The Political Nuance of Bob Clark's “Black Christmas” (1974) | Beyond The  Magic Lantern
Black Christmas – 1974

Director Bob Clark
Screenplay A. Roy Moore
Starring Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Andrea Martin, Arthur Hindle, Lynne Griffin, Marian Waldman

Last winter I took my daughter and her friend to see the update of this film. It was about what one could expect from Blumhouse, which is to say it was very average and up with the times. This version is often credited with being the precursor to the slasher genre. This did have some POV influence on one of the best of all time, Halloween.

What it also accomplished is the portrayal of young adults as something beyond vapid party creatures. We see the college kids going to and fro a sorority house, making their own decisions regarding their plans…and their bodies. Contrast this even with a film like It’s Alive, released in the same year, and it feels like it is part of a different universe. There is no overriding theme of male adults having the answers, even if they do spend a lot of time looking to authorities for help. It comes as close as any of the movies of the time would be to representing its audience.

There is a killer inside the sorority house. He’s been making obscene phone calls for some time, and now he stepped up his game. The first victim is searched for, but no one thinks of the attic. Well, one person does…

The lead of the movie is Hussey’s Jess. She and her boyfriend Peter (Dullea) have experienced a crisis in their relationship and it’s having a profound effect on him. Jess and her sorority sisters are concerned with their friend Clare (Griffin) whose father shows up to the school looking to pick her up for Christmas break.

The police don’t take her seriously at first, but the Lt. Fuller (Saxon) joins the case and puts the calls together with the disappearance. Then they tap the phone, sit back and wait.

The next part of the film has some ingenuity going for it. The story is allowed to unfold on multiple fronts. There is a search, which yields unexpected results. There is Jess and Peter, falling apart at the seams. There are the police and phone company, keeping tabs on the whole situation.

What the film is lacking is compelling characters, outside of our protagonist, her deteriorating boyfriend and the Lieutenant. The other characters, while entertaining, have little to distinguish their characters, outside of the house mother Mrs. MacHenry (Waldman), who has bottles of liquor hidden everywhere. It’s a sin, retroactively, that they had Andrea Martin in a film and didn’t provide one opportunity for her to get a laugh. Kidder, for her part, is limited too. We get the idea that she’s kind of a wild child, but then…she gets put to bed, literally.

This is not a bad film. It’s actually pretty good for its time. There are some genuine moments of human interaction in the proceedings. The laugh over the sorority phone number at the precinct is a nice moment that breaks the mood in a good way. Peter’s destruction of a grand piano is surprisingly unsettling. Neither event is something one sees a lot of in film.

Bob Clark is best known for directing A Christmas Story. This sorority slaughter fest is his 2nd most famous Christmas film. His long career has many memorable films, not to mention Porky’s and Porky’s II: The Next Day. Yes. I saw both of those before I learned to drive.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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