Welcome to Black Christmas.
This is the only Christmas horror film that I love more than Gremlins.
We should all pause and think about just what a momentous statement that is.
Scream Factory released a collector's edition Blu-Ray in 2016, with the synopsis:
The college town of Bedford is receiving an unwelcome guest this Christmas. As the residents of sorority house Pi Kappa Sigma prepare for the festive season, a stranger begins to stalk the house. A series of obscene phone calls start to plague the residents of the sorority and it becomes clear that a psychopath is homing in on the sisters with dubious intentions. And though the police try to trace the calls, they discover that nothing is as it seems during this Black Christmas
But why should you care?
I love horror films that centre on physical objects. The pale blue rotary dial phone in the sorority house - the phone that the girls keep getting the obscene calls on - is a character in its own right.
In a similar vein, I'm very into the tracing of the obscene phone call. The technician goes to the telephone exchange relay room, and when the caller rings, he runs across the room, cabinet by cabinet, looking for the relay switches that make the call connection. He literally and materially traces this call.
Bedford Police: this horror film takes its Christmas lineage seriously
Mrs Mack is the sorority house mother. She will teach you how to clean your teeth.
Now, to the yarn-bombing. I know yarnbombing is actually fastening crochet doilies around lamposts, but I am re–appropriating it here in order to laud Karen Bromley's art direction and Debi Weldon's work on costume.
Black Christmas is really representing for the 1970s passion for handmade crafting in muddy colours. To the extent that yarn keeps drawing my eye, away from the characters and deep, deep into the knitwear. Check out Phyl's rust-red, oversized, double–crochet–stitch shawl
Then, we have the panel of photos of the wall. It's an old lady, with a Grant Wood 'American Gothic' scowl. She is ensconced in her granny square blanket, created in those 1970s hues of yellow, mucky pink, brown... and darker brown.
Claude, Mrs Mack's cat, is the surly lead detective in Black Christmas. He first discovers Clare Harrison's polythene wrapped body and sniffs it carefully, to scent the killer. He then utilises his instinctive detective skills to deduct the killer, while not playing by the rules and limping around (emulating Morse AND Cormoran Strike). At the same time, in the C storyline, he deals with his personal demons in the form of his addition to catnip. Then, in a daring denouement tussle, Claude valiantly leaps at the killer, Jess. Claude triumphs, blinding Jess in the process, and is promoted to head of cat police.
I wish the above were true
This is a DISGRACE to books! I don't know why you're smiling Mrs Mack.
Chris paving the way for the Jason Vorhees hockey mask
Jess' pink fantasy.
But it's not just the pop of pink in the costume. The filmmaking team does an excellent job of capturing Jess's point of view, and more broadly, the experience of female friendship.
Here, Jess and Phyl are pissing themselves laughing after running rings around two well-meaning older gentlemen who have checked in on them. It's a female experience, with a friend, that feels real.
Jess is a slow starter as the protagonist (and technically, judging by the ending, we can't really class her as a final girl, if 'Billy' only rings after he has made a kill). Barb dominates to start with and quiet, softly spoken Jess barely gets a look in. But she emerges, throughout the film, growing stronger as a person and giving us more character depth.
She's pregnant with her boyfriend's baby, the awful concert pianist Peter. He announces he is going to leave the conservatory and get a real job and marry her and do providing things for his little women. And Jess is like...
Then, when Jess rings the police station to report about the obscene phone calls, we get a really long sequence of Nash, the desk officer, responding to the crime.
We don't cutaway from Nash, back to Jess. We stay in medium close up on Nash. He's in shallow focus, we're not meant to pay attention to anything but him. But the actual shot - while well framed - is relatively mundane; there's nothing to draw our eye, no punctum in particular. So we listen to his voice. The filmmaking team expertly control the audience experience to make sure we pay attention to what they want us to pay attention to: what Nash is saying to Jess, and the way he is saying it. Jess' experience, her reporting of a crime, is dismissed with a Calm. Down. Lady. The film then pulls focus to reveal Clare Harrison's Dad listening in, appalled (remember, Clare is officially missing; unofficially wrapped in polythene in the attic being licked by Claude).
Towards the end of the film, Jess realises the killer is in the house with her. She thinks Barb and Phyl are asleep upstairs (sadly, they are in the kind of sleep you don't ever wake up from) and for the first time, we are then granted Jess' optical point of view as well. She looks around, we see the fire poker from her perspective, she grabs it and murders Peter with it (fair dos).
Much has been made of the killer's optical point of view in this film, placing us in the position as murderous man who stalks women (and we have to put up with his dreadful, sinusoid breathing). But I'm far more interested in the fact that when it matters, when Jess has to act, she is granted the same perspective.
I watch a lot of old horror films, and as I am sure is apparent in my blogs, they are frequently not super feminist, regardless of the gender of the filmmaking team (politics and gender identity distinction people!). But, not only is Black Christmas a techically good film (again, competency can be a rarity with some of the stuff I watch), it's really open to a properly feminist reading.
And it's no wonder Peter gets whacked when he does this kind of thing at the outside of basement windows