I’m always looking for new material to review, so I was excited recently when a friend pointed me toward this list of “13 Scary Movies You’ve Likely Never Seen Before.” Sure enough, I’d seen only two on the list: Dario Argento’s Suspiria, and the low-budget classic Carnival of Souls. Of the remaining eleven films, Black Christmas seemed like a good place to begin. As you might have read in my last post, I particularly enjoy films that bring together disparate genres; how could I not love a movie that blends Yuletide joy with the grisly excitement of a slasher flick?
Black Christmas has a lot going for it. The cast, for the most part, is solid. High points include Keir Dullea as Peter, a sensitive soul (but lousy boyfriend) who studies piano at the local conservatory, and veteran character actor John Saxon as stoic police Lieutenant Kenneth Fuller. Olivia Hussey is lovely as our heroine Jessica Bradford, though her character is otherwise a bit flat. Far more interesting is her drunken, foul-mouthed sorority sister Barbara, played by a pre-Superman Margot Kidder, though the filmmakers fail to use the character to her fullest potential. The locations are effective if not terribly memorable, and the art/noise soundtrack does a fine job of setting the mood.
Even so, I feel Black Christmas ultimately failed to deliver on its promise. The film’s pacing was rather slow, and didn’t build any genuine feeling of suspense for me. The filmmakers (almost halfheartedly) tossed a couple of red herrings our way, but I wasn’t very surprised when the truth (or some portion of the truth) was finally revealed. Potential spoiler warning: Black Christmas has a rather ambiguous ending that leaves many aspects of the story unresolved. This strategy can be quite effective if handled properly – The Blair Witch Project is one good example – but it didn’t work for me here. I’m not one who needs to have every thread woven into a neat little bow at story’s end, but Black Christmas left me feeling a bit short-changed.
Memorable visuals: As you might have gathered, I though Olivia Hussey’s sweater in the opening scenes was fun. I found myself wondering if she borrowed it from the Master in Manos: The Hands of Fate. Also – you’ll have to watch the film to see it – I never knew unicorns could have such long horns!
Horror cred: There’s not much gore here, and the body count remains surprisingly low, but this is definitely a horror movie. To be fair, Black Christmas was one of the first films in the slasher genre, and it’s influenced a host of horror writers and directors in the years since its release. My problems with the film, I’m sure, are partly due to seeing so many more recent movies – both good and bad – that incorporate similar themes and plot devices.
Is it worth 39¢: You may be wondering if I’ll ever review a movie that won’t be worth 39¢. Though I probably won’t be giving it a second screening, Black Christmas wasn’t disappointing enough to become the first.
Find it here: Black Christmas is another film that isn’t in the public domain. It’s available via Netflix; Amazon also offers it on DVD.