(NOTE: This is more of a "Collins' Crypt" type of piece I just didn't have anywhere to post as the sites I write for already have plenty of Black Christmas material. So you get an off-brand piece here. You're welcome.)

Jess: “Clare Harrison is missing. I was out with the search party looking for her.”
Peter: “How noble.”

Let’s get something out of the way here: Keir Dullea’s Peter is NOT the killer in Black Christmas, despite the well intentioned efforts to make us think he is. If you want to assume he is and that the phone ringing at the end of the film is just a coincidental phone call (perhaps Mrs. Mac’s sister calling, wondering where she is), that’s fine! Ease your troubled mind! But as careful viewers – and/or those who go through the dozen hours of bonus features on Scream Factory’s deluxe 4K UHD blu-ray - can attest, Peter cannot be the killer, as we see Billy’s shadow on the wall watching him and Jess have their discussion about the abortion.

He is, however, the biggest jerk in slasher history, and honestly Jess wasn't any safer with him than she was with Billy.

Much has been made of the 1974 film’s rather progressive politics, with Jess not only making the decision to abort her child without considering his opinion on the matter (nor should she, if that’s unclear), but flat out calling it an “abortion”, instead of using the more subtle language that is still prevalent today. As I myself have noted earlier (I’ve written about this movie a lot over the past 15 years or so!*), Jess and the other women in the film almost seem to be written as a response to the “sex = death” motif that’s so popular in slasher movies, which is of course impossible since the film came along before any of the standards (Halloween, Friday the 13th, etc) that popularized that cliché. It’s not impossible to believe that the film’s increased popularity over the years isn’t because of its scares or setting or any of that, but because its forward-thinking attitude regarding its female characters simply makes it more interesting than one might expect.

But the men are pretty fascinating too in their own way. Again, Peter is not the killer, but if he was that’d just be yet another red flag against him in an already overflowing list. The above exchange is a perfect example of how much of a monster he is; even if he wasn’t fond of Clare for whatever reason, what kind of jackass mocks his girlfriend for being worried about a missing friend? When he calls Jess earlier in the film and she laments that he wasn’t able to join the party, he could have easily just said “I know, it sucks” even if he didn’t mean it (anyone who has ever been in a relationship has likely offered a similar disingenous response to “unfortunately” missing out on a spouse’s work party or something that they were actually happy to miss), but instead he jumps down her throat, eliciting an apology out of her for not being considerate of why he missed it, as if she was actually complaining that he wasn’t there. Even if you ignore the horrible way he acts toward her regarding the abortion, he still pretty much deserves what he got at the end of the movie.

Luckily he’s the only male that is closer to villain than hero. On the other end of the personality spectrum is Art Hindle’s Chris, who spends the entire movie looking for Clare, a rather sad character arc when we know she’s dead the entire time. Unlike Peter, he seems like a genuinely good guy (if Barb is correct, Clare isn’t even sleeping with him, so if he was anything like Peter he’d probably just be glad for the easy out and find a Townie to shack up with instead), and is quick to make sure the cops actually do something about finding her, joining the girls (and keeping them warm!) during the freezing nighttime search. Hell, he even goes out of her way to meet her dad (another memorable scene-stealer), and it’s kind of sad that both men end the movie still not sure what happened to her – one wonders how long it took for the cops to finally check the attic and discover her body. Apparently, the film’s producers wanted Bob Clark to shoot an ending that revealed Chris was the killer (even more impossible than the idea that it was Peter – Billy’s POV includes Chris leaving the party in the first scene!), which would have been a cliché – “it was the nice guy!”. So without that dumb note being implemented, we have another rarity for the slasher genre: the actual nice guy who isn’t the lead’s boyfriend nor is he killed.

It's also the rare slasher where the cop is sympathetic and competent. Even still relatively early in his career, John Saxon was the kind of guy who commanded your attention just as soon as he walked into the room, but he’s not a hardass or antagonistic presence like, say, Sheriff Garris in Friday the 13th Part 6 or even Saxon’s own character in the Elm Street movies, who was incredulous/disbelieving of his own daughter. Instead he quickly admonishes his deputy for not taking the girls seriously, gets their phone tapped, leads the search party in the park, starts looking into Peter as a possible suspect (who can blame him?), etc - all in about 12 hours! (One thing about the film that’s often overlooked is that it takes place in a 24 hour period, another thing that makes Peter’s guilt all but impossible due to his conservatory duties.) True, he doesn’t actually catch the killer in the end, but it’s not for a lack of trying, and he seems genuinely concerned for the girls instead of doing the typical thing of chalking their fears up to paranoia or whatever.

Even the smaller parts are memorable. Phyl’s foul mouthed boyfriend is a hoot, a man who clearly hates kids being forced to play – I always lament he didn’t pop up again somewhere. Then there’s the two weird guys who are on the neighborhood watch, popping in like Bob and Doug Mackenzie just stopped by to see their SCTV pal Andrea Martin. And while the movie is not a comedy, few things in the world make me laugh as hard as the “New exchange?” scene, thanks mostly to Saxon’s fellow detective, who spends the entire scene just full on cackling at Nash’s stupidity (“Something dirty, ain’t it?”) and his delight at watching Saxon deal with it. Indeed, the character is billed as “Laughing Detective”, as if they knew giving him a name would be pointless since that’s how he’d be referred to anyway.

So while the film is first and foremost a women-centric film, and a great one at that, it was no slouch in the male department either (something both remakes missed entirely, though at least their anonymity and dullness was part of the point of the 2019 one). These gents – and scoundrels – really add to the film’s almost unprecedented number of memorable characters in a slasher, where even the folks who only appear in a scene or two manage to stick in your memory in some way. Normally a “body count” film like this only bothers to include people who will meet the business end of a knife or machete, but Black Christmas sports over a dozen women and men to worry about while keeping the body count to a mere six (including the never seen girl in the park, and Peter himself). Truly a Christmas miracle.

*Ironically, the very first thing I ever wrote for Bloody Disgusting was a review of the remake, and it was also around that time that I did an email interview with Bob Clark for the site, so I’ve basically been writing about Billy and Agnes for my entire writing career.

1 comment:

  1. Wouldn't the body count be 8 if you count Jess and her unborn baby?


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