Movie Discussion: Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974)

  • Monthly Theme: Slashersblackchristmaslobbycard
  • The Film: Black Christmas
  • Alternate title: n/a
  • Country of origin: Canada
  • Date of Canadian release: October 11, 1974
  • Date of U.S. release: December 20, 1974
  • Studio: Film Funding Ltd. of Canada, Vision IV & Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC)
  • Distributer: Warner Bros.
  • Domestic Gross: $4 million
  • Budget: $686,000 (estimated)
  • Director: Bob Clark
  • Producers: Geery Arbeid, Bob Clark, Findlay Quinn & Richard Schouten
  • Screenwriter: Roy Moore
  • Adaptation? No.
  • Cinematographer: Reg Morris
  • Make-Up/FX: Warren Keillor
  • Music: Carl Zittrer
  • Part of a series? No.
  • Remakes? Yes. Glen Morgan directed a remake in 2006.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? Yes. Horror stalwart John Saxon (The Girl Who Knew Too Much, A Nightmare on Elm Street, etc.). Hollywood star Margot Kidder (The Amityville Horror, Sisters, etc.). Genre character actor Keir Dullea (Bunny Lake Is Missing, 2001: A Space Odyssey, etc.).
  • Other notables?: Yes. Arthouse heartthrob Olivia Hussey and character actress Andrea Martin.
  • Awards?: Best Sound Editing at the 1975 Canadian Film Awards.
  • Tagline: “If this movie doesn’t make your skin crawl… it’s on TOO TIGHT.”
  • The Lowdown: Often considered to be the first traditional slasher, Black Christmas was a moderate success upon its release (though it was infamously pulled from television broadcast in the late 1970s when viewers complained it was “too scary”). Drawing heavily on the giallo tradition established by the films of Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento, Bob Clark’s film concerns a group of sorority sisters spending the last few nights in their sorority house before  Christmas vacation. The girls begin to receive frightening prank phone calls. Soon one of their sisters mysteriously vanishes and the few remaining girls enlist the help of their boyfriends and the police in finding her. Unbeknownst to them, a lunatic is living in the attic of the sorority house – and he is the one responsible for their sister’s disappearance and the prank calls. On Christmas Eve things come to a bloody climax as the sorority sisters are drawn into a confrontation with the mysterious intruder.

If you haven’t seen Black Christmas our discussion will include massive SPOILERS. 

Sean: So we watched this movie with your sister, and she called it “the stupidest movie I’ve ever seen.” We didn’t get a chance to discuss the particulars with her, so can you explain her reaction to me? I have to admit, I was shocked.

Kristine: I think it was the lack of resolution… maybe she thought it was a waste of time? But Jen is a sophisticated cinephile, so she is used to nonconventional narratives. We’ll have to hope that she comments on this discussion, it’s the only way to get an answer. She and I did not discuss the movie after we watched it.

Sean: That is weird that there was no discussion.

Kristine: Well, it happened. Before we get into the movie, can I say that I love that the most popular post on the blog right now is… Rare Exports.

Sean: I know, that is fun. Totally seasonal.

Kristine: I hope it is playing at every art house cinema right now.

Sean: So, you have now seen two Christmas-themed horror movies. What did you think of Black Christmas?

The DNC is calling during dinnertime AGAIN?!

Kristine: I liked it. It was a romp. And it contained some genuinely creepy parts. I was shocked by how dirty and grimy it was. Do you love this movie?

Sean: Love it. I actually was more impressed with it than ever during this viewing.

Kristine: My sister and I both clutched our pearls when the killer said ‘cunt’ a dozen times in a row.

Sean: I know. That phone call is… off the hook, literally. I love the slow pan over all the girls listening to the phone call.

Kristine: Margot Kidder is amazing. That character is who I was trying to be all throughout my 20s.

Sean: Oh yeah she is a total ball-busting goddess.

Kristine: Remember when we read The Group by Mary McCarthy? This movie reminded me of that book. I love any story set in a boarding school/dormitory, by the way.

Sean: Yes, this movie is very The Group. It is The Group + a gibbering lunatic.

Kristine: What did you think of Jess, the final girl?

