by: Dr. Boogie
Director Bob Clark is perhaps best known for "A Christmas Story," a movie that showed us both the magic of the Christmas season and the importance of gun safety. A decade earlier, however, Clark gave us yet another famous Christmas movie: "Black Christmas". Before it came out, we never really understood that, while Christmas is a time for coming together, it is also a time for cute coeds to be snuffed out by giggling maniacs. Indeed, one wonders how many other non-Halloween holiday horror movies we would have missed out on had it not been for Black Christmas. On the other hand, we would have gone without the remake of Black Christmas, so I guess that makes things even.
There have certainly been better examples of slasher movies since it came out, but it's not without its charms. In fact, I can think of six particularly noteworthy things that'll give you all the important bits of the movie so you won't feel left out when your friends start talking about their favorite Christmas horror movies.
Poor Clare. The good news: she has an important part in the film. The bad news: she's the one on the poster with the plastic bag on her head.
Clare is the first victim in the movie, but in spite of this, she still manages to stick around until the very end. After suffocating her with a plastic bag, the killer hauls her up to his hideout in the attic of the sorority and sits her down in a rocking chair. Every fifteen minutes or so, the movie checks back in with her to show that she's still chilling out in the attic, just rocking back and forth. Much of the story involves the search for Clare after she disappears one night, but no one thinks to check the attic because it's not like anyone could climb the latticework outside the house and sneak in there, right?
#5: Mrs. Mac!
Only a couple of the sorority's residents get substantial screen time, but the best among them isn't one of the girls; it's their housemother, Mrs. Mac. There's two things you need to know about this old lady: she has a cat, and she loves to booze it up. No one else seems to know about the latter, or at least she seems to think they don't. Throughout the movie, Mr.s Mac impresses us with her ingenuity at hiding her problem. Booze in the closet, booze in her toilet tank, booze in a hollowed-out encyclopedia ("B for booze", she explains), she is one crafty alcoholic. Of course, the booze on her breath probably gives her away, as she loves to sneak a swig in between talking to the girls.
Then again, maybe no one notices her problem because they're more focused on...
Played by Margot Kidder, Barb is much more straightforward about her drinking problem. In fact, she's drunk every moment she's on camera. Most of the time, she just has a comfortable, irritable buzz on, but towards the end, she turns into more of an angry drunk. Eventually, she gets killed, but frankly, the killer was doing her a favor considering that cirrhosis was probably right around the corner.
Just looking at Peter, you can probably tell that he's a dick. I don't know if it's the haircut, or the turtleneck, or what, but you know this guy is a dick. He's the boyfriend of main character Jess, and he's got a big piano recital on the horizon. Unfortunately, Jess is distracting him with some big news: she's pregnant, but she doesn't want the baby. Why? Because Peter is a carrier of the dick gene, and the last thing this world needs is more dicks like him. Peter is so flustered that during his recital, he winds up playing all the wrong notes. Some call it "experimental", but the judges call it crap. Peter gets so mad about his failure that he takes it out on the piano:
Why? Because Peter is a dick. He's such a dick that the cops think he just might be the killer. Speaking of which...
#2: The Killer!
You can't have a horror movie without a killer. In Black Christmas, the killer's MO involves making obscene phone calls, often right after he kills. They start out fairly coherent, but quickly devolve into a lot of strange yelling and screaming at some boy named "Billy". It's also worth mentioning the killer's phone voice was done several people, including none other than Bob Clark.
All of these people pale in comparison, however, to the #1 spot on the list. Though not an individual, this entity single-handedly made the entire second half of the movie possible, including the unbelievable ending. Suffice to say, spoilers lay ahead as we move to the final entry...
#1: The Police!
At first, the cops in Black Christmas seem like your ordinary movie cops: they don't really believe there's anything sinister going on until the last minute, and they don't come across as all that bright. As time passes, however, it slowly dawns on you that Black Christmas features the most incompetent precinct of cops in North America.
Warning signs appear early on when a sergeant is taking down the phone number for the sorority and fully believes Barb when she tells him the number is "felatio 20880". First of all, that's way too many numbers. Anyway, that's just one stupid cop. They can't all be that bad, can they?
The real trouble begins when the cops finally start taking the girls' complaints seriously and decide to bug their phone. After installing the bug, the tech asks if there are any other phones in the house. Lt. Fuller (John Saxon) explains that the housemother has a separate line, but that they don't need to bug that phone. Later, as Fuller learns about Peter's angry, dickish behavior, he asks Jess if Peter was around when one of the killer's phone calls came in. Jess says yes, which is technically correct, although she didn't know he was there because he was upstairs. With the phone on the separate line.
A short while later, the cops are finally able to trace one of the killer's phone calls. Turns out they're coming from inside the house. Fuller says that's impossible, but it slowly dawns on him...
You can see the gears turning (slowly) as he finally remembers that there are two phone lines in the sorority house. This bit of information is presented as though it were some sort of revelation. All I can assume is that moviegoers in the 70s were very dumb, as this shocking twist occurs less than half an hour after we learn from Lt Fuller himself that there are two phone lines in the sorority.
If that seems like pure stupidity to you, then what happens at the end of the film will seem like the most stultifying, slack-jawed, smooth-lobed, baffling idiocy ever shown by the police in a motion picture:
At the very end of the film, Jess is unconscious after narrowly surviving a confrontation with the suspected killer. As the police search the sorority, they discover two other corpses in addition to that of the man they believe to be the killer. Amidst the commotion, we hear one of the officers ask if they should search the attic. We never hear an answer, but it turns out that no, they did not search the attic. Had they done so, they would have found two more bodies, and the real killer.
Instead, all the police officers decide to leave. They leave. They leave an unconscious victim at what can only be described as the scene of a grisly massacre. Alone. Without searching the entire house/crime scene. As they leave, the father of Clare (aka, the suffocated girl from the very beginning) passes out, and they decide that he should be taken to a hospital. Him, and not the girl who is in shock after a brush with death. No, she should lie in a dark room of the house where her friends were killed only hours earlier. So, the camera shifts up to the attic, where we see the two unfound corpses and hear the killer talking to himself. Moments later, we get an exterior shot of the sorority, and we hear the phone start to ring. The End.
When you see that happen in the film, you can't help but wonder how many crimes must have gone unsolved in 1970s Canada because of monumental incompetence on the part of the police.
If all that doesn't tell you everything you need to know about Black Christmas, then chances are you're thinking too hard. It's a fun movie, but it hasn't aged all that well in thirty-some odd years. Still, it was one of the first movies to use the old "the killer is inside the house" cliche before it actually became a cliche. That's got to be worth something.
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