Ho-ho-horror, everyone! M.L. Miller aka the @$$hole formerly known as Ambush Bug here. Continuing the countdown fun, I’ve decided to finally compile a list of the Best Holiday Horror Movies this December. Some of these films can be found in theaters, but others have unfortunately only seen the light of day on Video On Demand or simply go straight to DVD, BluRay, or digital download. I’ve tried to indicate in the reviews where you can check these films out as thoroughly as I can.
As far as how I compiled this list? Well, there’s no real method to my special brand of madness. Having seen quite a few holiday horrors, I simply have been keeping a list and checking it more than twice throughout the year. I’ll be counting down every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday through December to my favorite holiday horror film of the year. I’m sure there are some that I’ve missed, overlooked, or simply haven’t seen yet, but that will leave leftovers to cover in upcoming Decembers
So let’s get to it! Chime in after the article and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, and most importantly, come up with your own damn list…let’s go!
#1 BLACK CHRISTMAS 1974 #1
Why is BLACK CHRISTMAS #1? Of course this is number one. Was there any doubting it? BLACK CHRISTMAS was a fantastic blend of horror, perversion, mood, acting, ambience, Christmas cheer gone wrong, and even some wonky humor peppered in. While I feel at times the humor undercuts some of the intensity of the terror, this is the film I revisit every Christmas without fail as it always sends a shiver down my spine. You can find it here on DVD/BluRay and Amazon here!
For those of you expecting films like GREMLINS, RARE EXPORTS, and some other holiday treat, fear not, I didn’t forget them. These films in this countdown are one’s that truly stood out to me. I’d love to hear your own personal horror lists below and those I didn’t get to this year means I’ll most likely cover them in years to come in other horror lists.
Available on BluRay from The Shout Factory!
BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
aka STOP ME, SILENT NIGHT EVIL NIGHT, STRANGER IN THE HOUSE
Directed by Bob Clark
Written by Roy Moore
Starring Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Marian Waldman, Andrea Martin, James Edmond, Doug McGrath, Art Hindle, Lynne Griffin, Michael Rapport, Leslie Carlson, Martha Gibson, John Rutter, Robert Warner, Pam Barney, Robert Hawkins, David Clement, Julian Reed as Billy, and Bob Clark, Nick Mancuso, & Ann Sweeny as the phone voices!
While HALLOWEEN gets all the credit (and sometimes Bava for BAY OF BLOOD), BLACK CHRISTMAS is the true granddaddy of the slasher film. Years before Michael slipped on his Shatner mask, “Billy” was sneaking into a sorority house and making obscene calls to the gals downstairs. This “caller in the house” urban legend was around before the film was made, but few films have captured the sheer horror of it all as well as Bob Clark’s film did. Later, WHEN A STRANGER CALLS would strike fear into the hearts of babysitters everywhere, but while that film depicts the terrifying tale from the POV of the babysitter, not knowing the call is coming from inside the house, this film flips the script and places the viewer right into the action by letting them know that he is in the house right after the opening credits. Much like some of Hitchcock’s most famous horrors, BLACK CHRISTMAS is most effective when it plays with what you know versus what the others know in the house, adding a level of suspense that is almost unmatched with other films of its type.
I’ve watched BLACK CHRISTMAS almost every year since I discovered it late one night on cable many moons ago. Upon seeing this film the first time, what really struck me were two scenes in particular; the first obscene phone call scene and of course, the famous peeking eyeball through the doorway whispering to Jess (Olivia Hussey). There are many other scenes of terror to experience, but watching those scenes in a dark room in the middle of the night made parts of me shiver that I didn’t know could. The first scene masterfully puts you in the role of the girls experiencing the obscene phone call. The camera pans around to the faces of the ladies in the room and shows the fear this obscenity laden call causes them. This sets the stage of how invasive this terror really is and males who watch it are given a glimpse of how horrifying this type of verbal assault really can be like. This first encounter with “Billy” solidifies how crazy and dangerous this person really is and knowing that he has just slipped into the house through the attic window, we know how close these girls are to the creep.
This is one of many scenes that are shot with an eye more talented that one often finds helming a slasher film. The beautifully shot scene of Jess watching the carolers out front of the house interspersed with the violent death of Barb (Margot Kidder) is edited so well, I’d put it right up there with the PSYCHO shower scene in terms of shock and effectiveness. Other fantastic transitions such as the use of sound to segue into another scene are often used as well. When a body is found in the park, the mother opens her mouth to scream, but instead of a scream, it is replaced with the ringing of a telephone. The phone is often the source of terror here and the volume and pitch of the ring seems to intensify as the film goes on to a piercing level by the end of the film. All of these little details add up to making this one of the better thought out slashers you’ll ever see.
