Follow TV Tropes

Following

Film / Black Christmas (1974)

Go To

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/black_christmas_1974_poster.JPG

"If this movie doesn't make your skin crawl, it's on TOO TIGHT."
Advertisement:

A 1974 horror film, remade twice (in 2006 and 2019), and one of the Trope Makers for the slasher genre.

The story is about a group of sorority girls who are staying over for Christmas break. Each one has their problems, but they don't know it's about to get worse, as a psychotic bastard sets up home in the Sorority House attic... And starts his reign of terror, terrorizing the girls with disturbing phone calls before killing them...

The 1974 movie was directed by Bob Clark, who is better known for directing a very different Christmas-themed movie. It stars Margot Kidder as Barb the bad girl, Olivia Hussey as Jess the nice girl, and Keir Dullea as Jess's long-haired boyfriend Peter.

Not to be confused with Silent Night, Deadly Night; another Christmas-themed slasher flick. (The fact that Warner Bros. released this one under the title Silent Night, Evil Night in some markets doesn't help.)

Advertisement:


"If these tropes don't make your skin crawl, it's on TOO TIGHT."

  • '70s Hair:
    • Phyllis has an afro, Peter has a long Beatles-inspired hairdo, Chris and Lt Fuller have noticeable sideburns and there's a blonde sorority sister with her ends feathered.
    • Even in the brief glimpse we get of Billy, we can see a mop of curly 70s hair.
  • Accidental Murder: Jess beats Peter to death with a fireplace poker, thinking he was the killer.
  • Adult Fear: Clare's father and the mother of the little girl who goes missing fearing (correctly) that their children have been murdered is also a potent source of fear for any parent. In fact, in the final scene (when Clare still isn't accounted for), Mr Harrison goes into shock and just faints.
  • The Alcoholic: Barb drinks quite a bit in the film, and Mrs. Mac has a truly staggering number of booze stashes hidden around the house.
  • Advertisement:
  • Alone with the Psycho: In the climax, Jess realises the two friends left in the house are also dead, and she suspects Peter of being the killer. After killing him, she's left alone in the house and we discover the killer is still there with her.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Barb mentions having been with men but can be seen reading a Playboy magazine. According to Word of Gay, she was indeed intended to be bisexual.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Phyllis has a very Semitic appearance with a 'Jewfro', though her last name Carlson is Swedish in origin. Her actress Andrea Martin has often been mistaken for Jewish, though she's Armenian.
  • Ax-Crazy: Billy has decided to start murdering the sorority girls for no reason at all, in addition to harassing them over the phone with crude taunts. There's also a scene where he randomly trashes the attic.
  • Bad Santa: Patrick swears in front of kids while dressed in a Santa suit.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Jess is a perfectly normal Nice Girl, but if she feels her life is in danger and knows her friends have been killed, she will defend herself with a fire poker. Even if she wasn't in any danger.
  • Big Bad: Billy, the Ax-Crazy murderer terrorizing the sorority.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Mrs. Mac makes jokes at other people's expense, but never to their face.
  • Bloodless Carnage:
    • The murders of Mrs Mac and Barb have very little (if any) blood seen.
    • For a truly spotless yet graphic murder though, we have Clare's death: asphyxiation by plastic garment bag.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: Mistaking him for the killer, Jess kills Peter. Then we find out that Billy is still alive and in the house, and Jess' fate is left up in the air.
  • Book Safe: Mrs Mac has a bottle of whiskey hidden in one of the books in the house.
  • Brick Joke: Barb trolls dimwitted Sgt. Nash by giving him "Fellatio" as the a new telephone exchange. Later the detectives are shown cackling with laughter after one of them looks at the number.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Lampshaded; when Barb insults Billy during his first phone call, he replies that he's going to kill her, and hangs up. The other sorority girls reprimand Barb for provoking someone who's potentially dangerous and unstable. Billy later makes good on his promise to kill Barb.
  • Butt-Monkey: The incompetent Sergeant Nash is the butt of most of the verbal abuse and jokes in the movie.
  • By the Hair: Jess is grabbed by her hair at one point when running from the killer.
  • By the Lights of Their Eyes: Billy, during his attack on Barb.
  • The Calls Are Coming from Inside the House: The Trope Namer and Trope Codifier. After spending the third act trying to trace where Billy is calling from, much to Jess's horror, the calls are traced back to the very sorority house she's in. Of course the audience is aware from the start that Billy is already inside the house.
  • Canada, Eh?: Filmed on location in Toronto, there are plenty of characteristics 'Ehs' and 'Aboots' to go around. Chris also plays hockey, for seemingly no other reason other than it's in Canada. As noted below, the beer Barb is seen drinking and the use of snow mobiles later place this movie's setting to Canada.
