Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder
Director: Bob Clark
Running Time: 98 mins
Black Christmas is a Canadian film about a group of sorority sisters who receive a series of intimidating and perverted phone calls from an anonymous man, before they begin to be picked off one by one in increasingly gruesome fashion.
A cult classic of both horror and Christmas movies, you can see where Black Christmas has influenced a modern generation of films in both genres, but from today’s perspective, I really wasn’t all that amazed by it. Although gruesome and at times genuinely threatening, it’s a film that really lacks tension and urgency, often proving a rather rambling and messy affair.
However, let’s start off with the positives, the biggest of which is when this film wants to be scary, it’s really scary. The majority of Black Christmas isn’t particularly frightening, but it has a really strong shock value, with an extremely menacing antagonist that’s backed up with gruesome violence and unrelentingly dark twists and turns.
Emotionally and narratively, the darkness and shock value of the film aren’t overly affecting, but at a few flashpoints, Black Christmas is a genuinely disturbing movie, often getting under your skin in a similarly nasty way to the chilling Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
On the downside, however, that shock value is more often than not the film’s only real strength, and it doesn’t really manage to back that up with a genuinely gripping narrative or any real, palpable tension.
As far more of a horror film than a Christmas movie, Black Christmas needs a little more urgency and intensity in its screenplay, but it instead tells a surprising slow-moving story that often gets lost in its own twists and turns in really frustrating fashion.
After a shocking opening few scenes, the inevitability of what’s going to unfold dawns on you a little too quickly, and a little too easily. That takes away a lot of the film’s suspense, and while it claws back some intrigue with its use of violence, the majority of its second and third acts feel like a real formality, without the psychological or emotional drama to really make the story grab you.
There are moments when the movie is reminiscent of the later A Nightmare On Elm Street (which not only also stars John Saxon, but was clearly influenced by Black Christmas), except Black Christmas doesn’t manage to pull you into a nightmarish psychodrama quite as effectively, again relying a little too heavily on shock value and violence.
As I said, the film really succeeds in scaring you at times, but for the most part, Black Christmas doesn’t have the intensity or tension to prove a genuinely thrilling watch, and more often than not is an underwhelming and disappointingly predictable horror. So, that’s why I’m giving it a 6.5 overall.