Sean: I loved her. I loved the movie’s depiction of her pregnancy dilemma with Peter and her being really firm that she didn’t want the baby. And she is our heroine. The movie also leaves the baby decision completely unresolved and that an abortion is probably going to happen. I actually was surprised at how feminist this movie is. I had not remembered that about it.

We didn’t even get to talk about the fat Jewish Santa….

Kristine: Yeah, Jess is unapologetic about her progressive ideals. It has to do with more than her insistence on being able to follow her own dreams. She’s also very insistent that Peter follow his, and she is very realistic that they can’t do  certain things with a baby. Her un-romanticism was very refreshing and inspired. I like having a pragmatic heroine at the center of the movie, and it seems like the movie is not judging her. Also I have to add that Peter is perhaps the ugliest, biggest douchebag ever in any movie we’ve ever watched.

Sean: I totally agree. This movie feels like it is more on the side of the girls than any horror movie we’ve watched for the blog.

Kristine: I agree. We aren’t on the killer’s side at all, even though the movie uses (what are now considered to be very standard) POV shots from the killer’s perspective. I have to say, I was surprised by how many of the techniques John Carpenter employed in Halloween come right from this movie. But I think Black Christmas uses those POV shots in order to both maintain the ambiguity of the killer and also to simply give the audience important information (how the killer lives in the attic and how he moves about the house) that might confuse or annoy us if we didn’t know.

Candid pic of Ashton off Demi Moore’s iPhone.

Sean: Black Christmas is often considered to be the first North American slasher movie and, yes, it predates Halloween by four years. I’m not sure how familiar Carpenter and Debra Hill were with Black Christmas, but the openings are strikingly similar. Both movies begin by introducing us to the universe of the film through the eyes of the killer and that does place us in a weird relationship with any sense of identification for the rest of the film. But to my mind, Black Christmas does more to engage our sense of identification with the women who populate the movie than almost any other slasher I can think of (and, hell, more than Hollywood movies of any stripe, where the women are most often there as window dressing for male protagonists to ogle and spar with). One thing I think Black Christmas gets staggeringly right is how it presents the killer as an almost utterly alien presence, both physically and psychologically. He is barely human (the animal noises and vocal utterances that don’t qualify as speech) and remains unknowable and unknown by the end of the movie. He keeps saying the name Billy – is that his name? The name of someone from his past? Some character that exists in his psychosis? We never really know. The film’s decision to present him without any back-story whatsoever and without any context in which to make sense of him strikes me as radical. It’s very risky/brave storytelling, but I think it works. And one of the ways it works is that by rendering the killer an unknowable presence the film forces the viewer to inhabit a perspective that is very close to those of the young women co-inhabiting the house (unawares) with the killer. Our ability to identify with the killer is highly problematic when we cannot, in any real way, even know him. The killer remains the Other throughout the movie to the deeply weird and jarring coda. The way this movie ends – or perhaps more accurately, withholds any true sense of an ending – is what clinches its status as a small masterwork. While Halloween played very well with those same ideas – the slasher-killer as unknowable monster, the intrusion of unpredictable evil into a banal environment, it also is a less radical and feminist movie. Halloween needs to inject a RIMA into the plot to try to explain and rationalize the un-rationalizable and Dr. Loomis is the force that “prevails” against Michael in the climax as Laurie Strode cowers and whimpers on the floor. [Editor’s Note: For the backstory on RIMA, see our discussion of Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy.] Contrast that with the climax of Black Christmas, in which Jess defends herself against the male intruder and the cops both arrive too late and then also fail to detect the killer in the attic. The ending of Black Christmas is still problematic – we leave Jess sedated and utterly vulnerable to another assault by the killer and we also know she’s killed the wrong assailant (though I’d argue, Peter was as much a threat to her as the killer, and the movie knows that, so she does vanquish one of the boogeymen plaguing her).