  • Cat Scare:
    • We hear Barb screaming in panic, suggesting Billy has got her. It turns out she's just having an asthma attack.
    • Peter surprises Jess (and by extension the audience) immediately after she receives one of Billy's phone calls. For added bonus, Peter is one of the suspects.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: The police arrive when Jess is the only living person in the house left.
  • Chekhov's Gun: There are a couple of scenes where Mrs Mac struggles to get in the front door, referencing how it jams easily. The door jams when Jess tries to run from the killer, forcing her to go to the basement.
  • Cluster F-Bomb:
    • Phyllis's boyfriend Patrick swears at every available opportunity.
    • Barb too. She is the most foulmouthed of the girls.
  • Cop Killer: Billy slashes the throat of the officer assigned to watch and protect the sorority girls.
  • Country Matters: Billy's first onscreen call has him calling the sorority girls cunts. Word of God recalls modern viewers asking if they redid the audio track for that - in disbelief that such language was used in the 70s.
  • Crappy Holidays: Even before the murders start happening, it's clear that the girls' Christmases aren't going to be jolly. Barb in particular is spending Christmas in the sorority house, thanks to implied problems at home.
  • Creepy Doll: Billy leaves one with Clare's corpse.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast:
    • Clare and Mrs. Mac die looking for Mrs. Mac's perpetually lost cat, Claude.
    • Phyllis is killed after spotting someone enter Barb's room.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Barb doesn't take Billy's obscenity laden threats seriously and tells him to "stick [his] tongue in a wall socket". This leads to Billy delivering a death threat to her that he latter makes good on.
    • Mrs. Mac makes jabs at people behind their backs.
  • Death by Irony: Hard-drinking promiscuous Barb is murdered with a crystal figure of a unicorn - two symbols of purity.
  • Death of a Child: A plot point in the second act of the film is the disappearance of a thirteen-year-old girl named Janice, who turns up dead later.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Jess decides to tell Peter she's a) pregnant and b) going to get an abortion, right before an important audition that he's been losing sleep preparing for. Had she waited even a few more hours to break the news...
  • Downer Ending: Jess mistakes Peter for the killer and kills him. The actual killer is still in the house and now has a prime opportunity to kill the lowered-guard Jess, though it's deliberately left ambiguous whether it indeed happens. Not to mention that the two bodies of the first victims are still hidden in the attic and they're not even known to be missing yet.
  • Dramatic Irony: The audience knows from the start that Billy is inside the house, while the girls are oblivious.
  • Everytown, America: There are conspicuous American flags in the police station to make the film look like it takes place in a generic American town. This was standard practice for Canadian films at the time; in the hopes of having more success abroad. That being said, a lot of the accents, the use of snowmobiles in the search, Chris playing hockey, Barb drinking from a king can of 50 and the University of Toronto standing in for the college immediately make it recognisable as Canada to those who know the difference.
  • Evil Phone: As soon as the girls realize the caller is the killer, this trope comes in full force.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: The killer eavesdrops on one of Jess's conversations with Peter, where her abortion is compared to "like having a wart removed". He uses that line on the phone later, which leads her to falsely believe Peter is the killer.
  • Extreme Mêlée Revenge:
    • After doing poorly at his recital, Peter smashes his piano.
    • Billy smashes random objects in the attic during an emotional breakdown.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The film begins the night of a party in the sorority house, and finishes up the next night. The majority of the plot takes place over one evening.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: This is the closest the audience gets to seeing Billy's face.
  • Fainting: In one of the final scenes, Mr Harrison faints over the news that everyone in the house is dead.
  • Final Girl: Of the sorority house people, only Jess is alive by the end of the film. She subverts some of the usual aspects by having an active sex life, and plans to abort a pregnancy. Clare - as the most modest and shyest of the girls would fit the trope more - but she's the first victim! And there's a very real possibility that even Jess will be killed soon after the film credits are over...
  • First-Name Basis: Chris calls Lt Fuller by his first name Ken, implying they know each other.
  • Flipping the Bird: Mrs. Mac, behind Mr. Harrison's back. A picture in the house also depicts an old lady giving it.
  • Four-Girl Ensemble: Phyllis is the wise, caring Team Mom. Barb is the tomboyish, abrasive one. Jess is the glamorous one. Clare is the naive youngest of the lot.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • In one scene where Jess is talking with a detective about one of the phone calls she just had, Billy's shadow can be seen in the background.
