ScreamFish: Black Christmas

screamfish iter 2Dear Santa,

Can you please bring us more slashers as good as Black Christmas (no, not the shoddy remake from 2006; we’re referring to the 1974 original)?? Because someone or something needs to remind Hollywood that horror films are allowed to have talented legitimate actors, compelling scripts and genuinely effective–yet relatively gore-less–scares.

Sure, it’s just a cinematic rehash of a cliched urban legend, but it’s done so well, you wonder if the film didn’t come first.? And yes, perhaps the Christmas theme is used as little more than a simple plot device to make things easier for the killer (the majority of the sorority he terrorizes go home for break, leaving only a handful of clueless sisters who fail to notice him right under their noses).? But it’s so good, you just don’t care.

Though the technology used to track the killer is now outdated, the film’s detective science still holds up.? If anything, the old school cat and mouse method of telephone tracing highlighted in BC escalates the tension like no modern cell phone-based caller ID convenience could (and who knew the innocuous ring of a rotary phone could sound so sinister?).

There’s no CGI–heck, there are barely any make-up FX.? Fancy camera tricks are eschewed for a simple yet eerie, almost Kubrick-ian lighting scheme.? And that’s it.? That’s as fancy as Black Christmas gets.? But the performances are so solid, you could care less.

It may never get the TNT 24-hour yuletide marathon status (you’ll shoot your eye out!), but it’s still worth another 100-minute look this holiday season.? And while it may not actually celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, it may ring of his teachings.

So whaddaya’ say?

‘Ready to answer the call?

It sure is a lot harder to be an obscene caller here lately.

Nowadays, with all the fancy cell phone built-in caller ID and apps that can even display a photo of your would-be assailant, it’s tough to get away with a little surreptitious heavy breathing, much less some obscenity-laced skeevy-gram (not that your humble narrator speaks from first-hand experience, of course).? But forty years ago, if you had a lonely Friday night, a rotary phone and a penchant for all things pervy, you had a near-undetectable means for a rollicking good time.? Of course, if you were the victim, well, it kinda sucked to be you.? Especially if that creepy caller turned out to be something even worse–like, say, a homicidal killer.

That’s the reason none of the sorority sisters want to answer the phone in 1974’s Black Christmas, a grandaddy of the psychological slasher drama.? A Canadian export, BC is a choice piece of horror, and well worth an annual yuletide viewing.? It opens as the aforementioned sorority is enjoying their end-of-year party just before most of its members will leave for Christmas break.? As the girls are gathered and making merry, an obscene caller rings to dampen spirits yearning to be made bright.? The most brazen of the sisters, Barb Coard (Margot Kidder), gives the moaner on the other end of the line an earful, much to the chagrin of sister Clare Harrison (Lynne Griffin) who worries brazen Barb will only infuriate the killer more.

Barb (left) and Jess listen in as their heavy breather begins his verbal, mental assault on the sorority.

Clare goes upstairs to pack–her father is scheduled to pick her up the following day to carry her home for Christmas.? But when she goes to her closet, someone is lurking there–someone who has infiltrated the house unbeknownst to any of the other girls.? He snuffs Clare’s life with a plastic dry cleaning bag, a quiet-as-a-churchmouse kill that goes completely unnoticed by her housemates.? The silent psycho then carries Clare’s body to the attic, leaving her in a rocking chair by the window.

No-air Clare has a seat by the attic window--a permanent one. The posterchild reason they place suffocation warnings on plastic bags.

When her father (James Edmond) comes to pick her up the next day, Clare never shows at their appointed meeting spot.? He visits the sorority house, troubled by the bawdy decorations and the even bawdier house mother, Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman).? Mr. Harrison and Barb eventually go to the police to report Clare’s absence, though the cops seem reluctant to get involved, suspicious that Clare is probably shacked up with her boyfriend somewhere–until he arrives at the station and begs them to look for her.

Mr. Harrison doesn't seem to share the same confidence that Mrs. Mac does about his missing daughter's chances.

In the meantime, another sorority sister, Jessica Bradford (Olivia Hussey) and her would-be concert pianist boyfriend, Peter, wrestle with her unexpected pregnancy.? Her insistence on an abortion infuriates Peter, who threatens her for even entertaining such a drastic option.? And if her problems weren’t problematic enough, Jess becomes the primary target for the obscene caller.? He begins an unrelenting series of garbled obscenities and threats, some mixed with the tortured screams of what sound like female victims.

A town manhunt begins not only for Clare, but for another local teen girl who has gone missing.? The younger girl’s body is soon discovered, but Clare is still nowhere to be found.? Suddenly, Mrs. Mac isn’t either…not since she visited the sorority house attic when all the other girls were out.? And before you know it, more and more sisters are missing…as the phone keeps ringing.

Black Christmas crystal unicorn

The cops tap the sorority house phone, asking Jess to be the verbal bait to keep the killer talking long enough for a trace.? But as the calls get more and more personal, Jess wonders if the killer may be closer–in every sense of the word–than she’d first suspected.

It’s no easy task for Jess to face that terrifying voice on the other end of the line.? Likewise, it’s never easy to face our own fears.? Sure, we may not be the last line of defense against a hidden hacker/slasher, but that rarely diminishes the magnitude of the nightmares that sometime seem insurmountable.? And like, Jess, we hope someone else is out there, looking out for us.? But even the most faithful sometimes question the reliability of our back-up.

The Disciples were in the same boat (even the non-fishermen amongst them).? Jesus told them he would soon be leaving, but that he wouldn’t be leaving them alone.? In John 14, Jesus promises his followers (speaking only directly to Judas, interestingly enough, according to John) the gift of the Holy Spirit, who will not only intercede for them in times of trouble, but teach them–prepare them–to be ready for whatever challenge they may face.? Much like the diehard telephone lineman in Black Christmas, the Holy Spirit patches us into the ultimate switchboard technician–one infinitely more powerful than even the most dedicated precinct of flatfoots.

But we can only solve the problem when we confront it.? And that means we have to answer the call.

Just make sure to dial in some Operator assistance.

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