Black Christmas (1974 film)
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Canadian theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Bob Clark|
|Produced by||Bob Clark|
|Written by||A. Roy Moore|
|Music by||Carl Zittrer|
|Cinematography||Reginald H. Morris|
|Edited by||Stan Cole|
Film Funding Limited of Canada
|Distributed by||Ambassador Films
Warner Bros. (US)
|October 11, 1974
December 20, 1974 (US)
Black Christmas (former titles include Silent Night, Evil Night and Stranger in the House) is a 1974 Canadian psychological slasher film directed by Bob Clark and written by A. Roy Moore. It stars Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin, Marian Waldman and John Saxon. The story follows a group of sorority sisters who are receiving threatening phone calls, while being stalked and murdered during the holiday season by a deranged murderer hiding in the attic of their sorority house.
The film was shot on an estimated budget of $620,000 and was released by Warner Bros. in the United States and Canada. When originally released, the film grossed over $4 million at the box office and initially received mixed reviews. The film was inspired by a series of murders that took place in the Westmount section of Montreal, in the province Quebec, Canada, and the urban legend "The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs".
Years after its release, Black Christmas has received respected praise and is credited for originating the unsolved ambiguous identity for the killer. The film is generally considered to be one of the earliest slasher films, served as an influence for Halloween, and has became a cult classic. A remake of the same name, produced by Clark, was released in December 2006.
A disoriented man climbs up into the attic of a sorority house while the occupants hold a Christmas party. Jess Bradford (Olivia Hussey) starts to receives an obscene phone call from "the moaner", a man who has been calling the house. After, she calls sorority friends Barb Coard (Margot Kidder), Phyllis "Phyl" Carlson (Andrea Martin), Clare Harrison (Lynne Griffin), and several other girls to listen. He starts saying perverted things to them before Barb provokes the caller, to which he replies "I'm going to kill you" before hanging up. Barb and Clare argue about the things she said to him and Clare goes upstairs to pack. After she hears the noise of the house's cat and investigates, she is strangled and suffocates by an unseen assailant with plastic wrapping. Her body is brought into the attic and is placed in a rocking chair.
The next day, Clare's father arrives to look for Clare and bring her home for the holidays; the housemother Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman) can't seem to help him and neither can Phyl or Barb. Meanwhile, Jess meets with her boyfriend Peter Smythe (Keir Dullea), a neurotic aspiring pianist at the piano recital hall to inform him that she is pregnant and wants to have an abortion. Peter becomes suspicious and urges her to discuss the situation with him. but she refuses. Elsewhere, Mr. Harrison, Barb, and Phyl go to the police to report Clare's disappearance.
Clare's boyfriend Chris (Art Hindle) is informed by Jess about the disappearance while playing hockey. They then discuss it with Lt. Kenneth Fuller (John Saxon); a mother, Mrs. Quaife (Martha Gibson), reports that her daughter Janice is missing as well. That evening, Mr. Harrison, Chris, and the sorority sisters join a search party for Janice and Clare. Back at the house, Mrs. Mac looks for the cat and discovers Clare's body before she is hooked into the neck by the killer and dragged up. After the search party finds Janice's dead body, Jess returns home and receives another obscene call and contacts the police to report it. Unaware of Peter in the house, he startles her and starts to argue about her planned abortion before leaving upset after Lt. Fuller arrives at the house to discuss the phone calls. A technician then places a tap "bug tracer" onto the phone and Lt. Fuller informs her that there will be another officer stationed outside the house. As Christmas carolers visit to the house and sing, the killer sneaks into Barb's room and stabs her with a glass unicorn head while her screams are drowned out by the carolers. Jess receives another obscene call that quotes part of the argument she had with Peter.
Phyl goes upstairs to bed and checks into Barb's room before the killer shuts the door from behind and murders her off-screen. The phone rings again and this time, Jess manages to keep the caller on the phone for a minute to allow the police to trace it. Jess is then informed that the calls are coming from inside the house and is ordered to leave the house immediately. Shocked, Jess puts down the phone and yells up to Barb and Phyl. She arms herself with a fireplace poker and ventures upstairs only to find Barb and Phyl's bodies on the bed. Before leaving, she sees the killer's eye spying on her through the door crack, and she slams the door to flee. Jess is chased through the house before she locks herself in the cellar. Peter appears outside a basement window, telling Jess he heard screaming. He enters and approaches her before she, believing him to be the killer, bludgeons him in self-defense.
Lt. Fuller and the police arrive and find a fatigued Jess in the basement with Peter's body. Later, she is sedated and rest in her bed while the officers discuss the case; they believe Peter must have been the killer and the bodies of Clare and Mrs. Mac have oddly not been found yet. The officers leave the house for Jess to sleep. A cop stationed outside waits for the forensics team to arrive. As the house becomes quiet, the camera pans to the attic door opening up, revealing that the killer was not Peter. "Agnes, it's me Billy" is heard before the telephone begins to ring while the credits roll.
