Saturday, December 22, 2018

Black Christmas (1974)

I haven't watched this movie in a few years, so it was a pleasant surprise to see it again and realize how well it holds up in the age of #MeToo.  Whether writer Ray Moore and director Bob Clark (who directed the more family friendly A Christmas Story) intended it or not, this movie manages to encapsulate all the issues women face in life, both in the past and now.

The plot is pretty simple.  A sorority house is being plagued by an obscene phone caller, which the girls endure, while a psychotic killer enters the house and takes up residence in the attic.  The killer starts taking out the women while making his own creepy phone calls, leading to the police staking out the house.  The scripts give us a few red herrings, but a modern audience will know better.  As expected, mayhem ensues.

Oh great, another obscene caller and no one cares.
I hope things get better in the coming decades.

Okay, I'm not going to get into how close John Carpenter's Halloween follows this film.  That has been discussed to death by others.  Instead, as I mentioned earlier, I want to talk about how this film exposes how women are marginalize by society, whether it was intended or not.

To start, the first victim's father shows up at the house to pick her up for Christmas vacation.  When no one can find her, it's assumed she's with some guy.  The father expresses disgust, claiming he didn't send his daughter to college so she could drink and shack up with boys.  The house mother tries to dispel his concerns, all the while sneaking drinks and dismissing his issues, as girls will be girls.  She knows how her girls react to the marginal amount of freedom a sorority gives them, and is only interested in placating the father to keep other men from getting involved.  Sure, she's proven wrong in her assumption, but the message is pretty clear.

You tell him, girl!

The police do become interested in the phone calls, but only after another girl comes up missing and is later found dead.  The cop in charge, Lt. Fuller (John Saxon) prompts a wire tap on the sorority house, but he still mansplains things as resident Jess (Olivia Hussey) tries to answer someone's questions.  And, as her boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea) is upset with her decision to have an abortion, he becomes suspect number one.

Speaking of Peter, he takes the news of the abortion rather hard.  One could argue that Jess' timing to tell him about their child, and her decision to abort the pregnancy, is poorly timed.  But his attempts to tell her what she should do is another example of how men believe they know what's best for a woman.  Sure, her refusal of his desires causes him to perform poorly in a piano recital in front of his instructors, but I'm sure his instructors would understand his poor performance if he'd mentioned he was having personal issues and if he was as talented as the script suggests.

Look, it's not about you all the time.
I have a life too. 

Beth (Margot Kidder) is another example of the patriarchy hammering down on women.  Sure, she's got a bit of a drinking problem, and tends to act inappropriately as she talks about turtles screwing in front of the first victim's father.  And her open sexuality is ignored by the cop taking her report, as she uses the word fellatio as part of the sorority's phone number.  Yep, he's that stupid, and it leads to his being degraded by his fellow officers when they discover he was duped by a woman.  Heavens forbid a man isn't smart enough to catch onto a woman's devious intentions.  Adding to her character arc is how the other women attempt to calm her in front of men, as if she is expressing the dirty secrets they need to keep hidden.

Hello, police?  I'm stuck in a house with a head strong,
drunken women.  Get me the hell out of here!

The film dispenses the common slasher troupe in a couple of ways.  First is the idea that loose women meet their end.  The first victim does nothing that would lead the audience to expect her to meet her demise, and later victims aren't the stereotype most slashers prey upon.  And, as the death toll rises, it become apparent the cause is the failing of a patriarchal society.  And that issue is hammered home in the conclusion, which I'll discuss in the paragraph below, so SPOILER ALERT!

The final girl dispatches the obvious suspect, and is seen later resting in a bed within the sorority house.  The father of the first victim is there, and has what I can only describe as a "spell," prompting the other male characters to carry him out of the room for transport  to a hospital.  And the film ends, with the final girl laying alone in her bed, the lights turned off by a "concerned" man, while the killer is still in the house.  In fact, the killer tries calling the house, while the police officer on guard stays outside and doesn't bother picking up the phone to see if something is amiss.  And the cops didn't fully search the house, as they would have found two other victims.  It's as if they don't care about the other victims, as normality has been restored and that is all that matters.  The film ends with the final girl, unconscious in her bed, at the mercy of a murderer the police assume they've found.

Damn it, the cat checked the attic.
It's a better cop than the police force in this town!

Wow, if that doesn't sum up how women are treated when they are victimized, I don't know what other movie does.

End of SPOILERS, well, to a point.

The other way this film deviates from the slasher troupes that followed is how the killer has no real motivations.  All we know is his name is Billy and that's it.  His reasons for climbing into the house's attic and killing the women within are never made clear.  In fact, we never see his face, as it's always hidden in shadows or behind various items.  It's as if his gender doesn't matter, he's just a random force of nature, unleashed on an unsuspecting group of women for no reason the audience can discern.  He's just found a comfortable place to occupy and is staking a claim by eliminating those living within.  Worse yet, the victimized women discover that the current societal construct isn't interested in finding the root cause of their concern, just the easy, superficial answer that ties everything up nicely.

Black Christmas is an important part of the slasher genre, which goes beyond the superficial imitations that it spawned.  Whether intentional or not, it exposed why women are victimized, as the current patriarchal society is happy to dismiss their concerns until something violent happens, than searches for the simplest answer without addressing the root problem.  Pretty deep for a simple slasher film.

Look, I'm dealing with a bunch of hysterical women right now.
I'll call you back when I can start doing some real police work.

If you'd like to add this movie to your collection, I am now an Amazon Associate and will get payment for your purchase if you follow the link below.

No comments:

Post a Comment