Black Christmas (R)
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This came out in 1974 (the year before I was born), but I didn't see it until 2019 (on Krampusnacht). It is a classic of the slasher subgenre of horror movies, and some of the things I've read about it explained some good reasons why it is highly regarded by many people who are much more knowledgeable about horror movies than I am. A lot of it is stuff I wouldn't have picked up on, myself, symbolism and whatnot. (I'm not big on looking for symbolism.) But I definitely did think it was a good movie just based on my own take, and I can appreciate other people liking it more than I did, even if I can't quite manage to like it on the same level, myself.
It begins from the perspective of someone creeping around outside a sorority house, much like the 1978 movie Halloween (which I watched for the first time on Halloween 2019, not much more than a month before I watched this) begins from the perspective of the killer-to-be. (In fact, there are apparently a number of ways "Halloween" and any number of other slasher movies that came after this were influenced by "Black Christmas." One notable example is the "call is coming from inside the house" trope, used in various other horror movies, such as the 1979 film When a Stranger Calls.) Anyway, it happens to be around Christmas, so the girls in the sorority are just starting their Christmas break. Some of them will be going home for the holiday soon, but the movie begins when they're all still there, having a party one night. We begin to get to know a few of the girls just a bit, including one named Jess Bradford (Olivia Hussey), who seems to be the most mature and sensible of them; one named Barb Coard (Margot Kidder), who seems to be the most crass and snarky one; Phyl Carson (Andrea Martin), whose personality I'd say falls somewhere between the two; and Clare Harrison, who seems to be the most innocent of the group. (I got the impression that she was a virgin, at least I think Barb mocked her for that, whether it was true or not.) And during the party, the girls receive an obscene phone call, which ends with the caller saying "I'm going to kill you."
Well... I guess he was specifically addressing Barb, though several girls were listening to the call. I don't actually remember if Clare was still there; she may have already gone to bed by that point. And she ends up being the first person killed in the movie, which is a bit unusual for the genre; virgins are supposed to be the safest characters. But I guess the "rules" of slasher movies hadn't yet been established. Anyway, no one even realizes she's been killed for most of the movie. The plot really begins moving forward the next day, when Clare's father has come to town to pick her up and bring her home for Christmas, but she doesn't show up where they were supposed to meet. So he goes to the sorority house, where he meets the house mother, Mrs. "Mac" MacHenry (who frequently drinks from liquor bottles she has hidden around the house). Meanwhile, Jess meets with her boyfriend, Peter Smythe. She informs him that she's pregnant, but intends to get an abortion. He's very upset about that, but he proposes to her... and she says she doesn't want to marry him, which also upsets him. So, right away we're set up to think he could turn out to be the killer, as he gets increasingly distressed throughout the movie. (We never actually get a good look at the killer, but from his ramblings he seems to be obviously very deranged, and I found it unlikely that he'd be capable of acting as normal as Peter generally does.) Anyway, Clare's father and some of the girls go to the police about Clare's disapperance, but their concerns are brushed off by Sergeant Nash. It's not until some time later that a police lieutenant named Kenneth Fuller begins seriously investigating the disappearance, including organizing a search party for both Clare and a 13-year-old girl who had also been reported missing by her mother. (As far as I can tell, the person who killed Clare had nothing to do with the disapperance of the younger girl, but I could be wrong. At least the second disapperance helped the police take Clare's disapperance more seriously.) Incidentally, Lt. Fuller is played by John Saxon, whom I had also recently seen playing a police lieutenant in A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Um... and I'm not sure what else to say, really. Except that the obscene calls continue, and the phone company works with the police to trace them... and we actually see the process of the call being traced, which is nothing like I ever would have imagined. I'm not even sure if the way it's done in the movie is how it was actually done in the 70s, or ever. But that's beside the point. Anyway... there are also more murders, but at least a couple of them are never even discovered, so it's kind of disturbing as a viewer to know more than anyone in the movie ever learns. And the way it ends... is also disturbing, because of its ambiguity, and characters remaining unaware of certain things. And even viewers remaining unaware of the killer's backstory and everything... Yeah, it's all just disturbing. Which, obviously, horror movies should be. So this one definitely does its job pretty well.
Oh yeah, and I should mention that there were remakes in 2006 and 2019, but I'm not sure if or when I might ever see either of them.