Nine years before directing the sleeper classic, "A Christmas Story" filmmaker Bob Clark gave us the groundbreaking thriller, Black Christmas. Written by Roy Moore, the film is loosely based on a series of murders that occurred in Canada around the Christmas holiday. The film itself is also widely considered in many circles be the first slasher film of it's kind. It predates horror classics like "Carpenter's Halloween" with it's use of the killer POV camera and the obscene phone call/killer in the house motif later used in "When a Stranger Calls".

The girls of Phi Kappa Sigma are celebrating at their nearly empty sorority house at the start of Christmas break. Due to the joyous seasonal festivities and the absence of many of it's occupants a deranged killer manages to sneak into an unlocked door and takes residence in their attic. Shortly after they are plagued by a series of obscene phone calls (voiced partially by Clark himself). When an inebriated Barb (Margot Kidder) has had enough, she grabs the receiver and gives the caller some of his own medicine. He responds with a simply chilling, “I'm going to kill you.” We can see in Barb's eyes that part of her believes him and so should you.

He soon begins to make good on his promise with first victim "townie" Claire (Lynne Griffith). Her disappearance goes unnoticed at first, as it is thought she had gone home for the break. This is until her father arrives saying that she never showed up for her ride home. The girls become concerned and call the police who don't take it seriously and suggest she's probably "shacking up" with her boyfriend. The other remaining sorority sisters then contact her boyfriend Chris (Art Hindle) who is quickly on the case. Soon another girl is reported missing and when Claire's boyfriend and father show up at the station to raise hell about the lax attitude of the police a clever officer named Lt. Fuller (John Saxon) begins to connect the dots. But is he's too late? The terror is already too close to home.

The subplot involves Jess (Olivia Hussey) informing her piano prodigy boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea) that she is pregnant with their child. He immediately thinks he can solve the situation by marrying Jess and making an honest woman of her. She responds to this by letting him know that not only does she not want him, she doesn't want their child. She feels they're too young and she still has things she wants to do with her life. This sends Peter into a downward spiral leading him to blow his scholarship and drop out of school.

Clark's film makes the sorority house feel like an endless maze of hallways and bedrooms, seemingly an easy place for a stranger to lurk in the dark. The murders aren't bloody or graphic but they're tough to watch. The films ending is left open and is quite disturbing itself. The cast is rounded out with great performances by a pre-SCTV Andrea Martin, Doug Mcgrath as the bumbling officer Nash and the very funny Marian Waldman as the perpetually drunk housemother Mrs. Mac.

The film did well upon it's release in Canada and later in the US. It was once aired in primetime on NBC and was retitled as “Stranger in the House” but was later deemed "too scary for television" and was pulled off the air. It's as violent and sometimes vulgar a film as it is quirky and funny. The film never gets to dark or tense without a little well needed and well placed comic relief. It's a tough balance to find and Clark seems to do it with ease.It has gained a devoted cult following over the years and is in my opinion essential albeit twisted holiday viewing.

I'll leave you with a tale of unexpected Black Christmas devotion that makes me smile. As one story goes, Hussey was up for the title role in the movie "Roxanne". During a meeting with Steve Martin he told her that she was in one of his favorite movies. Hussey assumed it was her critically praised performance in Romeo and Juliet but to her surprise Martin said, “No, Black Christmas, I've seen it over 20 times."





So on Christmas Day when you're watching A Christmas Story for 24 hours straight remember Bob Clark's other Christmas classic and be sure to check your attic.