By Breanna Whipple
CALGARY – Holiday-centric horror has become a household theme. Immediately coming to mind are heavy hitters that largely shaped the slasher sub-genre as we know it – Halloween (1979) and Friday the 13th (1981). Delving deeper into the wormhole, you’ll find for every holiday imaginable there is an accompanying horror movie. Even the least threatening of celebrations, Thanksgiving, is the central event in titles such as Blood Rage (1987) and ThanksKilling (2008). Many assume this trend began with the aforementioned masterpiece penned by John Carpenter, Halloween (1979). To those of you under this impression, allow me to introduce to you the slasher sub-genre’s unsung hero – Black Christmas (1974).
With an inception shot carried through the point of view of an unknowable person climbing through an attic window of a sorority house, you can already point out the apparent beginnings of a sub-genre we’ve come to know and adore. The plot of Black Christmas is strikingly similar to that of Halloween for a number of reasons. Firstly, both tales derived elemental inspiration from ‘the babysitter and the man upstairs’ – an urban legend dating back to the 1960s about a teenage girl receiving obscene phone-calls while babysitting.
Secondly, the adoration John Carpenter personally felt for Black Christmas was well known by the film’s director, Bob Clark. The tale has been recounted countlessly in the confines of horror history – Carpenter pressed Clark about a sequel. Clark described a continuation of the maniacism in the following autumn after the events, taking place on Halloween. Five years later and John Carpenter brought a similar idea to fruition, however not as a sequel but a loving homage. Propelling the slasher sub-genre into realization, he altered the course of horror cinema forever.
Doubling back to the core of our tale in question, a memorable trademark of this film is the particularly heinous and vulgar phone-calls throughout the duration of the film. What begins as incoherent moaning and sexually explicit degradation quickly progresses into the very apparent maniacal ramblings of an unknown entity. Unmatched in the level of dread this ignites, “phone horror” became a following trend shortly thereafter, the most apparent example being When a Stranger Calls (1979). Both films share a very claustrophobic atmosphere – Situational horror that creates environments that become characters in their own right. The house in Black Christmas has as much dimensional depth as the rest of a very real, relatable cast of characters.
Not only a catalyst in cultivating the genre as a whole, Black Christmas definitely deserves to be cited as a seminal film in Canadian cinematic history. In company of David Cronenberg, the works of Bob Clark played a key-role in defining Canadian genre film. Agreed upon by most Canadians, there is a particularly dreadful melancholy brought upon by our devastatingly cold winters that is unique to our placement in the world – a very real horror we all find unity in annually. Black Christmas captures that atmosphere and displays it flawlessly and incomparably.
Catch Black Christmas at The Globe Cinema on Dec. 21Black Christmas, Night Terrors Film Society, The Globe Cinema