The fact that the killer is never revealed once again makes BLACK CHRISTMAS unique. Most of the time when the mask comes off, it’s one of the cast members who has been around the whole time. That isn’t really all that horrifying. Here we never see the whole face of “Billy” while adds to the mystique of it all. There are red herrings tossed about. Both boyfriends of the girls (Art Hindle and Kier Dullea) could be suspects as they often seem to be absent when the killings are taken place. Dullea’s Peter is particularly unhinged as he slams a music stand into the strings of his piano (a sound extremely similar to the moody piano clangs we hear all through the rest of the film). Hindle’s Chris is another one who could be the killer as he appears and disappears, seems to have a weirdly noble familiarity with Jess, and that giant fur coat he wears screams unhinged serial murderer. But alas, in the end, we never do get to see the face of the killer, making it all the more ominous.
Another reason Peter became a suspect is the subplot of abortion as Jess plans to abort the baby she has, despite Peter wanting her to keep it. This plot point is important as it offers the first clue that misleads the police to think Peter is the killer and also that the killer is in the house listening to the girls’ conversations when the caller repeats the creepy line “Just like having a wart removed.” – a line Peter says to Jess earlier. This also shows how Bob Clark flips the script even before the final girl template was created by having the virginal girl killed first and the one who had sex be the actual last lady.
But in actuality, it makes sense that “Billy” saves Jess for last after hearing she is pregnant. All you have to do is listen to the rantings in his phone calls closely and you’ll piece together a confession by the caller about a young boy (Billy) given the responsibility to watch his younger sister (Agnes), only to burn and drown the baby in the bathtub. “Billy” even calls the pregnant Jess “Agnes” throughout the film, suggesting that he is going to save the baby as he did many years ago (saving meaning killing in Billy’s twisted world). The multiple voices Billy hears and vocalizes indicate that this is an event which scarred him deeply and seems to be the root of his psychosis. All of this isn’t really explained to the viewer in a clunky exposition a la PSYCHO. Just as Bob Clark leaves out an unmasking at the end, he also leaves out “Billy’s” MO, so you have to piece it together through the bizarre phone calls in which Billy channels himself at a younger age, his sister Agnes, and his shocked parents who find him with the dead baby. Presenting his story in this way makes for a much more iconic and creepy way of getting to know your killer.
BLACK CHRISTMAS isn’t a perfect film by a long shot. It’s got some of the most annoyingly bad humor sprinkled throughout that you’re ever going to see. While humor often serves as a release in these films to deal with the buildup of tension, the scenes with the bumbling cops and the overuse of the house mother (Marian Waldman) and her constant quest to find her hidden booze in the house really does serve as a detriment to the film itself in the long run. I wish there was an edit of this film without those scenes in it as they really do piss in the punchbowl of a particularly fantastic blend of horror film.
Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder are fantastic here. Hussey is the perfectly flawed, but sincere lead. While I can’t say I understand her choice of sweaters (the one with the hands across her breasts surely would be the gold medal winner at any ugly sweater party), she really does make her character complex here as someone who doesn’t want to be tied down with a child at this point in her life, but still is sympathetic to Peter, who wants the child. Kidder is equally amazing as the acerbic Barb. Drunk for most of the film, there’s a wily wit and unpredictability to her that feels like she really might have been drunk for this film. The no fucks given way she shambles around the house, offending strangers and friends alike, is classic.
An amazing cast, unique killer, a classic urban legend, and some fantastic stylistic choices by Bob Clark make BLACK CHRISTMAS one of the more unique horror films you’ll ever see. BLACK CHRISTMAS does a fantastic job of juxtaposing some of the best holiday traditions like caroling, Christmas décor, and home for the holidays feelings with the feeling of sheer terror.
This Collector’s Set is something I will be visiting and revisiting every holiday. Not only do we get commentaries by Bob Clark, but this two-disk set also includes commentaries by Kier Dullea and John Saxton. There’s also a super-odd commentary from Nick Mancuso playing Billy which gets a little annoying after a while, but still is a lot of fun. The disks also include interviews with Art Hindle, Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, John Saxton, and Bob Clark, a featurette focusing on the legacy of BLACK CHRISTMAS, a behind the scenes documentary, and revisit to the classic film after 40 years with key interviews, and an alternative title sequence, and tons more gifts to offer making this the ultimate BLACK CHRISTMAS edition. No BLACK CHRISTMAS fan should be without this one.
If you like what I write above, help me out and buy it on Amazon here!!!
THE COUNTDOWN SO FAR…
#13 – THE HORROR NETWORK V.1 “Merry Little Christmas” segment
#12 – STALLED
#11 – CUENTO DE NAVIDAD
#10 – A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY
#9 – THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER
#8 – TALES FROM THE CRYPT 1972 “And All Through the House…” segment
#7 – THE CHILDREN
#6 – SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT
#5 – BETTER WATCH OUT
#4 – SILENT NIGHT BLOODY NIGHT
#3 – KRAMPUS
#2 – INSIDE
#1 – BLACK CHRISTMAS
M.L. Miller goes by many names—Ambush Bug, Mark L. Miller, hey you jerk over there! He’s an original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow Mark on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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