- Olivia Hussey as Jess Bradford
- Keir Dullea as Peter Smythe
- Margot Kidder as Barbara Coard
- John Saxon as Lt. Kenneth Fuller
- Marian Waldman as Mrs. MacHenry
- Andrea Martin as Phyllis Carlson
- James Edmond as Mr. Harrison
- Douglas "Doug" McGrath as Sergeant Nash
- Arthur "Art" Hindle as Chris Hayden
- Lynne Griffin as Clare Harrison
- Michael Rapport as Patrick Cornell
- Leslie "Les" Carlson as Bill Graham
- Martha Gibson as Mrs. Quaife
- John Rutter as Laughing Detective
- David Clement as Cogan (as Dave Clement)
- Julian Reed as Officer Jennings
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Canadian Roy Moore wrote the screenplay; he based it on a series of murders in Montreal, Quebec. However, there has been speculation over the years as to whether the screenplay was actually inspired by The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs urban legend as opposed to real events. Moore died in the late 1980s and was never interviewed about the film. The script was originally titled "Stop Me" and was partially typed and partially handwritten. Moore submitted the screenplay to director Bob Clark. Clark made several alterations in dialogue, camera placement and added some notes. On the final page of the screenplay was a hand written note by Clark calling it "a damn good script". The original screenplay in its entirety was released as a DVD-ROM feature on one of the film's DVD releases.
Filming of Black Christmas began in early 1974 over an 8-week time schedule in Toronto, Ontario and several scenes were shot around Annesley Hall National Historic Site. The film's budget of $620,000 was shot in 35mm format with Panavision cameras. Cameraman Albert J. Dunk created the POV camera shot by mounting a camera onto his back and creeping around the house. He crawled up the housing trellis in the beginning of the film as well. According to Bob Clark, due to the surprisingly light snowfall, most of the snow scenes outside of the sorority house were made of foam material provided by a local fire department. The house used for the sorority residence was filmed on location in Toronto; it is now a private home.
The role of Mrs. Mac was offered to Bette Davis. The role of Peter was originally offered to Malcolm McDowell, but he turned it down. The role of Lieutenant Fuller was originally supposed to be played by Edmond O'Brien but, due to failing health, he had to be replaced. John Saxon was brought in at the last minute. Gilda Radner was offered the role of Phyllis Carlson. She was attached, but dropped out one month before filming began owing to Saturday Night Live commitments. The composer of the film's score, Carl Zittrer, stated in an interview that he created the film's mysterious music by tying forks, combs, and knives onto the strings of the piano in order to warp the sound of the keys. Zittrer also stated that he would distort the sound further by recording its sound onto an audio tape and make the sound slower. The audio for the disturbing phone calls was performed by actor Nick Mancuso, director Bob Clark, and an unknown actress. Mancuso stated in an interview that he would stand on his head during the recording sessions to make his voice sound more demented.
Margot Kidder remembers making the film was "fun. I really bonded with Andrea Martin, filming in Toronto and Ontario. Olivia Hussey was a bit of an odd one. She was obsessed with the idea of falling in love with Paul McCartney through her psychic. We were a little hard on her for things like that."
During preparation in 1975 for the film's American release, Warner Bros. studio executives asked Clark to change the concluding scene to show Claire's boyfriend, Chris, appear in front of Jess and say, "Agnes, don't tell them what we did" before killing her, however, Clark insisted on keeping the ending ambiguous. The original title of the film was initially planned to be Stop Me. Clark has stated in an interview that he came up with the film's official title, saying that he enjoyed the irony of a dark event occurring during a festive holiday. According to Clark as well, Warner Bros. changed the title to Silent Night, Evil Night, for the United States theatrical release. During later television broadcasting, the film's title was changed to Stranger in the House. However, it was cancelled due to broadcasters deeming it "too scary" for television broadcast.
Black Christmas was officially released on October 11, 1974, in Canada through Ambassador Film Distributors, and in the United States on December 20, 1974, through Warner Bros., where it grossed $4,053,000. It was released in October 1975 in New York City and Chicago, and previously played under the title Silent Night, Evil Night in Virginia in July 1975. and grossed over $4,053,000 internationally, managing to earn more than the film's budget of $620,000. When released in the UK, the BBFC had the word "cunt" removed, as well as several other crude and sexual references during the first obscene phone call.
Stranger in the House was set to make its network television premiere on Saturday night, January 28, 1978, on NBC's weekly "Saturday Night at the Movies". Two weeks prior to its premiere, the Chi Omega Sorority House on the campus of Florida State University in Tallahassee was the scene of a horrible murder in which two Chi Omega sisters, asleep in their beds, were bludgeoned to death. The killer then went to a nearby room in the sorority house and violently attacked two more sleeping co-eds, who survived. [The killer was later identified as Ted Bundy. He was executed for this and other homicides on January 24, 1989].
