Black Christmas (1974 film)
The US 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||Warner Bros.|
|October 11, 1974
December 20, 1974 (US)
Black Christmas (also known as Silent Night, Evil Night and Stranger in the House) is a 1974 independent Canadian horror 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.
Black Christmas was filmed 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".
In the years that followed, Black Christmas has received positive reviews, with many praising its atmosphere and soundtrack, 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, and has since developed a cult following. 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) receives an obscene phone call from "the moaner", a man who has recently been calling the house. After she calls sorority friends Barb Coard (Margot Kidder), Phyllis Phyl Carlson (Andrea Martin), Clare Harrison (Lynne Griffin) and the several other girls to listen, he starts saying perverted things to them, until Barb provokes the caller, to which he replies, "I'M GOING TO KILL YOU." Barb and Clare argue about the things she said to him, and Clare leaves. She is then attacked and killed with plastic wrapping; her body is carried up into the attic, where the killer places her in a rocking chair and puts a doll in her lap (the iconic image in the poster and promotional material).
The next day, Clare's father arrives to take her home for the holidays. The housemother, Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), cannot help him, and neither can Phyl or Barb. Meanwhile, Jess meets 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 is upset 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; they discuss it with Lt. Kenneth Fuller (John Saxon). A mother 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 is packing her things and chases her cat up into the attic only to discover Clare's body but is murdered by the killer by having a hook impaled in her throat. He then hangs her corpse up in the attic by the neck. After the search party finds Janice's dead body, Jess returns home and receives another obscene call. Jess phones the police to report it; Peter arrives and argues with Jess about her planned abortion. He leaves after Lt. Fuller arrives to discuss the phone calls. A technician places a tap "bug tracer" onto the phone. Lt. Fuller also reminds Jess and Phyl that there will be an officer stationed outside the house. Christmas carolers then pay a visit to the house and sing Jess a song. The killer takes this opportunity to sneak in Barb's room and murder her by stabbing her to death with her own glass unicorn toy, her screams for help are drowned out by the carolers so Jess and Phyl do not hear her. Jess receives another obscene call that quotes a part of the argument she had with Peter.
Phyl goes upstairs to bed and pays a visit to Barb's room to check on her, as she discovers her corpse the door closes; she is murdered off-screen. Another call comes in, and this time, Jess manages to keep the caller on the phone for a minute, allowing the police to trace it inside the house. Jess is ordered to leave the house immediately and meet up with Officer Jennings (Julian Reed) outside not knowing that the killer slit his throat. Jess puts down the phone and yells up to Barb and Phyl. She arms herself with a fireplace poker and ventures upstairs, finding Barb and Phyl's dead bodies propped up on the bed. Then, in possibly the most infamous moment of the film, Jess sees the killer spying on her through the door crack, telling her not to Tell what we did, Agnes.., before she slams the door on him. The killer then attacks Jess and chases her through the house before Jess locks herself in the cellar. Peter appears outside a basement window, telling Jess he heard screaming. Jess, believing him to be the attacker, backs into a corner as he approaches.
Lt. Fuller and the police arrive and find Jess in the basement with Peter, whom she has bludgeoned to death in self-defense. Jess is sedated as Fuller and the officers discuss how Peter must have been the killer all along. They also discuss the fact that Clare and Mrs. Mac still have not been found, revealing that the attic has not been searched. The officers leave Jess to sleep in her bed while one cop keeps guard outside the house to wait for forensics to arrive to search the house and retrieve Barb, Phyl, Peter, and Jennings' bodies. Once the house is quiet, the camera pans from Jess's room to the attic ladder and up, with Clare and Mrs. Mac's bodies. The killer says "Agnes, it's me Billy"; the telephone begins to ring as the credits roll. Jess' ultimate fate is left unknown.
- Olivia Hussey as Jessica 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
- Robert Warner as Doctor
- Syd Brown as Farmer
- Jack Van Evera as Search Party
- Les Rubie as Search Party
- Marcia Diamond as Woman
- Pam Barney as Jean
- Robert Hawkins as Wes
- David Clement as Cogan (as Dave Clement)
- Julian Reed as Officer Jennings
- Dave Mann as Cop
- John Stoneham Sr. as Cop (as John Stoneham)
- Danny Gain as Cop
- Tom Foreman as Cop
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.
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.
Home media release
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 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 is set to be released on Blu-ray and DVD on 24 November 2015.
|This section requires expansion. (December 2014)|
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 63% "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
- 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
|This section does not cite any references (sources). (December 2014)|
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. Actor Steve Martin met Olivia Hussey in an office for his movie Roxanne and he said she was in one of his favourite movies 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.
- "Did You Know?". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
- The 12 Days of Black Christmas. Featurette. Black Christmas [DVD]. Somerville House. 2006.
- "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.
- "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.
- "BRAVO's 100 Scariest Movie Moments". Film Spectrum. Retrieved 27 November 2015.
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