Thursday, 3 December 2015

Christmassacre One - Black Christmas (1974)

There are many discussions horror fans such as myself will have about our favourite genera, and some questions will come up again and again, one of the most prevalent examples of this I have seen is; 'What was the first slasher film?'

I asked some people this and surprisingly no one said Halloween or Friday the 13th, answers I have heard before and quite often.  I have also heard some people suggest the Agatha Christie novel And Then There Were None/Ten Little Indians as well as its 1945 film adaptation as been the first slasher.

Of course a lot of people named the classics such as Psycho, Peeping Tom and 1941's The Leopard Man, some Italian films such as Torso and Bay of Blood were also said with Blood and Black lace been the most popular suggestion.  Of course The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was said, but by far the film that most people said they considered Bob Clark's 'Black Christmas' to be the first.

And I must say I agree, though the 1974 film was predated by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre by two months it's Black Christmas that I feel has more in common with the conventions of the slasher genera.  The film was a hit making over four million dollars, and though at the time reception was mixed from critics it has later been reevaluated and give much more positive reviews as well as developing a strong cult following. A following it very much deserves because Black Christmas is a masterful suspense tale that left my heart drumming against my rib cage by the time it was over.

The film was written by A. Roy Moore based on a real string of murders with obvious inspiration taken from the urban legend of 'The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs'.

We open on a great shot of the house at night with the carol Silent Night playing as the cast's names come up, there is something wonderfully atmospheric about this and though there is little snow to be seen the bear trees and Christmas lights give you the feeling of a cold winters night.

The story centres around a girls sorority house after they have broken up for the Christmas holidays, opening on a party the girls are throwing with their housemother Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman). At the same time and all in POV we see a stranger clime up the side of the house and into the attic, he proceeds to phone the house (they have two lines, a private one for the housemother and another for the girls). This isn't the first time he has called as the girls have already nicknames him the Moaner as that what he proceeds to do down the phone, one girl, Barb (Margot Kidder) provokes him leading to him replying that “I'm going to kill you!”. Barb along with some other girls don't take him seriously thinking it's just a prank, while the others find the calls frightening especially since a collage girl was raped recently. One girl, Clare (Lynne Griffin) argues with Barb about how she provoked him, eventually Clare storming off to her room, once up there she hears a noise coming from her wardrobe, believing it to he the house cat she goes to investigate but is attacked by the Moaner who suffocates her by wrapping her head in clear plastic before placing her body in a rocking chair, a picture that has become the iconic image of the film and was the picture used for the poster.

Clare's body isn't found and the girls assume she left early, most the rest of the girls leave as well leaving only Mrs. Mac, Barb, Jess (Olivia Hussey) and Phyl (Andrea Martin), the characters we will follow for the rest of the film along with boyfriends Peter (Keir Dullea), Chris (Art Hindle), Clare's father (James Edmond) and Lt. Fuller (John Saxon).

The film is a slow burn to say the least and may not appeal to those with a preference for faster paced horror, but to someone like me who loves a slow build up this film is a treat. It starts off with more comical moments, such as Mrs. Mac seemingly having a bottle of licker hidden in ever room or Barb tricking a police man into writing 'fellatio' as part of the house phone number, but these moments fade out as the film goes on to transform into some of the most suspenseful cinema I've seen in a long time, especially the last thirty minutes or so.

One scene in particular stands out for having me on the edge of my seat, when after finally reporting the strange calls to the police they install a trace on the girls phone, so that when the Moaner rings again the police can listen in and track where the number is coming from. Now unlike today where it is all digital and tracking the caller could be done on a single computer here it's a massive room with stuff... okay I don't really understand how it works but trust me when I say it is a fantastic scene that really makes you hold your breath as the girls try to keep him on the line.

Another thing this film does so well is character, everyone in the film feels real, like these really are girls you would meet on campus.  As always I don't want to give too much away but I will say my favourite characters are Mrs. Mac who is genuinely funny but not in an out of place way and Barb who's kind of a jerk but I'd love to go drinking with. I enjoyed all the characters to be honest I don't feel there was a weak link, you'll no doubt recolonise some of the cast such as Margot Kidder, Olivia Hussey and the always awesome John Saxon.

I really dig this film and it has set the bar high for the series of festive horrors I have lined up this December. I shouldn't have to tell you to check this one out, it's a classic for a reason and well deserved of it's place in slasher and horror history.

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