Kristine: Yeah, I think you’re right that the movie views Peter (and maybe even some other men in the movie) as a different kind of “threat” to Jess and her girlfriends. The killer and Peter are doubled throughout the movie – unpredictable, psychologically unstable, both making strange phone calls to the sorority house. The killer endangers the girls in one way and Peter (and I also just mean boys like Peter) endangers them in another. It’s less cut-and-dry, but I also think that the police as a whole and Mr. Harrison (the murdered girl Clare’s father) are set up by the movie as enemies of feminism. Don’t you think? And if not enemies, than at least as obstacles or forces of resistance to the social progress of women. All those shots of Mr. Harrison storming around the dorm, narrowing his eyes disapprovingly at the girls’ irreverent posters and various objects of décor, establish pretty clearly that in the eyes of the patriarchy these are “bad girls” or at least misguided ones. However, I think the movie presents Mr. Harrison as a clownish figure. He’s a nebbish, not an imposing masculine presence. We’re meant to roll our eyes at him along with Mrs. Mac and the girls, not side with him. And though Lt. Fuller (a.k.a. Nancy’s dad from A Nightmare on Elm Street) is a more stable and traditionally masculine “father figure,” he ultimately fails to protect the ladies, despite his Mucho Macho patriarchal ways.

Early work by the “Where’s the Beef?” lady in background.

Sean: And all the images of older women literally flipping the bird to patriarchs? That poster of the grandmotherly woman giving the finger seemed like a very cool thing for Clare to have in her dorm room. We also see Mrs. Mac roll her eyes and flip off Mr. Harrison. The attitude of this movie is not “Fall in line, ladies, and behave as Daddy tells you.” It is “Daddy doesn’t get it, this is a woman’s world and we’re doin’ it for ourselves.” I also want to give props to this movie for being about a male killer hiding undetected in a SORORITY HOUSE and spying on the girls without their knowledge and there not being any scene where the killer (and we-the-audience-as-the-killer) watch one of the girls take a shower.

Kristine: I loved the house mother. Her gleefully drinking the hidden sherry. LOL for days. But yes, I agree about the father figures. Both Mr. Harrison and Lt. Fuller are examples of failed RIMAs, for sure. And you’re totally right that Halloween’s Dr. Loomis is much more central to that movie and much more in control of both the narrative and the outcome.

Sean: And this movie features Margot Kidder getting murdered with a crystal unicorn figurine. I mean, you sort of can’t beat that. That wins the award for most whimsical and fey murder weapon in a slasher, ever.

Kristine: The phallic crystal unicorn… my sister pointed that out right away. I was dying. I mean, we’ve discussed before the trope of adolescent girls grappling with their burgeoning sexuality by fixating on horses and unicorns as symbols of masculine/phallic erotic power. The movie is winking at all of that, I think, with the choice of that murder weapon. How beautiful was Margot Kidder, by the way? I forgot how lovely she was.

Sean: Margot was gorge.

Faggiest. Murder weapons. EVER.

Kristine: So, when did you first see this movie and did it scare you?

Sean: I saw this movie late in life. Probably not until I was like…. 30?

Kristine: I am surprised.

Sean: Yeah, for whatever reason I didn’t see it during my massive horror movie phase as a kid (say, ages 12-17). I don’t think our local video store stocked a copy of this movie, because I don’t remember ever seeing the cover sitting there and I obsessively poured over that horror movie section and fixated on all the cover images. But when I finally did see the movie it really unsettled me and it still scares me now. I find the killer to be very, very scary, much more so than Jason or Michael or Freddy or Leatherface or any of the great iconic slasher movie figures. The only thing we see of him is his eye. That is such a Dario Argento move, I love it (and don’t you think Donald Pleasance’s amazing death scene in Phenomena where we only see the killer’s freakish eyeball is a total shout-out to Black Christmas?). I really admire this movie for leaving the killer up to our imagination and I think it makes him more nightmarish, surreal and threatening to do so. Also his demented gibbering when he attacks Jess at the end is… just terrifying.

Kristine: He/she/it IS very scary. The eye was scary as fuck. Also him rocking the rocking chair holding dead Clare with the super-creepy baby doll. I found Clare’s corpse very upsetting. I couldn’t believe the stupid cops didn’t discover it (another total failure on the part of the RIMAs in this universe). Clare sitting in the attic window reminded me of Mrs. Bates’ corpse in Psycho, and her open mouth scream of death and overall pathos reminded me of Violet’s corpse in Season 1 of American Horror Story. Right? The killer’s phone calls were super scary. During the movie my sister and I wished we could understand everything the killer was saying over the phone, but the unintelligible quality definitely added to the scariness. And the animal noises.

A Very Kennedy Christmas.

