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Film / Black Christmas (1974)

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

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...

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.)


This film has examples of the following tropes:

  • Accidental Murder: Jess beats Peter to death with a fireplace poker, thinking he was the killer.
  • Adult Fear: Jess getting pregnant and wanting to abort the baby against Peter's wishes. Claire'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.
  • 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.
  • Alone with the Psycho: The climax when Jess fears that she's alone with the killer and the end when she is.
  • 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 (in her autobiography she clarifies that she's Armenian).
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  • Ax-Crazy: Billy. In addition to being a depraved murderer, he trashes the attic for seemingly no reason.
  • Bad Santa: Patrick swears in front of kids while dressed in a Santa suit.
  • 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.
  • 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: One of Mrs. Mac's many, many booze stashes.
  • 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 Lights of Their Eyes: Billy, during his attack on Barb.
  • The Calls Are Coming from Inside the House: Much to Jess's horror, the calls are traced back to the very sorority house she's in.
  • Canada, Eh?: Filmed on location in Toronto, there are plenty of characteristics 'Ehs' and 'Aboots' to go around. The character of Chris also plays hockey, for seemingly no other reason than to invoke this trope.
  • Cat Scare:
    • Surprisingly averted with the actual cat. Instead, we get Barb's asthma attack.
    • Peter surprises Jess (and by extension the audience) immediately after she receives one of Billy's phone calls.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: The police arrive when Jess is the only living person in the house left. If only it was so...
  • Characters Dropping Like Flies: Averted, compared to later slasher films. The movie has a much smaller bodycount than modern audiences are used to.
  • 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.
  • Creepy Basement: Or in this case, creepy attic where a killer is lurking with two of his corpses.
  • 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 cristal figure of a unicorn - two symbols of purity.
  • Death by Sex: Averted. The list of victims (in order of killing) goes; the virgin, the (middle aged) house mother, a little girl, the promiscuous party girl, a cop, the nice girl, the red herring and then (possibly) the final girl. And the final girl is having an abortion. And, unlike most later slashers, nobody is killed during -or just after- sex.
  • Death of a Child: A plot point in the second act of the film is the disappearance of a thirteen-year-old girl called Janice, who turns up dead later.
  • Downer Ending: Peter is mistaken for the killer, is killed by Jess and then we find out that the killer is still in the house with Jess.
  • Evil Phone: As soon as the girls realize the caller is the killer, this trope comes in full force.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: How the killer knows to say "just like having a wart removed" to Jess during one of the phone calls, providing more false fuel against Peter.
  • Extreme Mêlée Revenge:
    • After doing poorly at his recital, Peter smashes his piano.
    • Billy smashes random objects in the attic during an emotional breakdown of some kind.
  • Face Framed in Shadow: This is the closest the audience gets to seeing Billy's face.
  • Final Girl: Jess, who is the last of the sorority girls to confront Billy at the end. No, she is not a virgin, but as previously stated, this movie was a trope maker before Halloween (1978) codified this Slasher convention.
  • Flipping the Bird: Mrs. Mac, behind Mr. Harrison's back. A picture in the house also depicts an old lady giving it.
  • 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.
  • 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: Agnes. Despite Billy ranting about her during his phone calls, we never see her or understand why she's significant to Billy.
  • Giving Someone the Pointer Finger: Barb does this a few times.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted. The idea that the girls are getting killed as a result of Jess's vengeful boyfriend gets proven false. And she's the final girl. Note that the film was made very shortly after abortion was fully legalized by Roe v. Wade. It should be noted that being set in America, the Canadian production is extremely clear from accents to actresses with abortion having been legal there for five years.
  • Good Parents: Mr. Harrison may be intrusive, judgemental, 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 Claire'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 Claire 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 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.
  • Karma Houdini: Billy, the killer, is still alive at the end of the movie, and remains uncaught.
  • 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 Claire's corpse, plus there's all the stock Christmas tunes.
  • Jerkass: Barb is mean when drunk.
  • 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.
  • Laughing Mad: Billy laughs creepily and for no apparent reason during some of his phone calls.
  • 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.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: Averted at first. Sergeant Nash dismisses the concerns of the missing Clare's friends, telling them she's probably just shacked up somewhere with her boyfriend.
  • 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.
  • Murderer P.O.V.: The audience gets to see Billy's view, most notably when he has a complete breakdown and trashes the attic.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Parting Words Regret: Heavily implied when Barb has a drunken rant in which she accuses people of believing she drove Claire away with her harsh words. The truth is that this is what she (Barb) thinks, but doesn't want to admit it to herself.
  • Phone-Trace Race: When the calls get creepier, they decide to trace them.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Mrs. Mac and Barb, when they're drunk. Sgt. Nash's dimwittedness also provides laughs.
  • Police Are Useless: Double Subverted. When Claire 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, then killing Peter in a panic. At the film's very end they neglect to check the house's attic, leaving the bodies of Mrs. Mac and Claire 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.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Billy is revealed to have them in two particularly creepy scenes.
  • Red Herring: Peter is mistaken as the killer.
  • 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.
  • Say My Name: The killer calls Barb "Agnes" before he kills her.
  • Scare Chord: The film employs a couple of these in shots featuring Claire'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.
  • 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 Claire's corpse after having been killed by Billy.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The Christmas carolers during Barb's murder.
  • The Stoic: Mr. Harrison puts up with the wild behavior of the sorority girls with emotionless stoicism.
  • 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 Phil 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. Not that that does anything to save her.
  • 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
  • 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 else 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, 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.
  • 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 (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


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