You guys, it’s 2015. HAPPY NEW YEAR. Hope you had a pleasant new years day! Mine was pretty busy, what with all of that laying around in a satin romper and long socks drinking tea and eating a sizeable number of rice cakes with peanut butter while listening to that Songza playlist 70’s Slow Dance. Kind of my favorite thing right now. While I was busy trying to decide whether “Beth” is a good song (it’s like the lowest stakes, least-powerful power ballad, doesn’t that count for something?), I figured I might as well talk about something I unequivocally love about the 70’s, which is of course, BLACK CHRISTMAS.
There isn’t much I can say about Black Christmas that hasn’t already been said – it’s a template, it’s brilliant, it’s a hell of a movie, they have a booze wreath, it’s kind of seminal – which is why I’ve decided to just give a list which is as follows. This is by no means exhaustive, obviously pretty much everything in Black Christmas is awesome.
THINGS THAT ARE AWESOME ABOUT BLACK CHRISTMAS
Of course we’re all aware of the POV Serial Killer movie shot – it’s always effective, even in terrible movies. Being watched is never going to be not scary (I’m intentionally leaving that double negative in), but in Black Christmas, Billy’s POV is noticeably unsteady and off-kilter. The young Michael Myers POV in Halloween is iconic and embodies the bland nature of the stabbing of Judith Myers. The point of view of a blank-faced child killer is chilling, but you just can’t beat the down-home shock of an out-of-control psycho on Christmas.
What a gift to 70’s horror Margot was. Fresh off of De Palma’s Sisters, she’d go on to appear in Amityville Horror and The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (whatever, I liked it). Her role as Barb in Black Christmas is one of her best loved horror roles. Whether she’s telling off boring old Claire or ruining Christmas dinner by discussing turtle sex or trying to get minors to drink alcohol or spelling fellatio, she’s consistently a joy to watch.
Black Christmas just turned 40. Let’s face it – a lot of things that are 40 years old don’t quite hold up. Captain and Tenille’s marriage. Paul Anka’s “You’re Having My Baby” (you guys, that shit was number 1. I like Paul Anka but that song’s terrible). (Try as I might to come up with a film example, it’s difficult, 1974 was a golden year for film). Anyway, Billy’s phonecalls to the girls are still as shocking, bizarre, and terrifying as ever. Not to mention infectious. The fellow and I can’t sit through Black Christmas without wailing “LIKE HAVING A WART REMOVED” or “WHAT YOUR MOTHER AND I MUST KNOW IS” at least a few times. And as many voices as Billy uses on the phonecalls, there is only one phrase he says in a regular speaking voice – “I’m going to kill you.” Goddamn right, Billy. Goddamn right.
I don’t know, I just like it.
First things first Keir Dullea, as Jess’ dickish pianist boyfriend Peter has his work cut out for him – he’s a jerkface, he doesn’t respect her choices, he’s selfish, and rather than that slimy green cable-knit turtleneck sweater he might as well be wearing a shirt that says I’M A PSYCHO KILLER. He also happens to be innocent, so, in the end, the world lost a mediocre classical piano player. Anyway, when he beats the piano to death to vent frustrations, he echos the dissonant piano-banging in the score, both explicitly (he’s capable of physical violence) and subliminally reinforcing to us, that he’s guilty. And if that wasn’t enough to convince us, that checkered blazer is fucking sleazy. See, that’s just good film-making.
As a horror fan first and a Canadian second, I have a soft spot for the the low budget horror films of the 70’s and 80’s that were shot in the Great White North. See, the 70s and 80s were a good time to make movies in Canada – a tax law called the Capital Cost Allowance made it so investors in Canadian-made films could defer taxes until the movie started turning a profit. A pile of classics were made here – some set in Canada, but many trying to pass Canada off for somewhere else (New England was a popular choice). Black Christmas is ambiguous about where exactly it’s supposed to be, but retains some charming Canadiana – there’s hockey, Art Hindle charmingly talks about taking Claire “oot” (we don’t actually talk like that except for when we do), and the two fellows who come to the door, enthusiastically offering to help the girls and then bragging excitedly about being included in a police investigation which is off-putting in its friendliness. Screenwriter Roy Moore is also Canadian, basing the script on a series of murders in Quebec.
There’s a reason the urban legend of The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs has endured – it’s really, really scary. In my babysitting days, I’d be up late with my knapsack of mostly horror videotapes and scare myself with the very idea that someone might be upstairs. It’s horror at its cleanest and most pure – you’re at home where you feel safe. And someone else, a stranger, is there too. Give that some honest consideration and try not to piss yourself.
I haven’t spent a ton of time with the deaths in Black Christmas because they’re all universally great, but the hyper-stylized, death by glass unicorn scene never gets old. As a unicorn enthusiast, it’s a home run.
When Jess goes back upstairs in an attempt to save her friends – this is not an act of stupidity to move the carnage forward. This is an act of bravery. Also, and rather unlike the virginal final girls to follow, Jess is not only a thinking, feeling, sexual being who wears a wooden crucifix around her neck, Jess is getting an abortion. She has plans in life and no one’s going to change her mind – she has autonomy over her body AND she’s a goddamn hero. Party on, Jess.
So Black Chrismas ’06, right? What a festering shit bucket of a movie that was. Literally, Black Christmas ’06, you had one job, and managed to avoid the essence of what made the original so great. (Billy likes to kill sorority girls because really bad jaundice and incest. SNORE.) In the end, we can speculate about who Billy and Agnes are, but we don’t truly know. And in the meantime, we leave Jess alone in the house with the killer after beating the wrong guy to death in the basement. The phone rings and rings, and we’re left with the grim realization that people die. Horrible things happen, and evil doesn’t take a holiday. John Saxon can’t help us, and neither can Santa Claus. A black Christmas indeed.
I forgot to mention the eye and the fact that Billy’s a screamer when he chases after Jess, but whatever, there’s ten things and I spot a glass of sparkling wine with my name on it.