FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Nov 10, 2019

BLOODvember Day 10: BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)


Black Christmas certainly has its share of iconic images. There's Billy's manic eye peeking out from behind the door. Claire's dead body and her expression of fear and shock under that plastic bag, rocking in a chair in the attic. And of course who could forget the glass unicorn, covered in blood and sparkling in the light as it's used to stab Barb to death?

It's all terrifying but man, this movie is incredibly unnerving right from the start, as we get Billy's P.O.V. as he climbs, unseen, into that sorority house. The scene that gets me though comes only a couple of minutes later, when the girls all gather around the phone to listen to a call from "the moaner."


It's the first time we hear one of his calls, but it's not the first time he's called. They've given him that nickname, and Barb mentions that he's "expanded his act" when he gets really nasty. But that doesn't mean they're not incredibly disturbed by the call–I love the way the camera pans around slowly, showing our main players in close-up, looking worried...and with good reason. The call is vile, describing in explicit, vulgar terms what he wants to do to them. We don't see him, and we don't know who it is; at this point, we're not connecting it with the man who climbed into the attic. The girls don't know who or where the call's coming from either, and while they have the safety of numbers, that phone call makes you feel how vulnerable they are regardless. It's stressful.

Barb tries to blow off that stress by playing it cool, by making some jokes. She gets a chuckle or two out of Phyl (always the kindest to Barb, wasn't she, except for that moment where she reached her limit?). But before long, even cynical Barb is unnerved. The phone call has reached insane heights, the squeals and voices making it sound at times like it's coming from Pazuzu over in Georgetown...but it ends with a calm "I'm going to kill you" that is an absolute shock. And you look at these girls and you know that whomever it is is going to make good on that promise (again, it's a slasher movie, after all) and you want to tell them all to get out right this minute, don't go upstairs, don't pack a bag, just go.

Margot Kidder, right? Barb could be such a one-note character but Kidder gives her so many layers–she's a crass party girl, quick with a joke or a biting remark, always downing too many drinks. From time to time we get little glimpses of the pain and hurt underneath it all–a look here and there, or an inflection. It's such a rich performance, particularly for this kind of film. They're all wonderful, really. I mentioned the Phyl-Barb relationship which is one of my favorites. Unlike the remake or so many other movies of its ilk, Black Christmas gets the friendships between the girls right. They argue sometimes, but they all care about each other. In fact, it's the reason why some of them end up dead: they check on one another, or they don't want to leave without each other. It's what's made this movie so eminently watchable all these years, beyond the scares and crazy killer and iconic shots. These characters aren't merely nameless teens, you know? They feel like actual human beings. What a concept!

2 comments:

AE said...

Gods yes, this movie, this scene. With all the women in horror movies this is the rare scene that actually shows what it feels like to be a woman in a horror movie. (It's gross!) I love how quickly you get the sense that this is a real sorority, made up of real girls who bicker and make up and go through the day together. Even the house feels so lived-in you can smell it (wood varnish, old carpet, stale booze, shampoo, smoke). Phyl's little smile when Barb snaps back at the caller! It's all so good.

My favorite Phyl moment is later, when she's in her flannel nightgown (bless her heart, I want one) and just bursts into tears. "Poor Mr. Harrison. I feel so sorry for him." It's so sad! And it's so rare for characters in a horror movie to stop and feel sad for each other! It just breaks your heart. (I hate to even mention that dreadful 2006 business but one of its biggest letdowns for me was watching Andrea Martin in one of the extras -- she says she remembers almost nothing about this movie and doesn't really remember making it. What the heck, Phyl! That broke my heart in a whole different way.)

Stacie Ponder said...

I agree SO very heartily with everything you said! Just little human touches can make such an impact–we don't always need huge character backstories or whatever, but make them act like real people when it's called for. Even the most basic slasher movie could be so much richer with a bit of dialogue.