Monday, May 2, 2011

Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments:#87-Black Christmas(1974)

By Eric Polk-
Often, credit is given to the 1978 classic Halloween as the 'original' slasher movie. While that film broke open the floodgates for the genre craze that followed, before then there was Psycho, Peeping Tom, The Bird with the Crystal Plummage, Bay of Blood and this gem directed by the man who would, in his later years, give us two non-horror classics in Porky's and A Christmas Story.

Set in a sorority house during the Christmas season,  A seemingly disoriented man climbs up the house's trellis and through an open attic window. During the party, sorority sister Jess Bradford receives an obscene phone call from a recurrent caller the house has deemed "the moaner". After Barbara "Barb" Coard  jokingly provokes the caller, he replies, "I'm going to kill you," then hangs up. Soon after, Clare Harrison is offended by Barb and goes upstairs to finish packing for her trip home. Clare is attacked by the disoriented man and asphyxiated with plastic sheeting. He carries her dead body to the attic and places it in a rocking chair next to the attic window.

The next day, Mr. Harrison (James Edmond Jr.), Clare's father, arrives to take Clare home for the holidays. When Clare is not at their agreed-upon meeting place, he goes to the sorority house. Meanwhile, Jess meets her boyfriend, Peter Smyth, a neurotic aspiring pianist, and informs him that she is pregnant and wants to have an abortion. Peter is upset by her decision and orders her to discuss the situation with him later. Mr. Harrison and sorority sisters Barb and Phyllis "Phyl" Carlson  arrive at the police station to report Clare's disappearance. Sgt. Nash dismisses the report and says that Clare is probably "hiding with a lover". After Jess informs Clare's boyfriend, Chris, about Clare's disappearance and Sgt. Nash's dismissive attitude, they rush to the police station to discuss the disappearance with Lt. Kenneth Fuller John Saxon. A local mother reports that her daughter, Janice, is missing as well.

That evening, Mr. Harrison, Chris and the sorority sisters join a search party aiming to find Janice or Clare. Back at the house, Mrs. MacHenry (Mariam Haldman), the sorority's housemother, hears a noise in the attic and investigates. She discovers Clare's body, but the killer launches a crane hook into Mrs. MacHenry's head and hangs her. After the search party finds Janice's dead body near the park, Jess returns home and receives another obscene phone call. Jess phones the police about the caller. Later, Peter arrives and argues with Jess about her decision to have an abortion. Peter becomes frustrated and leaves after Lt. Fuller arrives to discuss the phone calls with Jess. A technician places a "bug tracer" onto the sorority house phone to trace the phone calls. An officer is also stationed outside the house.

After Barb is sent to bed for being "too drunk", the killer stabs her to death with a unicorn ornament. Door-to-door Christmas carolers drown out the noise of the attack. Jess receives another obscene phone call that quotes a part of the argument she had with Peter. Jess suspects Peter of being the caller, but she and Phyl decide that it cannot be him, since Peter was present during one of the earlier calls. Phyl goes upstairs to bed, but decides to check on Barb first,after coming in the room to check on her the door closes(unknown whats happens to Phyl).

Jess receives yet another obscene phone call. The phone technician traces the calls and informs Lt. Fuller that the calls are coming from inside the house, from Mrs. MacHenry's separate phone line. The police speculate that the killer makes a call after each murder. Sgt. Nash calls Jess and orders her to leave the house, telling her that the calls are coming from inside the house.

Concerned for Barb and Phyl's safety, Jess ignores Sgt. Nash's orders and arms herself with a  fireplace poker. Upstairs, she breaks open Barb's bedroom door and discovers Phyl and Barb's bloodied bodies. Jess suddenly sees the killer peering from behind the door. She slams the door shut on the killer's hand and, after a brief chase, she hides in the basement. The killer seemingly walks away, but then Peter breaks into the basement, searching for Jess. Peter discovers her in the corner and approaches her. Lt. Fuller and the police arrive at the house, only to find the officer on guard has been killed. The police break into the basement and discover Peter's body, presumably bludgeoned to death by Jess in self-defense.

First of all, the casting is great. A young Margot Kidder in her pre-Superman days. Olivia Hussey, who would go on to play Norman Bates's momma in Psycho IV. And how bout JOHN F'N SAXON!!!!!!! There are a few genuinely scary moments in this film. The phone calls by the killer(isn't great we don't know who he/she is), crazy but not cartoonish(ala Scream IV).  Sure, the pacing drags in spaces and there could have been an M.O., but as far as prototype slashers goes, Black Christmas is indeed, a holiday highlight!

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