25 Christmas Things: Day 4 – Black Christmas

Yesterday got a little emotional, so let’s tone it back some with this early example of the slasher film: Black Christmas. Debuting a full four years before that other holiday serial killer movie, Halloween, Black Christmas is often pointed to as the true inception point for the slasher movie craze of the next decade or two. And it’s a pretty darn good example, too. There’s often a feeling that the first of a kind is not fully formed, more idea than execution. While Halloween is undoubtedly the better film, Black Christmas has enough tricks up its own sleeve to recommend it outside a historical perspective.

A sorority house is targeted by a serial killer over Christmas vacation and the police are unable to stop it. It has become a cliche at this point, terrified women that are cut off from society, but even this first version does something different with the formula. Instead of being in a remote location, the holiday festivities on a college campus serve to do the separating. Each year the population of a college thins out to only a few stragglers as the student body floods back to their home towns to fill up on food and presents. What was once a vibrant community becomes, temporarily of course, a ghost town. And even within a sorority house or dormitory the same happens in micro. The girl next door will leave while you are sleeping and without a trace. She is probably just on her way home, she had an early flight to catch, or maybe she’s going off to ski before returning to her broken family. It’s probably not murder, right? The film plays with this yearly population decrease in a clever way that is echoed in that Halloween movie with its masks and creepy vibe.

There are the parties, too, that happen before everybody leaves. It’s a tradition to get more drunk than you intended and start a fight with somebody you thought was a friend right before not seeing them for half a month. All the while you’re surrounded by signifiers of celebration and happiness, not the least of which is the soundtrack of the season. It’s enough to drive somebody to murder! The film not only starts the whole slasher craze, it also invents some of the tropes used in later films. From first person kills to the call coming from inside the house, plus the cast of young women and their boyfriends just waiting to become victims, Black Christmas is a cheerful celebration of murder most foul. Enjoy it!

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