    • Mildly, you can see that Barb has stuck a Christmas wreath on her door and stuck empty wine bottles in it.
  • Freudian Excuse: It's hinted that Billy has one. They should never have left him alone with Agnes!
  • Genki Girl: Barb - in a drunken, promiscuous way.
  • The Ghost: Despite Billy ranting about her during his phone calls, we never see her or understand why Agnes is significant to Billy.
  • Giving Someone the Pointer Finger: Barb does this a few times.
  • Good Parents: Mr. Harrison may be intrusive, judgmental, and a bit stuffy, but he's clearly devoted to his daughter. He also works to help find a missing girl and keeps most of his opinions to himself.
  • Gory Discretion Shot:
    • Barb being stabbed with the unicorn figurine isn't directly shown.
    • The dead body of the 13-year-old girl is not shown, but given how other characters react, we can infer it's pretty bad.
  • Harassing Phone Call: Billy constantly calls the girls with dirty language and wanting to do perverted things to them. It annoys the ladies until the kills start to pile up.
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Barb is the life of the party at the beginning, and continues to drink over the course of the film.
  • Harmful to Minors: Patrick and Barb swear like sailors in front of young children - Patrick even does it while dressed as Santa. A little while later, Barb gives one of the kids alcohol.
  • The Heart: Phyllis. The other girls aren't too concerned about Clare's father, as they just assume she's fine, but Phyllis bursts into tears, realizing she's dead and feeling horribly for her father. She also tries the hardest to help find Clare and is always willing to be at another girl's side to lend support.
  • Hell Is That Noise: Billy's phone calls are horrifying to listen to, replete with horrible wailing and animalistic moaning.
  • Honor Before Reason: After Jess learns that the villain is inside the house, she could make an easy exit to safety, but instead frantically refuses to leave Phyllis and Barb behind and goes upstairs to find them.
  • Hooks and Crooks: Mrs. Mac's death involves her getting a swinging hook thrown into her head.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: One of many slasher films to take place on Christmas.
  • I'll Kill You!: After Barb insults him over the phone, Billy calmly states "I'm going to kill you", before hanging up.
  • Improvised Weapon: A unicorn figurine for the killer and a fireplace poker for one of his victims.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: Billy sings Daddy's Gone A-Huntin to Clare's corpse.
  • Irony: Jess realises they've left all the doors and windows unlocked, and locks them all. This means that when Billy attacks, she has nowhere to run to. And Peter, presumably hearing her screams from outside, is unable to get in the front door - having to break in through the cellar window, unaware that he's a prime suspect.
  • Jerkass: Barb is mean when drunk.
  • Karma Houdini: Billy, the killer, is still alive at the end of the movie, and remains uncaught.
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: From what we see of Clare, she's a very sweet girl who gets a brief moment cuddling Claude the cat.
  • Kill the Cutie: Clare is the youngest of the group, and more modest than the others. She's also got a sweetheart personality, and is the first one to die.
  • Lady Drunk: Mrs. Mac always has a bottle handy, but she tries to have at least a little more class than some of the girls she watches.
  • Lampshaded Double Entendre: When Lt Fuller uncovers Barb's 'fellatio' prank on Sgt Nash, the latter obliviously says that one of the girls gave it to him. Lt Fuller smirks and replies "she gave it to you, huh?" - even though he knows it was a prank.
  • Laughing Mad: Billy laughs creepily and for no apparent reason during some of his phone calls.
  • Man of a Thousand Voices: During Billy's phone calls, there are times he imitates the voices of women and children. Clare even wonders if it's just one person.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Billy's backstory and identity are never confirmed - the film having been inspired by an urban legend - and it's a mystery how he's able to sneak around so much and avoid detection. He could simply be a normal psycho who's very good at hiding, or he could be a supernatural figure. Bob Clark came up with a backstory for him that leaned towards the former (and the 2006 remake ended up using it), but he left it open for people to interpret as they would.
  • Meganekko: Phyllis is smart, gentle, caring, and wears a big pair of glasses.
  • Misplaced Accent: It's not entirely clear why Jess, an American college student, would have actress Olivia Hussey's English accent. The accent itself is never commented upon in the film proper, and as such it isn't entirely clear whether her character is intended to be an English expatriate, or if the actress simply isn't bothering with an accent.
  • Missing Mom: Barb's drinking problems are caused by her distant mother.
