One night, as the Christmas holidays approach, the girls of a college sorority house are enjoying an informal party before they get ready to leave. Little do they know that outside their house is being watched by a mysterious figure, who climbs up a trellis and breaks in through the attic window. Just then, the phone starts to ring, and Jess (Olivia Hussey) answers it. The caller is breathing heavily, and Jess calls her sorority sisters through to listen - it's the obscene phone caller again, making lewd suggestions. Bolshy Barbara (Margot Kidder) takes the receiver and gives the nuisance a taste of his own medicine, but the other girls don't think it's such a good idea to antagonise him... and they're right...
Written by Roy Moore, Black Christmas was notable for being the first real slasher movie, even before Halloween arrived. Although the Italians, such as Mario Bava and Dario Argento, had been producing horror thrillers featuring insane killers, this one set down the outline for the slasher cycle that happened in the late seventies and beyond. Here you can see the killer represented by a point-of-view camera, young people successively bumped off by a person of uncertain identity, and the atmosphere of a spooky tale told around the campfire, or in this case, by the roaring hearth on Christmas Eve.
It doesn't quite fit into all the clichés, however: the first victim is the most viriginal. Traditionally, she would have lasted until the end credits, but here she is murdered within ten minutes of her entrance. This leaves our heroine to be Jess, who although kindly and reliable, has recently become pregnant by her boyfriend, a pianist called Peter (Keir Dullea). Peter doesn't react too well when Jess tells him she wants to abort the baby, leading us to suspect him as the killer, because, as we know, serial killers in the movies are a moralistic bunch.
As we are already aware that the killer is lurking in the attic, there is a certain amount of tension while we wait for the other characters to find out themselves. This comes about through tracing those phone calls, which are very well realised, with unnerving phrases ("Where's the baby? Where's the baby?!") and what sounds like more than one person talking at once, all interspersed with grunts, groans and screams. While you may wonder why nobody in the house heard the murderer on the other phone, it's a good idea worthy of an urban legend (which it is).
To relieve the menace, there is a drop of humour, and it's of the kind that Clark would later use in Porky's - crude, sexual and aggressive. But even that is turned on its head when the forthright Barbara is teasing the father of the first victim, only for her to get upset and lose her temper. What you most take away from the film is a chilly feeling, as the whole town looks as though it would freeze you to the bone, indoors and out. Surprisingly, the Christmas setting isn't over-exploited, except for one effective killing scored to the sound of carol singers in the street below. Maybe they should have called it "In the Bleak Midwinter" instead. Music by Carl Zittrer.
American born, Canadian-based writer, producer and director with a varied career, he rarely stopped working in the industry from his 1970s horror Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things onwards, with cult classics like chiller Deathdream, Black Christmas (the first of the North American slasher cycle), Murder by Decree (a Sherlock Holmes mystery), sex comedy Porky's and its sequel, and A Christmas Story (a cult comedy that has become a seasonal favourite) all winning fans. He was responsible for such derided films as Rhinestone and the Baby Geniuses movies as well. At the time of his death in a car crash he was working on a remake of ...Dead Things.