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Dissecting the Macabre: Black Christmas (1974)

Dissecting the Macabre: Black Christmas (1974)

Hey there, Creepy Peeps! This week’s Dissecting the Macabre, in the true spirit of the holidays, had to be all about Black Christmas (Bob Clark, 1974). A true Christmas classic, Clark’s film is one of the first movies that laid the groundwork for the slasher era that would “officially” begin five years later with John Carpenter’s Halloween (1979). So, in this post, I’m going to talk about some of the elements of Black Christmas that became tropes of the slasher genre that we know and love today.

Clark’s effective proto-slasher set many of the genre’s rules a few years early – the killer’s identity is hidden through POV shots; victims are dispatched in various grisly ways using everyday objects; the killings take place around a particular calendar date; the killer has quasi-supernatural powers; and characters speak with Canadian accents
— (Newman and Marriott, 178)

One fascinating – and frustrating – thing about Black Christmas is we never find out who the killer is, let alone their motive. This is something that would be imitated in Halloween, although we are given slightly more information on Michael Myers. And as I am writing this, I’m realizing one other thing that Halloween and Black Christmas have in common: they both have remakes that ruin the idea of the killer by providing way too much backstory for him. Funny.

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Anyways, through the POV shots, we can see what the killer sees, but that is as close as we can get to understanding him. This makes the film even more terrifying given that the killer has seemingly picked this sorority house at random.

As for the use of random objects to kill victims, this is something that has become a staple in any good slasher movie. It’s common now for some slasher movie killers to have a single – and peculiar – everyday object as their weapon. For example, Jason has his machete, Harry Warden has his pickaxe, Freddy has his glove, etc. Christmas slashers, in my opinion, have some of the best random-object-kills in the history of horror movies. My personal favorite is the woodchipper kill in Silent Night (Steven C. Miller, 2012)!

And of course, most slasher movies have a shtick, usually having to do with a holiday or some other culturally acknowledged event such as: April Fool’s Day, Mother’s Day, Easter, Halloween, Christmas, New Years, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving; even birthdays, first communions, prom, graduation, summer camp, and class reunions. Every holiday has been done at least once in the slasher genre.

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Many have pointed out the similarities between Black Christmas and Halloween (the official first slasher movie, in most circles). Halloween hits all the marks: centered around a holiday, mysterious killer, young people getting butchered. Carpenter even, whether intended or not, added elements that, combined with Black Christmas, made slashers what they are today.

Are Billy and Michael Myers the same person? Did Black Christmas directly inspire Halloween? One of these questions is silly (but fun) to ponder, and the other seems to have a definite answer. Yes, Black Christmas did influence Halloween, if only because it laid the groundwork for ideas and even shooting styles that Carpenter would have even more success with just four years later
— (Squires, “How ‘Halloween’ Was Basically an Unofficial ‘Black Christmas’ Sequel”)

I would argue that it was the combined influence Black Christmas, Halloween, and even The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974) that created the slasher genre. All three films had elements that influenced other filmmakers and shaped the slashers we all know and love.

You can watch Black Christmas via Amazon video here:

Black Christmas
Starring Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder

Works Cited

Newman, Kim, and James Marriott. Horror!: the definitive companion to the most terrifying movies ever made. Carlton Books, 2013.

Squires, John. “How 'Halloween' Was Basically an Unofficial 'Black Christmas' Sequel - Bloody Disgusting.” Bloody Disgusting!, 14 Dec. 2016, bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3413469/halloween-basically-unofficial-black-christmas-sequel/.

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