A murderer hides in the attic of a sorority house, killing girls who have not gone home for christmas, and making obscene telephone calls.
It's hard to believe this film was made four years before the hugely influential Halloween (1978) which it shares so many elements with. It's a well written piece, which uses some interesting photography and lighting to create great tension. We get murderer point-of-view shots, unusual camera angles and perspectives, and even a very creepy slow pan towards the end. Piano strings with small things tied to them provide the dramatic music. And the almost inhuman-sounding voice in the phone calls is probably the most frightening I've ever heard in a movie. The calls are made all the more unsettling by the camera holding its focus on the facial reactions of the person listening, as we hear the call.
There are a couple of decent jump scares, and of course some violence, but the most frightening thing in the movie is the atmosphere it creates. The coloured lights and paraphernalia of Christmas seem lurid and sinister, rather than cheerful. The first victim's plastic-wrapped corpse, staring down unnoticed from the attic window, is a disturbing and haunting image. And the unusual technique of cutting between scenes of high drama is used, which is effectively disorientating. For example a character screaming suddenly cuts to a telephone ringing, and a vicious stabbing cuts to the high pitched singing of carol singers.
The film builds slowly, which allows us to get to know the characters more. This makes the killings all the more shocking. However, at no point does the story drag or feel boring. Incidentally, most of the gore is off camera, but this certainly doesn't detract from its impact.
For such a dark, creepy film, there is a surprising amount of humour running through it. Characters such as the alcoholic house mother, and the outspoken Barb, provide some welcome comic relief at times.
It's no surprise that Black Christmas has gained a cult following in recent years. It's a well directed and well acted horror thriller, and even features a final unsettling twist. I totally enjoyed watching it, and feel it has stood the test of time well, considering it is almost 40 years old. 5/5