  • Mistaken for Murderer: Peter is killed after Jess assumes he's the killer.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • At one point the movie transitions from a comical scene of Sgt. Nash being made fun of to Peter and Jess having an argument on her decision to have an abortion.
    • The other way round later on. After confirmation that poor Janice, the missing thirteen-year-old, is dead - the cops discover Barb's 'fellatio' prank on Sgt Nash and collapse laughing in the station.
  • Murderer P.O.V.: The audience gets to see Billy's view multiple times, most notably when he has a complete breakdown and trashes the attic.
  • Nice Hat: Mrs. Mac has several.
  • No Name Given: The cop who laughs at the fellatio prank, and the other cop getting shot in the ass is just credited as 'Laughing Cop' - though Lt Fuller calls him Buchanan in the latter scene.
  • Noodle Incident: Billy keeps mentioning an incident with a person named Agnes. Who Agnes is and what happened between her and Billy is only alluded to in the film.
  • Not So Stoic:
    • Lt Fuller shows that he's got a sense of humor when he can't help but laugh at Nash's incompetence. And again later when one of the cops comes to the station having been Shot in the Ass.
    • Jess too has a handful of scenes where she laughs with her friends - such as at the beginning when giving Mrs Mac the present.
  • Nothing Is Scarier:
    • We're never shown or told exactly what Billy (if it was him) did to Janice, the little girl.
    • The very ending where Billy continues to call a sedated Jess as the camera pans away from the house. It seems to be building up to a scream from the house where Billy makes his final strike, only it never happens. Instead the credits roll in complete silence, save for the phone continuing to ring.
    • Billy himself is never directly seen in the movie. The closest we get is a few shots of his face framed in shadow.
  • Novelization: It's rare as Hell.
  • Oh, Crap!: Lt. Fuller's reaction to learning the calls are coming from inside the house. Jess has a similar reaction upon getting the news.
  • Parental Abandonment: In the opening, Barb gets a phone call from her mother - where she's informed that for Christmas she'll be taking off with a new boyfriend and leaving her daughter alone on Christmas.
  • Parting Words Regret: Barb has a drunken rant in which she accuses people of believing she drove Clare away with her harsh words - mocking her for being wary of Billy's harsh phones. The truth is that this is what she (Barb) thinks, but doesn't want to admit it to herself. In some ways she is right; Clare goes upstairs to pack because of this and is left alone to be the first kill.
  • Phone-Trace Race: When the calls get creepier, they decide to trace them. This means that Jess has to stay on the line with Billy for as long as possible.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Mrs. Mac and Barb, when they're drunk. Sgt. Nash's dimwittedness also provides laughs.
  • Police Are Useless: Double subverted. When Clare is first reported missing, Sargent Nash is largely dismissive of it and insinuates that she's run off with a boy. Likewise when Jess reports Billy's obscene phone calls he's equally as dismissive. When Nash's superior gets wind of this he chews him out for this and takes the reports completely seriously. He has the sorority's phone lines tapped in order to trace the calls and posts an officer outside the building for their protection. Billy dispatches the officer posted outside without incident, and by the time the police realize that he's been in the house all along, it's too late for them to prevent Jess getting attacked or her killing Peter in a panic. At the film's end they neglect to check the house's attic, leaving the bodies of Mrs. Mac and Clare undiscovered and causing Billy to get away with the whole thing and possibly kill Jess.
  • Pun-Based Title: It's a subversion of the song White Christmas, here black not standing for African-American, but for evil... or for utter despair.
  • Rapunzel Hair: Olivia Hussey's trademark waist-length hair is on full display here. Jess wears her hair down for most of the film.
  • Reaction Shot: The camera gets a few of these from the uncomfortable group as they listened in on Billy's obscene phone call at the start of the movie.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Billy is revealed to have them in two particularly creepy scenes.
  • Red Herring:
    • Peter is assumed to be killing the girls as revenge for Jess deciding to abort their baby. It turns out he's innocent.
    • Chris was viewed as one by American distributors, who tried to get Bob Clark to reveal him as the killer at first.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Barb trolls the incompetent Sgt Nash by telling him that the number to the sorority house is 'fellatio' and it's a new exchange.
  • Say My Name: The killer calls Barb "Agnes" before he kills her.
  • Scare Chord: The film employs a couple of these in shots featuring Clare's corpse.
  • Screaming Woman: When Janice's body is found.
  • Serial Killer: Billy, since there's the minor implication he committed some rapes and murders before the ones featured in the film.
  • The '70s: And how!