Sean: I agree totally. Clare’s treatment by the movie is super critical to getting at what sets this movie apart from all the slashers that came after it. Her death has an impact that resonates throughout the rest of the movie, it is not some throwaway death. The girls in this movie are not disposable bodies whose disappearances have little to no consequence. That first murder – Clare’s suffocation – drives the plot of the movie and her fate hangs over everything, literally. Her body in the rocking chair, face frozen in a death-scream and still covered in plastic, is the most indelible image of the movie. Now whether or not that image fetishizes her or not is up for debate. I think it does, but that the killer’s fetishization of Clare’s body is part of the monstrousness, like some mythic troll in its cave lording over the bones and remains of its victims. The point is, Clare’s murder is represented as something tragic and horrible. Her death means something and the sight of her body being toyed with by the killer revolts and disgusts us. I even think Halloween, in how it stages Linda and Annie’s bodies for Laurie to find at the end, treats those victims more distastefully, turning them into ghoulish spookhouse props. There’s something much more melancholy and ominous about Clare, whose body is still in that rocking chair, undiscovered, at the end of the movie. It leaves you with a sour feeling. But I believe that a truly effective horror movie should make you feel bad, so that’s good.

Kristine: Absolutely. Don’t you agree that there is some connection between Clare’s body here and Violet’s corpse in American Horror Story?

Sean: Yes, totally. They’re in the same continuum of images.  So, one thing this movie is renowned for is how the girls do not behave in “stupid dumb horror movie” ways. They are being menaced? They call the police. Their friend is missing? They spend the entire movie searching for her and making a stink about it. Jess is getting threatening phone calls? She insists that the police and the phone company fucking do something about it and she cooperates with them in order to catch the guy. They like, do everything right.

Kristine: Yes. Well, except for Jess not leaving the house at the end when Nash, the dopey desk sergeant, tells her the calls are coming from inside the house. God, the police made me so mad.

14 jess
You in the zoo, girl.

Sean: The cops being comically inept was funny. But I actually really liked how Jess behaves in the climax of the movie, because she begins to run out of the house but she can’t leave Barb and Phyl. She is acting out of sisterhood. I actually feel like it supports the movie’s quasi-feminist attitude that Jess really values the lives of her sisters and won’t leave them, even once she knows she is in danger. Rather than being your standard inept horror movie character who behaves unnaturally and idiotically, I saw Jess making an informed, heroic choice there. She’s much more the hero of this story than Laurie Strode is the hero of Halloween. All Laurie does is stumble and weep and limp-wristedly hit Michael with knitting needles. She never makes a heroic decision to battle the monster.

Kristine: Sure, I guess. I thought the laughing detective was super creepy and if the killer is any of the characters we met, my money is on him (though I don’t think we “met” the killer in the movie).

Sean: Can I just say as an aside that all the Canadian details were killing me… like Clare’s boyfriend playing hockey and stuff. That weird goalie mask was truly Dadaist and bizarre.

Kristine: Oh, Canada. I just IMDB’d the housemother and she is a famed Canadian lady of the stage. That explains her awesome overacting.

Sean: The housemother is a hoot. What about the search party guys with guns that come to the house?

Kristine: Oh God.

Sean: So Canadian ridiculous.

Kristine: I loved how the ladies laughed at them and knew they were inept even when they were being menaced by a prank caller. It’s like, even in a state of heightened paranoia, the girls knew these local yokels were ridic. Another example of the movie undercutting masculine authority with sassy lady-ness. What about the kitty? What was his name? Floyd?

Sean: Ugh that kitty was shitty. Though his crown as the biggest cat asshole in a horror movie was usurped just a few years later by Jonesy in Alien.

Kristine: Stop it. The lunatic in the attic better not have killed that kitty.

The assholishness of cats demonstrated yet again.

Sean: I actually think horror movies are pretty anti-cat. They spread all kinds of anti-cat propaganda about what aloof, shitty assholes cats are, and how they always scare people or lead them to their untimely end. Plus remember the image of Kitty was licking Clare’s dead, cellophane-wrapped head?

Kristine: Do you agree about the laughing detective?

Sean: I liked Laughy and did not see him as menacing. I thought the cop scenes were wicked Barney Miller.

Kristine: I totally did.

Sean: No way. He was laughing at the “Fellatio” extension that Barb gave to Nash. He was just being a hilarious and irreverent character.

