Black Christmas (Clark, 1974)

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Black Christmas is one of those films that only improves with each viewing. IT’s a film that prides itself on it’s bleakness. The Christmas setting is undercut by the darkness that embodies every shot. Counteracting the beautiful Christmas lights is always blacks that are unnaturally black, and shadows that seem to crawl and invade the psyche of the characters. Visually, the film embodies it’s title.

The film seems to underscore the morality of the slasher films that precede it, by making the murders completely random and cruel. Though there is often an air of spontaneity involved in these kinds of horror, none take it to the level of Black Christmas. There is no motive, no reason, and essentially… no murderer. This only speaks further for how bleak the film is, nothing these characters could have done (or not done) would have saved them. Even assuming they break the rules of the slasher film, by being promiscuous or getting drunk or cruel. They are, in every sense of the word, innocent victims. The film seems to reveal, not only how random life is, but how cruel it is.

This is only enhanced by the inability of the police to do anything useful. Though Lieutenant Kenneth Fuller is at least admirable in his efforts, it does not remove the fact that his efforts are useless and his staff are idiots and only further endanger the victims. References to a rape that went unsolved, and the murder of the young girl in the park, become crueler when the officer filling a report dismisses the obscene phone calls being made to the house and suggest the missing girl is probably just sleeping around. Who would have thought this condemnatory attitude would later translate to films like Friday the 13th, where the victims would be killed for these ‘actions’?

The ending too, when the “twist” is revealed, is just further ammo at the inefficiency of the police force, and how they fail to protect the public.

Stylistically, what struck me during this viewing, was the score. It was apparently inspired by the work of John Cage, and is this booming and clanging piano that sort of echoes below the surface. I’ve already spoken about how great the sound design is, especially with the phone calls, but it’s worth mentioning that most of the shots cutting back to the sorority house are match-cut, not through common images or sounds, but rather the use of the telephone. The phone becomes the signifier of the house, an interesting and ballsy motif that works remarkably well.

2 responses to “Black Christmas (Clark, 1974)

  1. I just wanted to mention that the dissonant piano score has a very specific purpose with regard to the plot, as you are no doubt aware.

  2. Of course it does, and it’s almost misleading… I’d warrant to say, it’s the kind of thing that Hitchcock could have used in Stage Struck instead of the fake flashback, something he regretted in retrospect as being too “clever”.

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