Before there was Scream, Halloween, Jason, or Nightmare on Elm Street, there was the original, ultimate horror movie, Black Christmas.
The 1974 Bob Clark film started it all. However, the above movies are usually the most discussed when referring to the genre. But the less talked about Black Christmas is truly responsible for kicking off the trend.
In many ways, it’s the ultimate horror movie template. One that set a standard for many that followed. Final girls, calls coming from inside the house, and a line of pretty women waiting to be knocked off one by one. All themes in Black Christmas, still prevalent in horror movies today.
In the series History of Horror (which shouldn’t be missed by horror fans) the Eli Roth show highlights the Slasher sub genre, and cites and credits Black Christmas as being one of its main originators. Here are some more thoughts on why the classic Christmas horror slasher should reign as the original, ultimate horror movie.
Black Christmas isn’t just a great Christmas horror flick. In many ways, it’s the ultimate horror movie. Here’s why:
You Don’t See the Killer
Part of what makes Black Christmas so successful is the Jaws effect. Notoriously, while making Jaws, Spielberg had issues with his mechanical shark, Bruce. Due to technical difficulties, he had to limit his appearances in the film.
In actuality, he doesn’t really show up until one hour and twenty minutes into it. That absence would wind up being one of the biggest contributors to Jaws long standing success. In Friday the 13th, the most successful slasher series of all time, we don’t see the killer until the end sequence.
Jason Voorhees doesn’t show up at all until the sequels. In the 1980 horror movie When a Stranger Calls we also get our scares, not from someone we see, but the idea of being terrorized. Which turns out, is even scarier. What we’ve learned from all these films is that hidden terror actually proves the most effective when it comes to building suspense.
In Black Christmas, which predates the latter films, this theme is also used. Billy, a serial killer, is never actually seen or known at all. All we ever see is his eye, (which proves to be frightening enough). Not seeing Billy makes for an even more suspenseful, and successful movie.Black Christmas – Courtesy of Film Funding Ltd. of Canada,Vision IV,Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC)
In most slashers, there isn’t a real whodunit moment. Jason, Freddy, and Chucky are homicidal maniacs without a really strong purpose to their killing sprees. But in some slashers, the whodunit is more integral to the story. Another idea somewhat originated by Black Christmas.
Unlike other, similar films, it doesn’t end by tying everything up in a perfect little bow. It tries to imply closure in a variety of ways. The supposed killer is dead, and the final girl, Jess is safe and sound. Asleep and guarded by police.
But just as the screen is going dark, assumptions are shifted. The movie ends leaving us confused, and skeptical of the ending we’ve just witnessed. We’ve seen this effect in other similar slashers through the years. A few examples include April Fools Day, and the underrated Valentine.
Black Christmas can be viewed as the ultimate horror movie for another reason. It started many of the horror tropes we see today. The famous, “Calls are coming from inside the house,” urban legend is a big theme in Black Christmas. A killer waiting, or hiding inside a closet is also something we see endlessly today.
Even in the new Halloween. The movie has that too. A slew of innocent women getting butchered? Check. Most of these kills are suspenseful without being gory. This isn’t a well thought out killer loaded with homicidal tools in his arsenal. It’s one using what resources he has, which can be even scarier.
The Final Girl
The most popular, most used tactic in horror movies is probably still the final girl. The latest Halloween movie’s historical opening proves that while women are trying to hold their own in a sea of powerful men, there’s still one place where they reign supreme. In a #metoo era, we need final girls more than ever.
What they can represent is so much more than one, last female survivor of a homicidal maniac. Laurie Strode is one of the most, if not the most famous final girl of all time. But before she existed, Black Christmas had its own subdued final girl. Jess might not have the popularity or power Laurie does.
But she does have killer style and a clear independent strength. A common trait among most of these women. All that is enough to cement her fate in horror history as one of the original, founding final girls.
What is your opinion on Black Christmas? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.