Viking Night: Black Christmas
By Bruce Hall
December 14, 2016
Unfortunately, Black Christmas is NOT that long lost Dave Chappelle flick you’ve been hearing about. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but I’d rather you hear it from me. That’s because after years of writing this column, I’ve finally decided to make up for all the times I’ve failed to post seasonally appropriate material. Every year about this time, it occurs to me that I should write about a Christmas film. Sometimes it happens, and sometimes it doesn’t. Well, the uncertainty ends here. I owe it to you, my loyal reader(s), to bring you what Christmas joy I can in these uncertain times.
It’s the least I can do, at least until I finally roll out Burt Reynolds Month, or Michael Bay May.
So this week, I bring you Black Christmas, which is also not a Key and Peele sketch. It is, however, one of the greatest horror films of the 1970s, and it features a cast of luminaries who rarely get the mention they deserve in these pages. Plus, even casual readers know that I’m not a big horror guy - but Black Christmas is just the kind of thing they need to make more of in order to change my mind. I realize I’m discussing a film released in 1974, but let’s be real - they just don’t make them like they used to.
Part of that is because if not for Black Christmas, they might not be making them the way they do NOW. Credited with being one of the earliest “slasher” films, Black Christmas is said to have directly influenced John Carpenter’s Halloween, for starters. Although not a huge hit in the US, it was, at the time, the highest grossing Canadian film of all time. Sure, that’s a little like pointing out that The Tragically Hip are the best-selling Canadian rock band of all time. Obviously that’s impressive, but also, so what?
Well how many times do you watch a 40-year-old horror movie and not only enjoy it, but kind of wish more modern films were like it? One of the reasons Black Christmas was so successful is because it combines a somewhat conceivable psychological thriller with a good old fashioned serial killer flick. Thing was, the Good Old Fashioned Serial Killer Flick wasn’t actually a thing when this film was released. Audiences were not yet desensitized to the point where Hitler driving a garbage truck full of dead coeds doesn’t even get people out the door, let alone into the theater.
Black Christmas starts out where it should, at the Pi Delta-Something sorority house during Christmas break. Most of the students have left for the holidays, and only a few girls remain at the House. As the film opens, they’re throwing the most tasteful, classy sorority party I think I’ve ever seen. Everyone’s sitting around listening to inoffensive holiday music and sipping out of brandy glasses. And because it’s the 1970s, there are enough silk scarves, knit sweaters and feathered hair to render the Siberian tundra completely habitable.