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Black ChristmasBlack christmas movie poster

Teaser poster

Directed by Bob Clark
Produced by Bob Clark
Written by A. Roy Moore
Starring Olivia Hussey
Keir Dullea
Margot Kidder
John Saxon
Music by Carl Zittrer
Studio
Distributed by Ambassador Film Distributors
Release date(s) October 11, 1974
Running time 98 minutes
Country Canada
Budget $620,000
Box office $4 million

Black Christmas (also released under the titles Silent Night, Evil Night, and Stranger in the House) is a 1974 Canadian independent horror film directed by Bob Clark and written by A. Roy Moore. It stars Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin, Marian Waldman and John Saxon. The story follows a group of sorority sisters who are stalked and murdered over Christmas vacation by a killer hiding in their sorority house. It was inspired by the urban legend of "The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs", but was also largely based on a series of murders that took place in Quebec, Canada around Christmas time. Black Christmas is generally considered to be one of the first slasher films. A remake of the same name, produced by Clark, was released in December 2006.  

PlotEdit

An unseen and disoriented man climbs up into the attic of a sorority house, where the tenants are celebrating with a Christmas party. One of the girls, Jess, answers an obscene phone call from a mentally unstable man who is implied to call the house regularly. She summons her fellow students into the room, where they listen as the caller screams and curses them on the phone. When one of the girls, foul-mouthed Barb, takes the phone from Jess, she incites the caller, who in turn promises to kill her. Barb argues with a younger student, Clare Harrison, who implies that the caller could be a serial rapist, before Clare returns to her bedroom to finish packing for Christmas break. The disoriented man lures Clare into her closet, where he suffocates her with a plastic dress bag. He moves her body to the attic.

The following morning, Mr. Harrison arrives at the school to pick up his daughter, but she fails to show up to their agreed meeting place. He quickly makes his way to the sorority house, where the housemother, Mrs. MacHenry, is surprised by Clare's absence. Meanwhile, Jess meets her boyfriend, Peter, a neurotic music student. She explains she is pregnant and planning to get an abortion, angering Peter, who attempts to intimidate her. In town, Mr. Harrison, accompanied by Barb and one of the other girls, Phyllis Carlson, attempt to report Clare as missing, while Jess quickly tells Clare's boyfriend Chris about Clare's sudden disappearance. They learn that another local girl named Janis Quaife has also seemingly vanished while walking home from school.

After putting a drunken Barb to bed, Mr. Harrison, Chris, Jess, and Phyllis help search for Janis in a nearby park where she allegedly disappeared, hoping to turn up some sign of Clare. Meanwhile, Mrs. Mac plans to leave for her sister's home, only to be lured up into the attic, where she discovers Clare's body. The killer throws a crane hook into her face, hanging and killing her. In the park, Janis's disfigured body is found by the police and Jess returns home, while the search continues for Clare. Jess answers another obscene phone call and decides to file a report with the police, only for Peter to appear and surprise her. He attempts to persuade her into marriage for the sake of their child, but Jess adamantly refuses. Peter leaves in an emotional state, while Lt. Kenneth Fuller arrives to bug the telephone.

A group of choir children arrive on the house's stoop to sing Christmas carols, distracting Jess. The killer enters Barb's room and murders her with a glass figurine; Barb's cries for help are drowned out by the singing children. One of the women in charge of the children ushers them away, having learned of Janis's murder. Jess experiences another unnerving phone call, in which the caller restates part of her argument with Peter. Lieutenant Fuller theorizes that Peter could be responsible, due to the caller's knowledge of the argument and his own mental fragility, but Jess doubts this. Moments later, Phyllis enters Barb's room and is ambushed by the killer, who murders her off-screen.

Jess gets another obscene phone call, in which the killer alludes to some sort of transgression between two children named Agnes and Billy. The call is long enough to be traced by Graham, a telephone company employee, and Sergeant Nash instructs Jess to leave the house immediately, as the calls have been traced to be coming from within the house. Concerned for Barb and Phyllis, Jess arms herself with a poker and ventures upstairs, where she discovers Barb and Phyllis's maimed figures. The killer appears and pursues Jess through the house; Jess locks herself in the cellar, only for Peter to appear outside one of the windows. He smashes the window to get to Jess, who proceeds to bludgeon him with the poker, assuming he is the killer.

The police arrive moments later, alerted by Jess's screams. They discover her barely conscious in the basement, with Peter's bloody remains next to her. They put Jess to bed and discuss the murders, unaware of the bodies of Clare and Mrs. MacHenry still in the attic. Jess is left in the house to rest, with a policeman standing outside. The killer climbs down from the attic as Jess sleeps in a nearby room. The house's telephone begins to ring, leaving Jess's fate unknown as the credits roll.

