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John’s Horror Corner: Black Christmas (1974)

February 14, 2013

MY CALL: Online reviews boast this as one of the “scariest films ever made.”  Maybe back when it was released, but it won’t terrify any modern horror fans. If you’re a self-proclaimed horror connoisseur, watch this to cover your historic horror bases. It is, after all, a classic. MOVIES LIKE Black ChristmasHalloween (1978) and When a Stranger Calls (1979) were also born in the 70s and do a better job at building tension and testing our nerves.

It’s Christmas break and a few sorority sisters have decided to stay at the pledge house for the holiday.   The sorority house is terrorized by a stranger who makes frightening phone calls and then murders the sorority sisters during Christmas break.

Jess (Olivia Hussey; Stephen King’s It, Romeo and Juliet) is the nice girl whom we expect to survive the movie.  Her friend Barb (Margot Kidder; The Amityville Horror, Sisters) is the ultimate overindulgent sorority girl, always holding a lowball glass in one hand and ever-refilling it from the bourbon decanter permanently attached to the other, which also deftly holds a cigarette at all times.

After the first girl goes “missing” the police don’t take the issue seriously.  But as more sisters disappear Lt. Fuller (John Saxon; A Nightmare on Elm Street, Blood Beach; both of which having him reprise his role as a no-nonsense cop) takes the case.

This movie is revered as something of a classic.  However, I challenge this notion.  The movie is slow.  Not the suspenseful and building sort of slow, but more like the “we’ve got to fill this movie with 90 minutes” sort of slow.  We also don’t see the kills, which are staged in the most simplistic, color-by-numbers manner.  It’s so generic that you feel no sense of dread regarding what’s about to happen.

Now some people may angrily step to this film’s defense.  But I’d ask them to recollect how long it’s been since they’ve seen the movie.  All too often we remember thinking a movie was soul-rattling back when we were 10 or 15 years old.  I am one of those people.  This movie holds a special nostalgia for me, but having seen it again in my 30s I have to say that this film simply doesn’t hold up by today’s standards even if we ignore budgetary issues such as gore and “seeing” the kills.

WHAT THE MOVIE DOES WELL:  1) The acting is quite good for a horror film.  John Saxon always delivers with his no-nonsense characters and Margot Kidder does a fantastic job as the sorority house lush.  2)  The story is great and the characters’ development and relationships are engaging.  3)  This film brought us the most famous and truly jarring slasher movie notion ever: “The calls are coming from inside the house!”  4) A quiet, but great ending.  5) Some disturbing elements like the killer’s off-putting phone calls and the repeated imagery linked to the first victem.

If you’re a self-proclaimed horror fan or connoisseur, watch this just to cover your historic horror bases.  If you saw it and loved it as a kid, watch this for a reality check of what used to be scary to you and a little nostalgia–it is a classic.  And if you’re a parent of a kid who thinks he likes horror, watch this with him to gauge his readiness for more vivid, gory movies.

 

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Trackbacks

  1. John’s Horror Corner [INDEX] | Movies, Films & Flix
  2. Black Christmas (2006), a prime example of how exposition truly is the death of horror…that, and lousy remakes | Movies, Films & Flix
  3. The Scream Queens of Film: Mary Elizabeth Winstead; when bad movies happen to good actresses | Movies, Films & Flix
  4. John’s Old School Horror Corner: Silent Night Deadly Night (1984), a Christmas story | Movies, Films & Flix
  5. Homemade Horror- Black Christmas Cookies- DARK Chocolate | let it B designs
  6. John’s Horror Corner: The House of the Devil (2009), style trumps substance in Ti West’s delightfully atmospheric callback to 70s and 80s occult horror. | Movies, Films & Flix
  7. John’s Horror Corner: Krampus (2015), a dark Christmas-themed fantasy film by Michael Dougherty, the man behind Trick ‘r Treat and the upcoming Trick ‘r Treat 2. | Movies, Films & Flix
  8. John’s Horror Corner: A Christmas Horror Story (2015), a holiday anthology complete with zombie elves, evil spirits and Santa fighting Krampus! | Movies, Films & Flix
  9. John’s Horror Corner: The Brood (1979), Cronenberg’s approach to metaphysics, evil children and modern psychology. | Movies, Films & Flix
  10. John’s Horror Corner: Ice Cream Man (1995), Clint Howard in a B-movie starring role! | Movies, Films & Flix
  11. John’s Horror Corner: The Editor (2014), a wonderfully gory and raunchy yet awkwardly written ultra-cheesy horror comedy. | Movies, Films & Flix
  12. John’s Horror Corner: Better Watch Out (2016), an easy-going home invasion Christmas and a horror-comedy. | Movies, Films & Flix
  13. John’s Horror Corner: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976), basically the Texas Chainsaw LITE beer of classic slasher cinema. | Movies, Films & Flix
  14. John’s Horror Corner: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014), a meta-sequel remake of the seminal slasher classic. | Movies, Films & Flix
  15. John’s Horror Corner: It’s Alive (1974), setting the stage for the “baby horror” subgenre with a sprinkle of Frankenstein-ian allegory. | Movies, Films & Flix
  16. John’s Horror Corner: The Oracle (1985), the boring Ouija-esque Christmas horror crime thriller you should be glad you never heard of. | Movies, Films & Flix
  17. John’s Horror Corner: Planet of the Vampires (1965; aka Terrore nello spazio), Mario Bava’s Italian space vampire movie that influenced many films to come. | Movies, Films & Flix

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