Black Christmas (1974) - What is this, a horror movie where you never see the killer? That is the unique approach taken by Black Christmas. There are a lot of shadows, and flashes of eye balls or hands plus a lot of point of view (POV) of the killer but he/she is never revealed. It seem that the killer is male but it is never revealed. How the film pulls this off is... well it really doesn't pull it off, the lack of closure leaves the viewer feeling a bit cheated if you ask me. Also leaving you cheated is the incredible but true fact that there is absolutely no back story for the killer. I watched the extra features and director Bob Clark did think they were doing something unique, well it is unique but I am not sure it really works. Roy Moore wrote the screenplay and barely worked again after that and I think you can see why.
I don't recall this film as a child, I would have been 11 when it came out but since we were too poor to attend the movies, I probably missed most things. Nothing, the film opens with the POV of the killer showing up at the sorority house and climbing a trellis to get in an attic window. I guess the killer has randomly chosen this house as the next place to stalk. Later we learn there has been a killing in town and
that currently a thirteen year old girl is missing. Still this does nothing to establish anything other than our voyeuristic fascination as the killer moves around the house spying on the occupants. It is a tough sell, the killer when he chatters sounds crazy as shit and you would think there is a story there. Sometimes on the phone there seems to be more than one voice, one male and one female but without a reveal that just stays a mystery
Inside a gathering at the sorority house with girls and their guys hanging out having a good time. We establish characters, Jess (Olivia Hussey) who is having troubles with her boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea), he is not at the party because he has a concert for his professors at the music conservatory. Its a lot of stress and we see with a phone call she has with him that there is something not right between them that she won't reveal on the phone. Clare (Lynne Griffin) and Chris (Art Hindle) are a couple, and she wonders what her parents will think of him. Barb (Margot Kidder) is a bit of a college alcoholic, loud and boisterous she can be the life of the party of the reason it breaks up. There are a couple of particularly nasty bits she does that show the flaws of her character, early in the film she and all the rest of the girls have gathered around the phone because the prank caller has called. Someone mentions that a couple weeks ago a local girl was raped in the area, and Barb says "Come, on everyone knows you can't rape a local. " This comment really directed at poor Clare who is an actual local attending the college. It is very mean spirited alcohol aided vitriol. Phyl (Andrea Martin) is there also and the house mother Mrs Mac (Marian Waldman), a woman whose drinking problems have progressed to the point she has bottles hidden all over the house. The other thing we establish at the party is that there has been a prank caller repeatedly calling the house. This is interesting because since it ends up being the killer and has been going on for a while we know the killer has targeted the house well before the events in the film happen.
The film plays out at a leisurely pace although the first kill happens rather quickly. Clare is up in her room packing and hears sounds in her closet. Thinking that Chris may be playing tricks on her or one of the other girls she creeps over asking "Is anybody there?" as she closes in on the closet we get a POV of the killer as he/she wraps Clare's head in plastic and suffocates her. Then we see the shadow of the killer as Clare's body is taken up into the attic and placed in a rocking chair in the single attic window, head covered in plastic dead. We come back to this image again and again in the film. In fact anyone paying attention outside would see poor Clare when they looked up at that window, but off course nobody does.
Things get bumped up a notch when Clare's father comes to take her home but she is not at the meeting place. Clare is now noticed to be missing the girls in the house head to the local police station to see if they can get some help. While there they learn that there is a missing 13 year old girl in town. I think the introduction of the police is that they are bungling small time group and by the end of the film you really get to see how poor they are at doing their jobs. They do get involved with the sorority house though and do their best to solve the disappearance they really are inept.
The primary story line between Jess and Peter is that she is pregnant right at the time that he is preparing for his performance. Since it is 1974 the choices Jess have are discussed on screen with her initially not wanting to tell Peter and just going to have an abortion. She decides he should know though and his immediate response is that they should forgo the lives and dreams they have had up to this point and get married. Jess is not in that particular headset and is more inclined to have an abortion. She does not want to trade her life hopes and dreams because of an accident with a man she does not want to marry. I thought the scenes where they discuss the issue are emotional and honest with realistic reactions and conversation. The topic of how sexual miscalculations put at risk all of the plans of those involved and the dilemma when one person may not want the marriage solution society implies in those situations. Besides being a stage for a discussion between a woman's right to choose and the inherent distaste for the procedure it was a way to make Peter seem angry. So when suspects are being bantered about by the police his name had to come up. The audience can wonder about him but never seriously, the characters in the film though definitely see him with skeptical eyes. They also have the poor guy get this news right before his big performance which he has been practicing for night and day. The added pressure sure did not help as he blows his big moment. Trashing the piano so that the police see he is a loose cannon does not make him seem any less suspicious to the police.
As the killer gets more victims it is Jess who ends up in the house for the climax. A phone tap makes it so the police can call and tell her the call is coming from the other phone in the house. Things get crazy from there with the classic finding of the friends dead. Jess is our final girl and the police arrive well after the action is over. Of course the audience also does not really see all the action which is a real disappointment. The police headed by Lt. Fuller (John Saxon) and the ending are truly dreadful, it would seem they have no procedures at all in their department. The film ends with them leaving the house and then us hearing the killer chattering about upstairs. They did not even search the house! I know they thought that the killer was already taken care of but since two people are still missing wouldn't you still search the place top to bottom. I guess those bodies up in the attic are going to have to start stinking before they are found.
Over all I was a very disappointed with this film. In most of the movies so far, even the bad ones there is some kind of back story about why the killer is the killer. What are his motivations and usually it has something to do with Santa fucking someone, or a relative being killed on Christmas. Here though nothing, just a psychopath engaged in a killing spree. No one knows why and it seems no one cares either. There was nothing wrong with the characters reactions to the situation and the film overall was not poorly constructed. It just was missing the killer story, not to mention the killer is never really seen. There is the strangeness of the phone voices sometimes sounding male and sometimes female but it just is not enough to keep the tension. The acting is fine if a bit cartoonish at times. Mrs Mac in particular is more of a caricature then a character. Don't get me wrong there is something here, Hussey was great as Jesse and Kidder plays mean drunk really well. Over all though I could have skipped this film and been alright with that, it is really middle of the road horror.
Rating (4.7) 5.0 and up are recommended, some more recommended than others.