Kristine: Did you think that the side plot about the dead little girl in the park added to the menacing atmosphere, or did you think it was a distracting red herring?

Sean: Loved it. The theme of the movie is how dangerous the world is for a young lady, so it felt totally appropriate. In the background of our main plot are all these reminders that women and girls are victims too often in the contemporary world. And there’s also a lot of ambiguity – is that little girl’s death connected to the killer in the attic? Or just a coincidental and unrelated act of violence?

Kristine: Agreed. I think that Peter’s threats against Jess really drive home the idea that this movie is “about” what a threatening place the world of men is for a gal. When you first saw this, did you suspect Peter? I thought he was a red herring right away, but my sister briefly suspected him of being the killer.

Plaid tantrum.

Sean: No I knew there was no way he was the killer because it would have been too obvious. But Peter is important to establishing that air of menace over the whole movie, a menace that is sexual and is gendered male. The killer wants to dominate and violate the bodies of his victims, but Peter also wants to dominate and control Jess’s body. He is as much a villain as the killer in the attic. Peter, at the end of the day, is just another side of the killer anyway, in the larger cultural fabric.

Kristine: Absolutely. I agree, there is nothing fun or cool about the men in this movie. Like you said, we are never even guiltily on their side.

Sean: Peter deserved to die.

Kristine: And for him to die by Jess’s hand makes it so great.

Sean: What do you think of Jess?

Kristine: I think she is… pretty great. I like how she is so progressive, but they didn’t make her a ball-buster like Barb. She is simply presented as a reasonable, educated, classy woman who is making these rational choices. I was worried she would be too twee and helpless at first because of her delicate looks and vaguely Eurotrash accent but I thought she comported herself admirably.

Sean: Yes. (The actress is Argentinian, by the way). The girls are all dynamic personalities and, to me, recognizable women. Not your basic slasher mannequins or interchangeable hot-pants horny teens.

Kristine: Totes The Group.

Yoga death pose.

Sean: Totes. Good call on that one.

Kristine: So, can we discuss something?

Sean: Sure.

Kristine: I want to know what you gleaned from the killer’s calls about his pathology. Obviously all his female victims are “Agnes” to him, and something was done to a baby. Infanticide is a big theme, and mirrored with the Jess/Peter pregnancy issue. Tell me what you think/know.

Sean: Ah… hmmm, I’m not sure. I think, obviously, there’s some barely comprehensible mythology to his phone calls. I think that the girls are surrogate Mommies and fuck puppets at once in his mind. His calls consist of recriminations and tears mixed with threats of sexual violence. As you pointed about, he waxes poetic about their “cunts” in the opening scene.  He’s both aggressor and victim in the calls and, tellingly, he possesses multiple voices. In fact, the characters comment on the killer’s “many voices” a few times. That idea that the killer is not a monolithic being, but somehow contains a multiplicity, is very freaky and frightening. It is a key facet of what makes him menacing and alien. But again, some of his phone calls are about sexual violence, and others are just these bizarre, tearful tirades. He is damaged (as is Peter) and also sees himself as a victim (as does Peter). Remember that when Peter blows his retarded piano audition, he blames Jess. He locates all of his internal problems in an external source. If you ever hear a bully or a domestic abuser speak, in their mind they are the victim. That fragmentation is something I think the killer reflects in his phone calls. He sees the women both as objects of sexual desire but also as aggressors inflicting some kind of psychic pain on him.

Kristine: Oh, good point, I totally agree.

Sean: So I really noticed something thematic going on with “motherhood” watching the movie this time around…

Kristine: Go on.

Archie Bunker’s Halloween costume.

Sean: If you remember, the movie opens with Margot Kidder on the phone with her mother and being disappointed by her not being available or present over the holiday. Then there’s the “den mother” role occupied by Mrs. Mac, and she spends the movie drinking, cursing and complaining about how hard it is to mother ‘girls like these.’ Remember how affronted and offended she is that Mr. Harrison might be judging the quality of her mothering?

Kristine: It’s interesting that Clare’s mother doesn’t come to find her… her father does.

Sean: Totally. The mothers are all absent. Also, the threat of becoming a mother is Jess’s dilemma and, I guess, we could see her refusal to carry the baby to term as another “abdication” of motherhood.  And some of the killer’s babbling seems addressed to a motherfigure. I feel like this movie is really interested in presenting the girls as motherless children, adrift in the world and unmothered.

