A penumbra of evil descends upon a sorority house, the joyous silent night broken by violent jagged sounds of madness. Director Bob Clark transforms a Holy Day into an Unholy Night: the revelry of a savior’s birth aborted by a faceless murderer and his sadistic squeals, a killer who haunts the tired old house like a ghost, unseen and nameless, without history or reason, existing as a tenebrous shadow given substance, imbued with the blood of innocents.
BLACK CHRISTMAS spawned the Teen Slasher Genre, but it is so much more, a horror film whose trauma inflicts a heavy psychological impact that shatters the psyche and reverberates deep to the soul. Clark smartly decided to show very little on-screen violence, filming in extreme close-up or grim darkness, letting our imagination fuel the imagery during the murders. He creates suspense from anticipation: the phone calls are more than disturbing; they reek of some vile corporealness like an archaic communion with some dark elder host. As women disappear and a child is found murdered, the fear becomes a claustrophobic shroud, smothering all reason and logic: we become trapped in the house with Jess, unfortunately we know the secret which is denied her until the very end.
The film begins from the killer’s point-of-view as he sneaks into the house, a conspiracy of perspective that joins the audience with this sadist. Clark moves his camera in tight awkward places, drowning the images in the gloom, shedding glimpses of crimson gore or a sharp glass spike as it pierces supple flesh. He lets the mystery power the narrative: the killer, his motives, his identity are never explained, and this adds an element of chaotic realism, frustrating our expectations and not allowing the safety of closure. Clark pulls the old bait-and-switch routine, but we aren't fooled; we know the real killer’s insatiable lust remains unsatisfied.
The final crane shot pulls back from the attic window where a dead woman is wrapped like a Christmas surprise, and travels across the street revealing the entire house decorated and blinking its holiday prayers: inside, Jess slips not-so-gently into that good night…as a phone begins to ring. And ring. And ring.
Final Grade: (A)