CastEdit

ProductionEdit

Concept and writingEdit

The screenplay was written by Canadian writer Roy Moore who based it off of a series of murders that took place in Quebec around the Christmas season. However, there has been speculation over the years as to whether the screenplay was actually inspired by The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs urban legend as opposed to real events. Moore died in the late 1980s and was never interviewed about the film.

The script was originally titled "Stop Me" and was partially typed and partially handwritten. Moore submitted the screenplay to director Bob Clark. Clark made several alterations in dialogue, camera placement and added some notes. On the final page of the screenplay was a hand written note by Clark calling it "a damn good script". The original screenplay in its entirety was released as a DVD-ROM feature on one of the film's DVD releases

FilmingEdit

Filming of Black Christmas began in early 1974 over an 8-week time schedule in Toronto, Canada and several scenes were shot around Annesley Hall National Historic Site. The film's budget of $620,000 was shot in 35mm format by utilizing Panavision cameras. Cameraman Albert J. Dunk created the POV camera shot by mounting a camera onto his back and creeping around the house. He crawled up the housing trellis in the beginning of the film as well. According to Bob Clark, due to the surprisingly light snowfall, most of the snow scenes outside of the sorority house were made of foam material provided by a local fire department. The house used for the sorority residence was filmed on location in Toronto. The house is still standing today and has become a private residence in Toronto. 

CastingEdit

The role of Mrs. Mac was offered to Bette Davis. The role of Peter was originally offered to Malcolm McDowell, but he turned it down. The role of Lieutenant Fuller was originally supposed to be played by Edmond O'Brien, but due to failing health he had to be replaced. John Saxon was brought in at the last minute. Gilda Radner was offered the role of Phyllis Carlson. She was attached, but dropped out one month before filming began owing to Saturday Night Live commitments.

The composer of the film's score, Carl Zittrer, stated in an interview that he created the film's mysterious music by tying forks, combs and knives onto the strings of the piano in order to warp the sound of the keys. Zittrer also stated that he would distort the sound further by recording its sound onto an audio tape and make the sound slower. The audio for the disturbing phone calls was performed by actor Nick Mancuso, director Bob Clark and an unknown actress. Mancuso stated in an interview that he would stand on his head during the recording sessions to make his voice sound more demented. 

DistributionEdit

During preparation in 1975 for the film's American release, Warner Bros. studio executives asked Clark to change the concluding scene to show Claire's boyfriend, Chris, appear in front of Jess and say, "Agnes, don't tell them what we did" before killing her, however, Clark insisted on keeping the ending ambiguous. Clark has stated in an interview that he came up with the film's official title, saying that he enjoyed the irony of a dark event occurring during a festive holiday. According to Clark as well, Warner Bros. changed the title to "Silent Night, Evil Night", for the U. S. theatrical release. During later television broadcasting, the film's title was changed to "Stranger in the House", however, it was cancelled due to broadcasters deeming it "too scary" for television broadcast.  

ReleaseEdit

"Black Christmas" was officially released on October 11, 1974, in Canada through Ambassador Film Distributors, and in the United States on December 20, 1974, through Warner Bros.,where it grossed $4,053,000. It was released in October 1975 in New York City and Chicago, and previously played under the title "Silent Night, Evil Night" in Virginia in July 1975, and grossed over $4,053,00 internationally, managing to earn more than the film's budget of $620,000. When released in the UK, the BBFC had the word "cunt" removed, as well as several other crude and sexual references during the first obscene phone call.

Two editions of the DVD release of the film have been specially designed. A bare-bones release was released on 6 November 2001. The release was followed by a collector's edition that was released on 3 December 2002, containing a making-of documentary, behind-the-scenes footage and more bonus content. Critical Mass and Alliance Atlantis released a special edition on 5 December 2006, before the theatrical release of the remake of the film on Christmas day, containing extra and similar bonus content to the previous collector's edition, including interviews with stars Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder. A Blu-ray edition of the film was released on 11 November 2008.

ReceptionEdit

The film garnered mixed to negative reception from critics upon its initial release. A writer for The New York Times scored the film a 1 out of 5, calling it "a whodunit that begs the question of why it was made." Variety also gave the film a negative review, stating that the film was heavily clichéd and calling it "a bloody, senseless kill-for-kicks feature" that "exploits unnecessary violence", lending praise only to Marian Waldman as the secretly alcoholic sorority house mother. The film has since received generally positive reviews from modern critics. According to the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it has a 63% "fresh" score based on 24 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2 out of 10. Heidi Martinuzzi of Film Threat called the film "innovative" and praised the leading actresses, Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder.

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