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Black Christmas (1974); Have a Holly, Jolly, Scary Christmas… If That’s Your Thing

December 24, 2015

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Deck the halls with blood and carnage fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la. Tis the season to be deadly, fa la-la–you get it. When you think of Christmas films you almost certainly think of them as a jolly occasion. These films are usually rife with colorful lights and stories about love and hope. I can almost smell the pine trees and taste the eggnog when visions of A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, or Die Hard dances in my head. But, this year has brought on a new chain of thoughts. In 1974 the decision got made to make Black Christmas, a horror film set around Christmas day, and now all the way in 2015 that movie is the only Christmas film I’ve had the desire to watch. The imagery of the holiday isn’t tainted by Black Christmas. In fact, director Bob Clark (who in less than 10 years would go on to direct THE Christmas film, A Christmas Story) shows too much resolve for the holiday to do that. Instead Clark allows the lavishness Christmas to stand as the backdrop for a host of grisly murders in a quiet college town.

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Christmas inadvertently becomes a time where all the right elements fall in place capturing the perfect atmosphere for a bone-chilling horror film. There’s snow trapped households, bitterly cold dark nights, a house of guests looking to get picked off one by one, and the unsuspecting idea of murder as celebration permeates the air. Hollywood producers began to capitalize off this terrifying fact introducing a slew of horror-filled holiday films shortly after the release of Black Christmas.  These days, scary Christmas films are commonplace. Most recently the legend of Krampus made its way to the big screen and only time will tell the likelihood of others, like the myth of Gryla, making their way too. While the formula of mixing terror with beloved holidays is easy and stale from a cinematic viewpoint, it’s much more intriguing when we look more at what was happening around 1974 to spark the idea for a serial murderer lurking in the house of sorority sisters. Better yet what connection does it have now that even made me want to get in the Christmas spirit with such a grim choice in film?

Black Christmas is considered one of the first slasher films,  shortly before The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, long before Friday the 13th, and well before the 1980s made a genre of the lone killer attacking females. Writer Roy Moore supposedly found the chilling inspiration for Black Christmas in real life murders taking place in a Montreal neighborhood some years prior. The grim urban legend of “the killer in the house” also served as prime source material sparked by the real rape and murder of 13-year-old Janett Christman.

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Black Christmas stays ominous throughout the entire film never revealing the killer or their purpose. A truly frightening aspect that often chills me to the bone about real world crimes. Clark chose to heighten the fear by strapping a camera to his back before climbing the façade of the house entering into the attic window. This thrilling point of view feat captures an immense, ongoing tension placing the audience directly in the sights of the murderer as he is able to go undetected through most of the film. The film’s creepiest scenes and some of the most terrifyingly shot imagery involves the watchful eye of the camera lingering on characters or sounds that we know aren’t from other sources luring each victim to their demise.

The 1970’s marked major changes in society after the 1960’s. With the leaders of movements in the 1960’s all but dead or disillusioned, a large portion of society fell out of favor with social advocacy and unity. Instead they continued down a road of commercialism and apathy turning away from communal themes that were once promoted in the 1960’s leading famed author Tom Wolfe to pen the term “The Me Decade” to describe the 1970’s. The parallels between the turbulence of the 1970s to the crisis we are experiencing today are uncanny and frankly shocking. So maybe that’s what led me to watch Black Christmas.

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Home for the Holidays, Christmas with the Kranks, Rudolph, Miracle on 34th Sreet, all of these films were at my disposable to watch for me to feel the holiday spirit. Yet, for some reason none of those appealed to me. Even now I have no desire to watch these films. They feel odd and dated when I think of putting them on. Instead films depicting horror and terror appeals to my senses right now. The chaotic times we are living in has surely influenced this decision on a subconscious level. Instead of seeing bright lights and bells and whistles I want to be reminded of horror so that I don’t forget there is something bigger than me to fight for.

Movies are a way for people to escape. For me, they are a learning tool that either allows me to escape into a fantastical world or stay rooted right here in the reality of this brutal planet. There I can expose myself to horrors experienced by others so that maybe, just maybe, with the right amount of reflection and proactivity I can contemplate ways to end or alleviate it. These feeling have been cemented by the rainy, stormy weather us Georgians are experiencing lately. Something just seems off this year. December has substituted its chilly weather for warm, spring like days nestled between blistering cold ones. Rain has blanketed the city instead of snow. The outside world is running rampant with crime, guns, racial tensions and Donald Trump. It’s an unbalanced year that feels like Christmas then again nothing like it. In these odd times it only feels natural to fill that strange void with films like Black Christmas.

SEE IT. What are some other scary Christmas films that’s worth watching?

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