A sorority house is plagued by a caller who makes strange sounds and vulgar threats down the phone. One evening during a Christmas party, Clare decides to leave, but when she goes upstairs to pack is murdered by a man who has got into the house. He carries her dead body to the attic and places it in a rocking chair next to the attic window and puts a doll in her lap. Next day, Clare’s father arrives looking for her and her disappearance results in a search for her. Meanwhile Jess, another one of the girls, tells her boyfriend she is going to abort their baby, making him very angry, but not as dangerous as the man in the sorority house, who appears able to get in and out with ease and wonder freely around with more murder on his mind………..
Although you could trace it back to Psycho, Peeping Tom and even maybe The Spiral Staircase, a good case could be made for Black Christmas as the first fully fledged slasher movie, several years before the subgenre really kicked off with Halloween. Like John Carpenter’s film, it may contain many of the things that would become slasher movie cliches, but also like Carpenter’s film, it is well above most of its successors in quality [not to mention its pointless remake], emphasising mood and suspense over shocks and gore. The first half is quite leisurely and contains quite a bit of humour, from the teacher who has alcohol hidden everywhere to an especially dumb cop, but the film’s icy grip gets tighter and tighter, with much of the action benefitting from quiet, not noise, until you really are on edge. The final twenty minutes remain hair raising stuff, and the nasty little coda, though copied since, still works, though the most shivery bit is earlier when the girls are in the foreground oblivious to the shadow moving past the doorway. Then there’s also the creepiest use of a shot of an eye EVER. Black Christmas has its murders, relatively un-explicit but sometimes strikingly filmed, as in one stabbing with a glass unicorn which is as good as any killing Dario Argento ever filmed, but it is its use of primal fears that really makes it a classic, with everything, from the lighting to the soundtrack, brilliantly employed to put you on edge. Why on earth did Bob Clark, who showed a real talent for this kind of movie in not just Black Christmas but Murder By Decree, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things and Dead Of Night, just stop making them?