Now, I wouldn’t call Black Christmas some kind of overlooked classic of the genre — or subgenre. I think “overlooked classic template” would be nearer the mark. There aren’t too many tropes of the slasher picure that don’t show up here for the first time. At least they originate here in modern form, since the whole “unknown madman who is killing folks for no apparent reason” is at least suggested as far back as John Willard’s 1922 play The Cat and the Canary, though I know of no actual depiction of such a character prior to “The Maniac” in Ben Stoloff’s Bela Lugosi picture Night of Terror (1933). However, that’s a kind of dead-end aberration, since the idea didn’t catch on at the time.
Here we also have the ineffectual police (John Saxon might be parodying his role here in A Nightmare on Elm Street), the hypocritical adults, the implication that sexual activity brings about death etc. There’s even the well-loved inconclusive ending (the better to make a sequel with). Granted, the one here works on the ludicrous assumption that the cops — no matter how ineffectual — never search the house. There are some unusual aspects to Black Christmas in its abortion subplot, but whether they really mean anything — apart from leading the viewer down the garden path — is debatable. Ultimately, this is merely an efficient — sometimes atmospheric and more than a little creepy — essay in claustophobic horror that paved the way for much that was to come.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Black Christmas Thursday, Dec. 17, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville, hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Scott Douglas.