12 days of holiday horror: Black Christmas (1974)

Photo: Black Christmas. Image Courtesy Shudder
Photo: Black Christmas. Image Courtesy Shudder /

Welcome to our recurring column for the month of December, 12 Days of Holiday Horror! Throughout the month, I will be recommending what I consider to be great holiday horror films (and telling you how you can watch them).

Let me start by saying that I would normally include Shudder’s The Advent Calendar on this list, but since I included it in our 31 days of horror series in October, I will simply direct you to that article instead. It’s definitely worth a watch!

But, for today’s recommendation, the first in the series, let’s dish a bit about the horror movie that made me love horror movies, Black Christmas. I saw it at the tender age of 10 or 11, and for years I only knew it as Silent Night, Evil Night. That’s because when this Canadian slasher flick was released in the US, the title was changed so that viewers would not think it was one of the “Blaxploitation” films that were popular at the time.

Just to add to the confusion, it was re-titled A Stranger in the House when it made its television debut. But, whatever the title, it is my all-time favorite holiday horror film. It’s one of the first (possibly even the VERY first) horror movie to use the trope of “the calls are coming from inside the house”, and it was directed by Bob Clark, who also directed another iconic Christmas film, A Christmas Story.

The plot was simple, but very, very effective: a sorority house mostly empties out over the Christmas holiday, leaving only the house mother and a handful of the girls to hold down the fort. Unbeknownst to them, a man known as Billy is hiding out in the attic, and murders the occupants one by one.

What makes Billy different from most horror movie killers is the fact that we have no idea who Billy is, or what his motive may be. He is definitely unhinged, a fact made abundantly clear during his many anonymous phone calls to the house. Those calls are brutal, graphic, and terrifying, and even now, nearly 50 years after the film was first released, they have the power to induce gooseflesh.

Holiday horror
Photo: Black Christmas.. Image Courtesy Shudder /

We don’t even really see Billy’s face, though there is one horrifying scene where we see one of his eyes as he hides in the shadows from our final girl, Jess. Played by Olivia Hussey, Jess is a powerful woman. Not only does she put her foot down when her boyfriend Peter forbids her to have an abortion, she puts up a very valiant fight when she ends up alone in the sorority house and has to escape Billy.

Black Christmas is the quintessential holiday horror film.

Black Christmas has a strong holiday horror atmosphere, thanks to the snowy weather and the 1970s-era lights and decorations throughout the house. Resident lush Barb (beautifully portrayed by Margot Kidder) even has a wreath decorated with mini liquor bottles.

And although there is a bare minimum of blood present, the kills are brutal and imaginative. We get death by plastic bag, by a giant hook on a chain, and even by glass unicorn. It’s said that John Carpenter was inspired by Black Christmas to create a little holiday horror film called Halloween, maybe you’ve heard of it?

There have been two remakes, starting with 2006’s Black X-mas, and I actually liked that one. Although the original will always be my favorite, I appreciated what the first remake tried to do: give us a backstory on Billy. Though the story was pretty good (and bats*** crazy in a good way), I maintain that what made Billy so scary was the fact that we didn’t know the motivation behind his enraged murders. And I felt like the final 20 minutes of Black X-mas went off the rails in a bad way. Still, it’s a fun watch, and FAR better than the 2019 version.

Wikipedia refers to the Blumhouse version of Black Christmas as a “loose” remake, and that’s understating it. Other than a couple of character names and the fact that it’s set mostly at a sorority house, it goes in a different direction entirely. To each his own, but I did not enjoy it at all, and have never been keen on watching it a second time.

There is also a pretty decent film available to watch on Youtube called It’s me, Billy – A Black Christmas Fan Film. Though it doesn’t include the original actors, the main character is Jess’s grand daughter, and you can tell it was written with great love for the original.

If you have never watched Black Christmas, it’s available on multiple streaming platforms, including Tubi, Peacock and Shudder. I recommend watching at night, with no lights on other than those on your Christmas tree.

Keep your eyes on 1428 Elm for the next installment of 12 days of holiday horror!

Next. Shudder: Have a holly giallo Christmas in December. dark

Do you consider Black Christmas to be the best holiday horror gift of them all? Tell us why or why not in the comments section.