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Add this 1974 horror movie into the holiday genre canon, ASAP

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It’s officially December! If you’ve assimilated with the rest of the population, your holiday spirit has been alive and well since the clock struck 12 on Thanksgiving night. But, if you’re anything like me, clinging onto any leftover glimpses of autumn and the wondrous ‘spooky season’ that comes and goes with it, you’ve been slyly putting the holidays off for as long as you can.

At this point, department stores and homes have been neatly adorned with holiday decorations, festive songs are everywhere, and Starbucks employees are being annihilated by the steady rush of angrily screamed Peppermint Mocha requests. Putting off the holidays this late in the game will guarantee your role as the winter’s Scrooge without a doubt, but what if I told you I knew the perfect loophole to simultaneously assuage the convivial convoy and feed your autumnal appetite? Situated in the perfect niche between holiday adventure and dark, violent mystery, 1974’s Black Christmas is the kind of film you can logically watch twice a year.

Fret not, this is no ‘Santa consumes too many candy canes and plunges into a sugar-rush induced murder spree’ movie — though we’re not averse to the Santa Slasher genre. This ’70s gem has everything you could possibly desire in a horror and holiday film combined, making it a perfect and completely appropriate hodgepodge of Christmas-slasher excellence — so much so it was remade twice.

In this twisted psychological thriller, a sorority house is haunted by disturbing phone calls during winter break. The anonymous but audibly male caller rants and moans incomprehensibly in different voices, leaving the residents in various states of apprehension and paranoia. When Clare (Lynn Griffin), a younger student in the house, retreats to her bedroom, the caller attacks and suffocates her, leaving her body on a rocking chair in the attic of the sorority house — it’s the truly shocking image used in most of the Black Christmas marketing. From here, the search for Clare and other missing girls commences as the killer carries on his Christmas rampage.

Who’s calling?
Credit: Moviestore/Shutterstock

Clark uses shots from the caller’s point of view that suffocate viewers while they helplessly watch his victims do his bidding. Watching the camera swiftly switching from the caller to the joyous sorority girls unwrapping gifts will leave you not knowing whether to snuggle in or be totally creeped out. Between the eerie phone calls and students dropping one by one, Black Christmas will have you stirring in suspense while being simultaneously mesmerized by the low hum of Christmas carols and cozy holiday decorations strung along the houses.

Unlike many mindless slasher films that would follow in the decades to come, Black Christmas director Bob Clark hinges Black Christmas on conversations around serious topics like the oversight of women’s voices and abortion rights (the film premiered a year after the landmark Roe V. Wade ruling). The horrific implications of these unfortunately still relevant themes on top of such a unique combination of genres means the holiday-slasher jackpot film feels way ahead of its time — it was released four years before John Carpenter’s Halloween.

Keir Dullea as Jess’ the truly awful boyfriend Peter.
Credit: Moviestore/Shutterstock

The Black Christmas cast is an easy ensemble to love, including Jess (Oliva Hussey), Barb (Superman‘s Margot Kidder), Phyl (Andrea Martin), all gathering around the phone to listen intently to “The Moaner” as he taunts and teases them from his strategically safe hiding place. You’re automatically drawn into the clique as you hang on every syllable. Jess acts as the house’s reasonable worry-wart, terrified of what might be happening to the missing women in tandem to dealing with her creepy boyfriend, Peter (Keir Dullea), whose views on pregnancy and abortion make for unsettling viewing. While enduring Peter’s verbally abusive, belittling, and emotionally manipulative behaviour, Jess is forced to reckon with the mysterious man targeting women close to her. 

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In the midst of these barbaric attacks, Clark develops psychological horror themes with the realism of careless national and local authority oversight when women express safety concerns, as well as in the feelings of isolation in the face of unwanted pregnancies. This uneasy realism betwixt the dichotomy of what should be a season filled with joy and cheer makes this one of the most unsettling and mind-boggling horror films for decades to come, as it has proved (double whammy!).

Margot Kidder as Barb.
Credit: Moviestore/Shutterstock

Amidst the snowfall, Christmas carolers, and holiday themed parties, the crossover between the festive spirit and the unholy bludgeonings will be more excitement than the spiked eggnog you’ve convinced yourself as enough of an adrenaline rush to get you through the demanding — and quite costly — holiday season. And while many films have attempted to recreate a perfect genre blend, there truly is no other satisfying mixture than that of horror tropes like a faceless slasher and a Final Girl with comforting and decorative lights with thoughtful gift unveilings.

To be clear, I’m not here to tell you when exactly this movie should be viewed by the masses. Christmas, Halloween, or Thanksgiving, take your pick! Just remember to thank me later when you’ve successfully convinced your friend group to take a break from the kitschy hallmark holiday rom-coms in your annual ‘December joy-binge’ for a real toe-curler that’ll have you all closer than ever. 

Treat yourself with a dreadfully delightful gift from ’70s cinema this week. Who said slashers could only be enjoyed in October anyways? 

Black Christmas is now streaming on Peacock.

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