Kristine: Yeah, you have convinced me re: mommies. Another tie to Psycho. I, too, felt Billy was angry/afraid of an abusive mother figure.

Sean: The den mother is a comically inept figure.

Kristine: But she IS maternal in her own way.

Sean: I guess…. she isn’t even a good mother to the fucking cat – she can’t keep track of it. Just like she loses track of Clare.

Kristine: I still can’t get over her sherry hidey-holes. And who gets wasted on sherry? Gag.

Sean: The only “stable” figure of authority is Lt. Fuller, and he ultimately lets Jess down and fails to protect her from either Peter (Jess has to defeat him on her own) or the killer in the attic (who remains a threat to Jess at the end of the film). Remember all of Lt. Fuller’s fatherly concern about the danger Peter poses to Jess? He is her total surrogate daddy. But he’s a bad daddy.

Scorsese is never going to call, John Saxon. Sorry.

Kristine: He is a bad daddy. But I was sad when Mrs. Mac bit it.

Sean: I was sad when Barb died but that’s it. I cheered when Peter died, though I was annoyed that it took place off-screen. I think we deserved the spectacle of Jess murdering his controlling ass.

Kristine: I cheered when Peter died, too. I loved Jess fighting for her life (and her right to choose).

Sean: Totally awesome.

Kristine: I didn’t get a chance to do much research on this movie, but I did wiki it and learn two factoids: 1. In addition to Steve Martin (who has apparently seen the movie dozens of times), Elvis Presley was a big fan of this movie. 2. There was a remake in 2006 and they wanted Margot Kidder to play the housemother but she refused. Have you seen the remake? Is it any good?

Sean: It is terrible. And Phyl, the nerdy Jewish girl from this movie, returns as the housemother in the remake. It stars Mary Eliabeth Winstead, Lacey Chabert, Michelle Trachtenberg and Katie Cassidy (who also stunk up the Nightmare on Elm Street remake). The remake is about inbred mutants living in the walls and killing dozens of girls. It is putrid.

Kristine: Oh dear. Umm, Margot Kidder was dated Brian De Palma and Richard Pryor. That is weird. Clare’s body – is it meant as a rebuke to the objectification of women? I think yes, it is, for these reasons: they keep showing it, and it remains horrifying and vulnerable. There is nothing sexy and titillating about it. The way the killer keeps messing with it and staging it and “playing” with it is awful and upsetting. Also, how are there all these police around and the search party and they totally miss her body even though she is in the window of the crime scene? It makes you realize how vulnerable these ladies are, and how the police and men in general can’t see the danger and can’t help.

Margot, if it’s Thomas McGuane on the other end, hang up for the love of God!

Sean: Well said. I totally agree. The obviousness of the body in the window feels like a comment on…. well, everything. Everything wrong with the social circumstances of modern women, etc.

Kristine: Also, the refusal of the police to examine the interior (of the house) feels important. They are focused on the realm of the male, the exterior, the landscape, not the feminine, interior, domestic spaces.

Sean: Yes. The idea that the killer is still up there… This movie is quite infamous for that unhappy ending. There is no resolution. But don’t you think the ending leaves it seeming inevitable that the killer and Clare’s body and Mrs. Mac’s body will  be discovered in the morning, but just that they remain hidden away… for now?

Kristine: Yeah, the total uselessness of the cops standing guard outside the house is ridic. And the cop tasked with guarding the house was murdered by the killer so the forces of masculine authority and power are totally powerless against this kind of killer – an intruder who lurks in the house, who secrets himself away in the depths of the interior and domestic. It is scary. I like how the killer, without being seen, also creates such an atmosphere of fear and violence that he “causes” deaths he wasn’t a part of, like Jess killing Peter. I like the ending now, but I was frustrated when I first watched it. I so wanted to know who this freak was.

Sean: Oh yeah – and the way the killer uses the phone as a way to “violate” the house. The fact that the intrusion of the male voice presages the invasion of the male body was really interesting. Again, that shot of all the girls spellbound and listening to his first phone call is really indelible. They’re frozen and horrified and menaced – except for Barb, who is unshakable. But the fact that they all rush together to experience that phone call as a group seems really important to the scene. That part of the ‘secret language of girls’ is this thing they all share and take as a granted part of their experience in the world – that men are predatory freaks and that they will get phone calls like this, and be groped, and be looked at and exploited and menaced. It says something both sad and touching about female camaraderie, that they all come together with this mixture of jaded resignation and horrified shock to listen to that first phone call.