  • Shifting Voice of Madness: In his phone calls, Billy often alternates between voices and personalities, often mentioning someone named Agnes ("You left Billy alone with Agnes?!" "Where's Agnes?" "Dirty Billy!"). In addition, he has a habit of screaming randomly and squeaking like a pig.
  • Shot in the Ass: A paranoid farmer shoots a police officer in the ass after spotting him skulking around on his property.
  • Shout-Out: The film's setting of Bedford is an Homage to It's a Wonderful Life.
  • Slashed Throat: Officer Jennings is found with one.
  • Spoiler Cover: The cover depicts Clare's corpse after having been killed by Billy. Of course, since she dies in the first ten minutes, it's not that much of a spoiler.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The Christmas carolers during Barb's murder.
  • Staircase Tumble: In fleeing from Billy, Jess at one point tumbles down the stairs.
  • The Stoic: Mr. Harrison puts up with the wild behavior of the sorority girls with emotionless stoicism. It finally catches up to him in the last scene, where he faints from shock.
  • Team Mom: Mrs. Mac, who is literally the house mother. Also, Phyllis, to a lesser extent.
  • Tempting Fate: After Phil is scared by a member of the search team looking for the killer of the child in the park, she jokes "I'd rather face the killer!". Billy ends up killing her only minutes later.
  • Third-Person Person: In all of his phone calls, Billy speaks in third person, and in fact seems to be talking as if he were other people talking about him.
  • Tomboyish Name: Phyllis is nicknamed Phil by all the other girls, though she's not much of a tomboy in nature.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Jess makes a few poor decisions during the climax:
    • When the police finally realize that the calls are coming directly from the house, the dispatcher calls Jess and tells her to quietly leave as soon as possible. Instead of listening, she refuses and demands to know why. When he finally relents and tells her the truth, she still doesn't leave the house, even after he urgently demands for her to leave and instead tries to wake everyone up to get them to all exit, catching Billy's attention as he's already killed everyone else still in the house.
  • Token Wholesome: Clare is the one girl in the sorority house who isn't sexually active or promiscuous, and is uncomfortable with Barb's attempts at provoking Billy. Lt Fuller asks if she's known for drinking, and Phyllis endearingly says "hardly at all".
  • Trashcan Bonfire: Clare's father, Jess and Chris are warming up to one when the little girl's body is found in the park.
  • Trope Maker: For Slasher Movies. This was a first for many, including the Final Girl.
  • Tsundere: Barb is mostly drunk and abrasive, but has a soft side and does care for the girls. In fact, when Sgt Nash trivializes Clare's disappearance, Barb is inspired to Troll him.
  • Twisted Christmas: If you couldn't tell from the title, Billy's murders are happening on Christmas.
  • Unbuilt Trope: This movie has a lot less in common than one would think with all of the slasher movies that followed after it. The killer does not wear a mask or have any particular "gimmick" to his crimes, the killer is not a silent murderer but a talkative, perverted creep, the police respond reasonably effectively, there's much less Gorn and fewer overall murders than in many other slashers, we learn absolutely nothing about the killer's motivations, backstory, or appearance, and the Final Girl is definitely not a virgin, nor does anyone suffer Death by Sex.
  • The Unfought: As Peter is a Red Herring, Jess never has a confrontation with Billy beyond seeing his eye through a keyhole.
  • The Un-Reveal: We never know who Billy is, why he's murdering people (other than it might be somehow related to the unknown "Agnes"), or even what he looks like.
  • Vader Breath: At the very beginning, as Billy closes in on the sorority house.
  • Vague Age: Peter is implied to be older than the others; he mentions being at the Conservatory for eight years, meaning he could be as old as thirty. His actor was thirty-eight during production.
  • Vasquez Always Dies: Downplayed. Barb establishes herself as outspoken and fearless by talking back to Billy over the phone. She dies halfway through the film, leaving the much meeker Jess to face him. Downplayed because the other sorority sisters die as well.
  • Voice Changeling: Billy changes his voice quite a bit during his phone calls. On two occasions he also mimics the house cat, Claude, in order to lure in his victims.
  • We All Live in America: The film makes sure to remind you that its set in America by plastering American flags all over the police station.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The fate of Claude, the cat. While his meowing is used to lure more than one character to their deaths, we never actually find out what happened to him.
  • Would Hurt a Child: A little girl reported missing and is found dead later. It's heavily implied that this is one of Billy's victims. It's also implied through his insane ramblings that it may not have been the first time he hurt a child, as he keeps referring to a baby and something horrible happening between himself and a person named Agnes.

Alternative Title(s): Silent Night Evil Night, Stranger In The House

Top

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

/

Media sources:

/

Report