In this column, Zofia Wijaszka reviews forgotten, underrated, and “hidden gems” horror films that deserve a new audience’s attention and post-watch conversation. The Terror Comeback’s goal is to celebrate the horror genre, both the genre in the cinema and on television.
“Black Christmas” (1974) Review: A Timeless, Empowering Holiday Horror Classic
This review may contain spoilers for Black Christmas (1974).
While many people enjoy viewing both parts of Home Alone or The Santa Clause trilogy, there is something oddly satisfying about going from Halloween-themed horror flicks to holiday horror classics. One of them is undoubtedly Bob Clark’s Black Christmas. Although it’s been 49 years since Jess (Olivia Hussey), Barb (Margot Kidder), and the rest of the dorm confronted the offensive murderer, the film remains ageless as its themes of body autonomy and female empowerment are more important than ever.
Black Christmas follows a group of sorority sisters who begin receiving filthy and profane anonymous phone calls just as the holiday season commences. Initially mocking the anonymous caller, later revealed as Billy, the enjoyment ends when the man’s comments become progressively threatening. After their housemate, Claire (Lynne Griffin), goes missing and a local girl is slain, the group begins to suspect a serial killer is at large. They have no idea, however, how close the offender truly is.
The most striking aspect of Black Christmas is how timeless it feels. The rhythm and building tension in the narrative are two elements that add to that impression. The odd feeling grows worse with each phone call, as Billy proceeds shouting and wailing on the line. The phone calls themselves are unsettling and hit close to home, especially being a woman who experienced similar albeit thankfully less scary calls and had friends who did as well. When one considers what the killer says throughout the film, the narrative becomes even more terrifying; Billy most definitely harassed his sister, and there was possibly a sexual assault.
Black Christmas Review
As the sorority sisters report Claire’s disappearance and odd phone calls to the police, Black Christmas addresses other problems, such as body autonomy. Hussey’s character, especially. Jess finds out she’s pregnant, but she doesn’t want to have a child while she isn’t ready. Not only dealing with the vulgar phone calls, Jess is also at odds with her boyfriend, who wants her to continue the pregnancy. Hussey, best renowned for her role in Romeo and Juliet, provides an excellent, thought-provoking performance as a young woman who stands up to a man and wants to make her own decisions about her body. As a result, Jess’ storyline is not only powerful but timeless today.
Kidder, in addition to Hussey, gives a noteworthy performance. The Amityville Horror actress plays a sardonic, frequently intoxicated college student who, at first, doesn’t take the caller’s warnings seriously. Kidder’s Barb is well known for her candor and sarcasm. Whether she walks around, sipping on her drink and smoking, or goes to the police station to report Claire missing; it’s never a dull time with Barb!
The killing scenes in Black Christmas are also unforgettable. Despite the passage of time, they remain interesting and brutal. Clark and the playwright, Roy Moore, utilize things found around the dorm for the killer to perpetrate his horrible crimes, such as a hanging hook in the attic, a plastic bag, or the most unforgettable—a glass unicorn figure. The split diopter shots are also used by the creators, contributing to the overall eerie disposition of Black Christmas.
Clark’s holiday slasher has it all: a memorable killer, compelling characters, mystery, and a surprise ending. At the same time, amid all the slaying, Black Christmas manages to address the issue of female body autonomy through Jess’ character in a delicate, empowering way. Furthermore, the movie is a fantastic fit for December and the merry season. Maybe Black Christmas will cut your annual holiday watchlist?
Watch Black Christmas 1974
Black Christmas is currently streaming for free on Peacock, Tubi, Pluto TV, and other ad-based streaming platforms.