Black Christmas (1974)


We never did find out who Billy was, did we? Was he a disgruntled ex-boyfriend? A humiliated crush? Or perhaps just a lunatic who drifted into the sorority house one night before Christmas? It’s always more frightening to be left with questions, isn’t it? Why do killers always have to have a motive or connection to the characters? Do real murderers always make sense? From the first frame director Bob Clark leads us through a labyrinth of absolute red herrings advising us to pay attention, notice the clues, and really focus in on where he’s going with “Black Christmas.” For years I heard many people trying to figure out who Billy is and what his intent was toward this group of young women in their sorority house one Christmas. How is able to get in and out without notice? How is he able to sneak back and forth in this house without being seen?

In any case, while director Bob Clark creates the illusion of a big hook and a masterful reveal that will leave us breathless, and shocked beyond belief, the simple fact is that the big reveal is: There is no big reveal. What we see before our eyes is a sorority house that may or may not have been the stomping grounds of a lunatic at one time, his entrance in to the house within the darkness and snow one busy Christmas, and his easy and merciless attacks on the individual women in the sorority. While Clark does intimate in many respects that this madman is a jilted ex-lover of protagonist Claire, or maybe just a disgruntled ex of one of the sisters, in reality he’s just a man. He’s a pure formless monster who slid in through the shadows, and murdered everyone in his path.

After receiving a string of mysterious phone calls during their big Christmas celebration before breaking up for vacation, the home quickly becomes a death trap to the various girls, all of whom fall victim to the shadowy monster hiding in the attic who is filled with rage but absolutely ingenious in his methods of luring and trapping his potential prey. Clark fills the film with various hints at revenge and anger among the women as well as an admirable sense of dark humor. All the while planting intentional clues toward the persona of this man who can barely form a cogent sentence beyond mentioning the name Billy. And when he strikes he is most resourceful and takes great detail in planting his corpses like Christmas ornaments around his domain, as he lurks in the attic, and looms within the corridors and rooms while the numbers of the women dwindle with every passing hour.

He is beyond a particular code or method, but is also very careful to evade any and all curious individuals and makes a game out of keeping the police under his finger offering up his own red herrings and planted bodies of children along the college campus guiding them in to a dead end while he commits to his business at hand. While the set piece in question is a small dorm with various rooms, Clark’s unnerving score matched with his plays on shadow and perception make this simplistic piece of land one of the most horrific settings for a horror film and paints the picture not of revenge, but of a house that became the subject of a lunatic’s sheer systematic sadism that is never explained. Do we need to have his actions and motivations explained to us?

Isn’t is much more horrifying to think that one night a monster could just pick us out at random and choose us to destroy from the inside out for reasons we can never comprehend? A precursor to “Halloween” and infinitely superior as a thriller and slasher film, “Black Christmas” is that masterpiece of horror that has various facets years after its creation, and there’s yet to be a slasher that’s as unsettling and haunting. While I’ll always love The Shape emerging to chase after Laurie Strode, for my money “Black Christmas” is the supreme slasher film that succeeds as a nightmarish, and twisted practice in mystery and ambiguity filled with entertaining in-jokes, and a director who is not above leaving the audience with as many answers as they had before watching his work. And to give you an idea about director Clark’s fantastic sense of humor, “Black Christmas” was followed up by him with the family classic “A Christmas Story.”