Lady meeting to discuss all this nasty cunt-talk.

Kristine: Yeah. I loved how they were intrigued. Have you ever received menacing phone calls? Have you ever made them?

Sean: Placing crank calls was basically a hobby of mine between the ages of 10-14. But I always made crank calls with friends, never alone. Crank calling was a group sport. We would use “total phone” (which is what we called three-way calling in CT in the 1980s) to eavesdrop on and participate in each others’ crank calls. We’d just do really dumb things, like calling someone and when they said hello being like, “Your pussy smells, the neighbors want you to know.”

Kristine: That is awful, Sean.

Sean: Or just, “Hello, asshole.”

Kristine: You use to try and prank-call me at work by the way.

Sean: Really?

Kristine: Uh, yes.

Sean: Lies.

Kristine: Not lies, but you always gave yourself away either by cracking up, or by being so scatalogical and gross, there was no way it could be a real call.

Sean: “Hello?” ” “Hi, your anus reeks. Everyone’s talking about it.”

Mrs. Mac tries to plug up the hippe residue.

Kristine: I feel like Billy was gender confused…  Do you think Clark was inspired by Psycho?

Sean: I thought the unicorn stabbing was a weird homage to Psycho‘s shower scene.

Kristine: Barb’s whole shelf of crystal figurines was so girly for such a blowsy broad… I liked that, and that she was killed with this object that signified some half-hearted embrace of traditional femininity.

Sean: So do you think this deserves a higher place in the canon, alongside Halloween and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre? Or is it right to be relegated to the second tier of horror classics?

Kristine: I think second tier is fine with me. You think it is underrated?

Sean: Yes. I think this is as fine a movie as Halloween and is probably better. I think it is relegated to second-tier status because it is too weird, messy and ambiguous for a mainstream horror audience to get it.

Kristine: Another scene I loved loved loved?

Sean: Tell me.

Kristine: The intersecting shots between the (creepy) caroling kids and Barb’s grisly murder. Those caroling kids were creepy as fuck.

Sean: I was going to ask what you thought of the carolers.


Kristine: What would you do if creepy towheaded caroling kids came to the door?

Sean: Throw boiling water on them?

Kristine: I hate carolers. I hate how etiquette says that they can hold you hostage with the door open, smiling, until they are through with their yodeling. Do you like any Christmas songs?

Sean: My mom used to sing “Let It Snow” to me in an evil baby voice and I loved it.

Kristine: Your mom.

Sean: Also “Winter Wonderland.” I am not very into the aesthetics of Christmas, but I don’t mind a good Christmas album. Like Stevie Wonder. I like the mournful tunes associated with the holiday the best.

Kristine: The best Christmas album EVER is this. Seriously, it is so great. I also like mournful Christmas songs, like “Baby, Please Come Home.” The Raveonettes also have a great Christmas EP.

Sean: Harry Connick, Jr. has a good one, seriously.

Kristine: I believe that.

Sean: What significance do you think the Christmastime setting brings to the film?

Kristine: I guess the thematic stuff about the family unit… and how none of the characters have that. They form this loose feminist collective instead of a traditional family and, significantly, that is what comes under assault. I know you argued that this movie has some comparatively radical politics to other genre entries, but don’t you think we could also see this as a Conservative assault on the non-traditional all-girl “family”? That is it their deviation from the norm that opens them up to assault?

Sean: That is also totally plausible. We’ll have to re-watch this next year and decide.

Ratings Roundup

The Girl’s Rating:  Bloody wonderful gender exploration and critique.

The Freak’s Rating: Masterpiece!

Don't you EVER pull a diva's hair, bitch.
Don’t you EVER pull a diva’s hair, bitch.

11 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974)

  1. Watched this again last week – it really is a classic. Loved the ambiguity of it – who’s the killer? Were there two killers? etc etc. The remake killed all that off, of course.
    I’d forgotten how good the tracing the phone call scenes were, with the technichian running around the exchange.

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