in a pointless police department whilst Margot Kidder (Superman’s Lois Lane) shines as hilariously bitchy Barb. Both are pretty useless in the face of a genuine madman, but that’s ok because hapless townsfolk and absent parents cement the idea that every available institution is wholly unprepared for this Christmas. At a time when people should be closest, Black Christmas ’ brutal killing spree is continually permitted by the distracted gaze of whoever is supposed to be keeping an eye out.

An ultimately paranoid film, Black Christmas isn’t the perfect horror film just because of its plastic wrapped corpses, blood-stained crystal unicorns, meat hooks, and murder, but because it actually crams the cosy safe feel of a Christmas film right into the shuddering heart of a blatant terror tale.

Scott Clark