Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media
Black Christmas (1974)
Review by Dan Taylor

It's a bit of a bummer to be writing this review after the tragic and untimely death of director Bob Clark, who died with his son Ariel on April 4, 2007 at the hands of a drunk driver. Best known for such disparate flicks as the original PORKY'S and the holiday favorite A CHRISTMAS STORY, Clark is equally beloved by fright fans for his trio of early, groundbreaking works: the hippie/zombie hybrid CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS; the politically charged DEATHDREAM (featuring a zombified Vietnam vet in the days when the conflict was a daily presence on the evening news); and, BLACK CHRISTMAS, which established the often-cribbed blueprint of a mysterious killer hacking his way through a shopping list of co-ed cuties, frequently around a holiday. In fact, the blueprint has become such a shopworn genre cliche that CABIN FEVER and HOSTEL director Eli Roth spoofed it with THANKSGIVING, his contribution to 2007's double feature concept flick GRINDHOUSE.

For some unknown reason I've always had a mental block about renting BLACK CHRISTMAS. I love Clark's work – especially his other aforementioned horror films – but I can't count how many times I knowingly passed on this classic. I really wish I knew why but I don't. Luckily, because of the 2006 remake (to be reviewed at a later date), renewed interest in the original resulted in this special edition.

Jess (Olivia Hussey), Barb (Margot Kidder) and Claire (Lynne Griffin) are but three of the lovely co-eds celebrating the Christmas holiday at their sorority house. After receiving another in what appears to be a long line of crank phone calls from a heavy-breathing pervert, Barb gathers the girls around and baits the caller into graphic talk of cunts, cocks and pussies. The sex talk takes a turn for the sinister as the caller turns serious and ends the call by telling Barb that he intends to kill her. Creeped out by the call and offended by Barb, Claire storms off to her room to get ready for her break, only to be surprised by the killer who suffocates her with a garment bag.

This first death promptly sets the film into motion as Claire's father arrives on campus the next day to pick up his daughter. After failing to hide his disapproval at the "atmosphere" of free love, booze and drugs that seems to be permeating the sorority house, he, Barb and Phyllis (SCTV's Andrea Martin) along with Claire's townie boyfriend Chris (played by reliable character actor Art Hindle) head to the police station to get the cops involved.

Meanwhile, Jess has problems of her own. Pregnant by her boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea), Jess declares that she plans to have an abortion – a decision that sends volatile music student Peter into a funk that affects his recital. Spurred into action by Chris' complaints, police detective Lieutenant Fuller (the great John Saxon) gets involved with Claire's disappearance, which just so happens to coincide with the search for a missing teenage girl.

Who is the heavy breathing, crank calling mystery killer? Will the cops discover Claire's body in the attic before it's too late? Will the house mother run out of hidden bottles of sherry before film's end?

To give away anything more about this leisurely paced, very 70s horror thriller would be unfair. Personally, I'm glad that I somehow steered clear of spoilers about this darkly comic and creepy classic. Though Hussey's performance takes some getting used to (including her inexplicable treatment of the phone like it was just invented last week), you end up rooting for the dark-haired beauty to survive the slaughter. Saxon is his ever-dependable self as the concerned cop hot on the trail of the killer (killers?), and Kidder is a revelation – I can't remember another time when she looked so, well, downright sexy. Her entrance in a unbuttoned denim shirt, drink in hand and "fuck me" collar around her neck had me wrapped around her booze-soaked, cigarette-stained fingers.

The disc's bonus features take on a melancholy note in the wake of Clark's death but the behind-the-scenes featurette narrated by Saxon and packed with interviews with Hussey, Kidder, Hindle and more is well worth watching.

 


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