Salutations my screechers, screamers, and scary dreamers,
Tonight’s tale of terror entitled “Black Christmas” sees sorority sisters stalked and slayed by a crazed killer at Christmastime.
Though this was earlier to the screen, it is hard not to compare it to “Halloween” as both involve murders and a holiday setting in places considered safe from violent bloodletting. In fact, even the violence feels like a duplication as a lot of it is left to the viewer’s imagination since we rarely see anyone run through, but watch it all from a first person point of view. This perspective keeps secret the killer’s face and does wonders for the sense of pace as we spend a good portion of the film looking through his eyes which further keeps his identity a surprise.
I was amazed that even after the opening shot the movie kept the mood taut by having a subplot involving strange phone calls interspersed with our killer roaming the halls. To my knowledge this is the first occasion where a slasher practicing home invasion has used phonecalls to cause dismay by ranting and threatening his prey. It is these devices the keep up the tempo so that even the moments that are a little slow still have a solid framework to work from as we anticipate the horror to come. The slowly building sense of dread is ground that is well tread, but I felt they pulled it off better than “Halloween” by having our killer be heard and not seen.
While this served as the template for later slasher fare it goes beyond the normal shock and scare by tackling a subject that is still taboo in a manner that feels well thought through. Talking about abortion could have been a cheap invention to grab this picture some extra attention, but remarkably the usage never felt shady since it helped flesh out our leading lady. The topic proved integral to the conclusion so I have to applaud its inclusion as it is one of the few films to mention this subject and it managed to pull it off with the proper respect.
Unlike later horror fare the women are treated with a great amount of care so they never come off as flesh to appraise since they are not treated as mere cliches. The acting helps sell that these women as real and the fact that they have flaws only adds to the appeal as we can sympathize with their lives before the true horror arrives. Even after the terror hits the characters never lose their wits, but attempt to reason their way through instead of which made them seem all the more true.
Now though the tension is well pulled off and the characters are great this slasher suffers a familiar fate of having a structure we have seen before so we can sort of guess what is in store. One thing that I found to be a defining trait (which I know not everyone will appreciate) is how the ending proves itself very progressive by pulling off a trick I found fairly impressive. This revelation sets it firmly apart from its peers by playing upon many common fears and proves an effective stinger in a way that is sure to linger.
In brief, it is sad that this is not a film everyone knows, but since it set up many of the familiar tableaus this should be required viewing for any horror fan as it showcases where the slasher genre began.
Stick to the shadows my fine friends.
Mr. William Nightshade