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Horror Education of the Week: ‘Black Christmas’

“Agnes, it’s me, Billy…”

Director Bob Clark is best known for the classic A Christmas Story. Some may also know that he directed another holiday film years before. Black Christmas.

After unknowingly being stalked during a Christmas party, a house full of sorority girls receive a series of harassing phone calls. Major creepiness ensues and the girls are picked off one by one. While the killer is never given a clear motive for his actions, there is one theme that threads the entire movie together.

Starring Olivia Hussey as Jess, Margot Kidder as Barb and Andrea Martin as Phyl, Black Christmas was shot in Toronto and first released in October of 1974. The title was changed multiple times including Stranger In The House and Silent Night, Evil Night. Black Christmas also predated most slasher flicks and the use of point of view shots as the killer.

Black Christmas is said to be based on real murders that occurred in Quebec around Christmas time, however a search for these murders leads to little detail.

The movie is more than likely solely based on the Babysitter and the Man Upstairs urban legend.This urban legend originated in the early 1960s. The concept behind it being the idea of girls transitioning to womanhood and the responsibilities of taking care of children. Babysitting is like a dress rehearsal for motherhood and the idea of being too self absorbed can lead to failing. This is played out in the urban legend as the killer, who is usually hiding upstairs and calling from within the house, consistently asks “Have you checked the children?” The girl has not, as she believes they are simply prank calls, and fails in her duty, later discovering the children dead. Though the legend varies, the girl normally falls victim herself.

While Black Christmas does not revolve around babysitting, the aspects of motherhood are seen throughout. The concept of the failure of this dress rehearsal and growing up to be proper women is definitely easy to point out.

Our first victim, Clare, is going against her father’s wishes and running around with her boyfriend. An adult make believe that would lead her to womanhood. The fact that she is suffocated can also be seen as a metaphor as her father is always on her tail, trying to see what her every move is. Clare is placed in a rocking chair by the window and a doll is placed in her lap – a very maternal display.

Mrs. Mac, the sorority house mother, is a drunk, neglecting her children at every turn she can have a drink. She is also careless with her cat, Claude, who wanders through the house and happens upon Clare’s dead body in the attic.

Barb herself is a drinker and also implies through her words and actions that she’s promiscuous and loose. She blatantly propositions a cop who simply is unaware of the word ‘fellatio’. Her own mother is unreliable. Barb is reckless and perhaps this is why she, too, falls victim.

Jess is the last victim, or so it seems as the credits roll, and is the easiest to see in terms of failure in motherhood. Jess is pregnant and wants to have an abortion. She is harassed by the killer, who refers to himself as Billy, on the phone where he speaks in ramblings. Yet Billy makes an obvious point to Jess with one of his statements, insinuating that her aborting the baby seems to be as simple as removing a wart.

Billy is not free from this concept, either. He is stalking women and refers to ