Bob Clark’s imaginatively nasty low-budget Canadian slasher traps a group of college students in the snow-dusted sorority house of Sigma Lamba Chi, where they are terrorised by an obscene phone caller before being bumped off one by one by a psychopath hiding in their unused attic.
First to go is young and innocent Clare (Lynne Griffin), a bag slapped over her head, rocking away in the attic.
Then the sorority’s lush housemother (Marian Waldman scoring cheap laughs with a Shelley Winters-type performance) is slain by a hook and pulley device as she ventures into the attic searching for the dead girl.
Most horrid of all is the death of a boozed-up foul-mouthed sorority girl named Barb (Margot Kidder having a blast) who is stabbed by one of her collection of crystal animals.
The killer punctuates the atrocities with phone calls which increasingly reveal the depths of his psychosis.
Evidence appears to point to Peter Smythe (Keir Dullea), a graduate music student who is having a somewhat tempestuous affair with Jess (Olivia Hussey), who is pregnant with Peter’s child and feels she should have an abortion.
The hard-working police, led by Lt. Fuller (B-movie stalwart John Saxon providing solid comic and dramatic support), eventually discover that the obscene calls are coming from within the sorority house. At this point of discovery, though, Jess is the only person left alive in the house, and the killer soon comes after her.
She avoids him by locking herself in the basement, and when the killer follows her there, he is revealed as Peter, dead now following a struggle with his sweetheart.
As the cops arrive and Jess is sedated, the spirit of Christmas and peace appears to descend on the house . . . but is the riddle really resolved?
There seems to be vague, mad babbling in the house, followed by the ominous ringing of the telephone. Maybe Peter wasn’t the killer after all.
Not just a seminal Christmas horror film but also one of the key prototypes for the slew of imitative slashers that would follow in its wake, Black Christmas even predates John Carpenter’s masterful Halloween (1978) by some four years.
Brilliantly utilising a series of alternating camera perspectives as the “eyes” of his heavy-breathing killer – including an opening POV sequence soon to be borrowed by Carpenter in the aforementioned, and Brian De Palma for his film-within-a-film sequence in Blow Out (1980) – Bob Clark would later go on to helm much more innocent (but equally acclaimed) festive fare with A Christmas Story (1983).
But it’s the direction that most impresses in this quintessential festive shocker – something to which its awful 2006 remake barely even aspires.