Several days prior to Christmas, a man, who will become known as Billy, enters a sorority house through the open window of the attic. Moments later the phone begins to ring. The viewer is made aware that this is not the first time the sorority sisters have received an obscene phone call from what they think is a sick prankster. Barb, who is outspoken, and seemingly always has been drinking, is portrayed by Emmy winner Margot Kidder (Superman); she takes the phone call. Huddled near her, is the more timid, Clare Harrison (Lynne Griffin); the strong-willed Jess, played by Golden Globe winner Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet); and the studious Phyl, a role acted by two-time Emmy winner Andrea Martin (SCTV). Barb thinks nothing of the phone call, until the end of the call, when the caller states clearly, that he is going to kill her.
Clare leaves the party moments later to pack. She is scheduled to meet her father (James Edmond) the next day. He is picking her up to bring her home for the holidays. Clare is also debating how she will break the news to her parents, that her boyfriend, Chris (Art Hindle), will be joining them for their Christmas celebration. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have to struggle with her thoughts for very long, because she becomes the first victim of the deranged Billy. While she is packing, he suffocates her with a plastic bag, and then proceeds to place her body in a rocking chair, that sits directly adjacent to the attic window; there it will remain for the film’s 98 minute duration. There has been fan speculation, that Billy, based on what he utters during his phone calls, and his knowledge of the house, had perhaps previously grown up in the house, where it’s alluded to that a terrible incident took place.
The next day, after waiting for 30 minutes, and with no sign of Clare, Mr. Harrison makes his way to the sorority house Once there, he begins to inquire as to where he might be able to find his daughter. As the hours pass, and Clare has not been found or heard from, Mr. Harrison, accompanied by the sorority housemother Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), and Barb, go to the police station to file a missing person’s report. Sergeant Nash (Doug McGrath) listens, but doesn’t think it is anything to worry about; he states that she’s probably off at a ski lodge. We already know that Nash is wrong, because, as it turns out, Clare is not the only girl missing. A local teenage girl has also gone missing, prompting Lt. Fuller, portrayed by Golden Globe winner John Saxon (A Nightmare on Elm Street), to organize a search party for the two missing girls. (As an aside: The role of Lt. Fuller was originally supposed to be played by Oscar winner, Edmond O’Brien (The Barefoot Contessa), but sadly due to his struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, he had to be replaced).
While the search for Clare and the missing girl is being conducted, Jess is dealing with her own problems. She is pregnant by her boyfriend, Peter, played by Golden Globe winner Keir Dullea (David and Lisa). When he is informed of the news, he tells Jess that he wants to marry her. She, however, intends to get an abortion, and does not want to marry Peter, because, as she states, she has many things she still wants to do in life before she settles down. The news of her decision, as well as her stating she doesn’t wish to marry Peter, doesn’t sit well with him. He is a classical pianist who has been studying at a music conservatory for the past eight years, and he has an important audition which he messes up. Afterward, he destroys his piano. Adding further intrigue, is that when Jess arrives home later that evening, Billy calls again. The phone calls features multiple voices, and is increasingly more disturbing, particularly to Jess. Billy repeats, verbatim, parts of the conversation that she had with Peter which unnerves her. Jess begins to wonder if the person calling the house, has been Peter all that time. In the interim, the dead body of the teenage girl has been discovered. Armed with that knowledge, Lt. Fuller, after examining what Peter has done to the piano, not only wants to speak with him, but has stationed a uniformed officer outside of the sorority house, and has also had the phone company put a trace on the line, in order to pinpoint where the calls are coming from. (As an aside: The voices heard during the phone calls were done by actor Nick Mancuso (Regression), an unnamed actress, and the film’s director).
Will it be revealed that Peter is the killer? Has he been calling up the sorority house all that time, and saying vile things to the girls? Does Jess turning down is interest in marrying her send him over the edge? Is the killer someone else known to the sorority sisters? While some of those questions will be answered by the film’s conclusion, not all of them will be. This is the sort of film where a viewer has to come to their own conclusions on certain things.
“Black Christmas” premiered in Canada on October 11, 1974. The film was directed by Bob Clark (A Christmas Story), with a screenplay written by Roy Moore (The Last Chase). The film was originally titled “Stop Me,” but Clark asked Moore to change the name because he thought it would be an ironic title considering the happiness that the Christmas holiday is normally associated with. Furthermore, the film was the first among the holiday themed horror films. “Black Christmas” certainly has a body count, but it is low on gore, and concerned more with atmosphere and the lives of its characters. For those of you who like horror films that are more psychological than terrifying, this is worth investing your time in.