Whitest Black Christmas ever.
Black Christmas (1974): 7 out of 10: Black Christmas is often touted as the first slasher film (It isn’t) and the grandfather of many of the slasher tropes that became popular. (A little closer to the truth). As of this writing, it has been remade twice, once in 2006 and again in 2019.
The Good: Excellent cast: My wife loves Romeo and Juliet’s Olivia Hussey, who I found a little stiff. You have the always solid and watchable John Saxon as the police chief. In addition, Marian Waldman, as the humorous alcoholic house mother, is also a standout.
It is really is Margot Kidder that steals the show, however. Margot Kidder’s rough alcoholic mean girl is spot on (Her “townies can’t get raped” quote is shocking in this day and age.) Her prank on a rookie cop and her disdain for the obscene caller is hilarious. She dominates every scene she is in and is a delight to watch.
Black Christmas is a pleasant film, more of a cop thriller than a straight slasher film and better for that. As a bonus, in the manner of one of those old MST3k shorts, if you ever wanted to know how telephones worked before they went digital, this film has you covered there as well.
The Bad: Black Christmas opened to little fanfare and mediocre overall reviews (It did a healthy box office for the time and made money.). Since then it has turned into a “Cult favorite” and a “Hidden Gem”. It has also been touted as the first slasher film and a heavy influence on John Carpenter’s Halloween.
Some of this re-examining results from hype surrounding the two remakes which went out of thier way to overstate the original film’s importance and providence. (See also the hype surrounding the remake of another Canadian slasher film My Bloody Valentine. You would have thought the original filmmakers cured cancer.) The rest is lazy internet writers discovering the film and then breathlessly reporting thier findings as if they had stumbled upon the lost city of gold.
Let’s look at some facts. For a slasher film where members of a sorority are killed off one by one, you have Myrna Loy’s Thirteen Women. As you can guess from the presence of actress Myrna Loy, this came out before 1974. 1932, to be exact. And if you think this pre-code film couldn’t be a modern day slasher, in reality is a lot rougher on the victims than Black Christmas (Lots of poisonings and bombings) and was much more scandalous off the screen to boot (Actress Peg Entwistle jumped to her death from the Hollywood Sign a month before the film’s premiere.)
An example of a slasher film with a Christmas theme, we have Silent Night, Bloody Night that came out in 1972. An influential mainstream slasher? I mean, Hitchcock’s Psycho is sitting right there. And I cannot talk about gore and exploitation without touting Herschell Gordon Lewis’s 1963’s Blood Feast.
So as we can see, Black Christmas’s claim (A claim attached to it in all fairness by future generations) of being the first slasher film is simply not credible. People going into the film with that hype behind them are bound to be confused and disappointed. As I stated above, this is more of a police procedural than an out-and-out slasher film.
The Ugly: Keir Dullea (The infamous Dave from 2001 A Space Odyssey) is either miscast, mis-written, awful, or maybe all three. He plays a college student boyfriend to Olivia Hussey and a slasher suspect. (For the audience, mind you, the film takes forever to actually find any dead bodies, so Black Christmas for much of its running time is more a police procedural investigating obscene phone calls than murder. (It is Canada). He is way too old and European for the role and yet is written as a strange petulant man-child. He is unpleasant when he is on the screen and not for the kind or reasons one would want in a slasher film.
The film has one of those attics… You know, filed with things that one could never in real life get up the attic stairs and through that little opening. While not as egregious as an entire carousal in The Crush, I am still taking notes. This is becoming a new pet peeve trope for me.
In Conclusion: With Margot Kidder on all cylinders and the cool comforting presence of John Saxon, Black Christmas has a lot to recommend it. It is not a classic in the vein of Psycho or Halloween. It does not hold up as well today as those classics. Still, Black Christmas is an above average slasher film with some good performances and nice nostalgia.