A few day before the movie was set to premiere on network television Florida's then-Governor Reubin Askew contacted NBC President Robert Mullholland to request the movie not be shown due to its all-to-similar theme as the murders of sorority sisters by an unknown madman at the Chi Omega Sorority House. On Tuesday, January 24, NBC-TV gave several of its affiliates in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, the option of showing an alternate movie, Doc Savage...The Man of Bronze, in place of Stranger in the House.
"The network said in a statement issued yesterday in New York that it was responding to concern voiced by the affiliates because of the murder of two coeds this month in a sorority house at Florida State University in Tallahassee."
Home media release
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Two editions of the DVD release of the film have been specially designed. A bare-bones release was released on 6 November 2001. The release was followed by a collector's edition that was released on 3 December 2002, containing a making-of documentary, behind-the-scenes footage, and more bonus content. Critical Mass and Alliance Atlantis released a special edition on 5 December 2006, before the theatrical release of the remake of the film on Christmas day, containing extra and similar bonus content to the previous collector's edition, including interviews with stars Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder. The "Special Edition" version of the film, with all of its existing special features and a new HD transfer, was later released on Blu-ray on 11 November 2008.
Soon after the film's 40th anniversary, Anchor Bay Canada announced that they are releasing a new version of the film on Blu-ray and DVD only in Canada, called the "Season's Grievings Edition". It contains the same transfer of the film as the "Special Edition" release and all previous bonus content, plus the addition of: a new documentary ("Black Christmas Legacy"), a 40th anniversary panel from Fan Expo 2014, a new commentary track featuring Frank Mancuso as the character "Billy", a new retrospective booklet written by Rue Morgue Magazine, and new packaging art by Gary Pullin (art director of Rue Morgue Magazine). This new edition was released on Blu-ray and DVD on 24 November 2015.
Scream Factory has announced a new Blu-ray release for the film available for purchase on December 6, 2016 with a new transfer and, presumably, new extras.
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During its initial release, the film had garnered mixed reviews. A writer for The New York Times scored the film a 1 out of 5, calling it "a whodunit that raises the question as to why was it made."
The film has since received generally positive reviews from critics. According to the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it has a 64% "fresh" score based on 24 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2 out of 10. Heidi Martinuzzi of Film Threat called the film "innovative" and praised the leading actresses, Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder.
Awards and nominations
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- 1976: Nominated, "Best Horror Film"
- 1975: Won, "Best Sound Editing in a Feature" – Kenneth Heeley-Ray
- 1975: Won, "Best Performance by a Lead Actress" – Margot Kidder
- 1976: Nominated, "Best Motion Picture" – A. Roy Moore
Legacy and Remake
The film eventually gained a cult following and is notable for being one of the first slasher films and inspiring films such as Friday the 13th and John Carpenter's Halloween. The film ranked No. 87 on Bravo's The 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Olivia Hussey told Bravo during an interview about their 100 Scariest Movie Moments series, that when she met Steve Martin for the first time, he told her she starred in his favorite movie of all time. Hussey initially thought he was referring to Romeo and Juliet but was surprised when Martin said it was Black Christmas and that he had seen the film 27 times.
A remake of the film directed by Glen Morgan was released on 25 December 2006. It is loosely based on the original film, containing more graphic content and a focus into the past of Billy. Andrea Martin was the only original cast member to appear in the film. Bob Clark served as an executive producer. It was poorly received by critics.
- Bartłomiej Paszylk (8 March 2009). The Pleasure and Pain of Cult Horror Films: An Historical Survey. McFarland. pp. 135–136. ISBN 9780786436958.
- "Release dates". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
- "Screen: Murky Whodunit; 'Black Christmas' Is at Local Theaters". New York Times. 20 October 1975. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
- Jones, Edward (14 July 1975). "Horror Cliches: Up from the Dead, and Still Fun". The Free Lance–Star. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
- Justice, Chris (October 27, 2006). "Black Christmas (1974)". Classic-Horror.
- Associated Press (25 Jan 1978). "Network Offers TV Alternative for Terror Film". The Palm Beach Post. p. 61. Retrieved 14 Jul 2016 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Screen: Murky Whodunit:'Black Christmas' Is at Local Theaters". The New York Times. 20 October 1975. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
- "Black Christmas (1974)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
- "Black Christmas". Film Threat. 24 December 2004. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
- Dirks, Tim. "Greatest Scariest Movie Moments and Scenes (B)". AMC Filmsite.
- Stitzel, Kelly (October 31, 2012). "Horror Movie Marathon: Part The Last". Popdose.
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