Before director Bob Clark made the holiday classic A Christmas Story, he made this, somewhat darker, Yuletide tale about sorority girls being slaughtered one by one on Christmas Eve.
Indeed, if I had to describe this film in one word, it’d be lethargic. Despite the presence of a stalking serial killer, Black Christmas manages to build no tension what-so-ever. At no point in the movie are you at the edge of your seat, waiting for the slasher to leap out and kill someone. There are kills, of course, but you can see them coming long in advance, so there’s no suspense. The death scenes are also non-graphic, so the movie lacks the visceral fear, the skin-crawling effect that comes from picturing your own gruesome death.
The cast is pretty good, though. Margot Kidder (Superman) and Andrea Martin (SCTV) play two of the girls, and John Saxon plays the cop (he also played a cop in Nightmare on Elm Street). But none of them are given much to work with. Through most of the film, the existence of the killer goes unnoticed. While a girl is killed early on, she is simply presumed missing or run away. As a result, no one is all that worried, nor does anyone act with urgency.
The cop, played by Saxon, has the lucky insight that the missing girl may be related to the sexually explicit prank calls the girls have been getting at the sorority house; and tasks an officer with tracing them. Apparently, back in ’74, this was a manual process that required the tracer to run through a kind of server room, to see where the physical connection lead. He doesn’t get it on the first try, obviously, so we’re treated to scenes of his attempts three or four times throughout the movie.
Black Christmas is overly restrained. Not giddy enough for a Christmas movie, and not scary enough for a horror film. It’s kind of like a ‘slice-of-life’ version of a slasher; one that spends more time watching people have inane conversations than it does showing the killer. It’s well acted and well produced; but it’s tonally vacant. It’s a series of events that fail to illicit any emotions from the viewer.