The festive season is almost upon us, and what better way to celebrate than with an iconic slice of seasonal horror? Released in 1974, Black Christmas virtually invented the holiday slasher, pre-dating even Halloween. Elevated by a sharp script and a talented young cast, it’s still one of the best and boldest that the genre has to offer.
At the outset, the film sets out what are now considered fairly well worn tropes – sorority girls, threatening phone calls, bafflingly incompetent police work. But as the movie unfolds, it makes some surprisingly interesting choices, not only in terms of the killer, who remains a mystery right to the end, but also in giving the victims real personalities and fleshed out back stories.
The film stars Olivia Hussey, who had shot to fame a few years earlier in Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. Her curiously plummy English accent is worth a few giggles in this film, but she invests her character with a similar degree of common sense and quiet inner strength as Jamie Lee Curtis would later bring to the iconic Laurie Strode. A sub-plot in which she matter-of-factly reveals her plans to terminate an unwanted pregnancy ring as surprisingly progressive for the time.
The most iconic character however, is Often Inebriated Barb – yes, that is how she’s credited. Played by future Lois Lane Margot Kidder, she’s a classic wisecracking, whiskey-soaked wildcard, and the biggest disappointment is how quickly she’s cast aside by the plot. Still, the few scenes she has are enough for her to make a huge impression.
The other novelty of the film is its refusal to reveal its killer, who in spite of some fairly heavy-handed red herrings, remains a shadow-dwelling mystery, with no motive and no back story. This choice is particularly effective in the movie’s chilling ending, which requires a few fairly massive leaps of logic, but remains genuinely unsettling to this day.
On this week’s podcast, we break down the plot of the movie in depth, discussing key issues including improbable soundly soundproofed sorority houses, indoor hat fashion, the iconic and sadly swiftly offed sherry-hoarding landlady Mrs Mac and much, much more. We also revisit our favourite regular segments, including drinking games, listener reactions and our fantasy sequel pitches.
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Next week, we continue our festive mini season with a classic misbegotten action thriller. Until then, happy listening and remember – no good ever came from storing a creepy rocking chair in an attic.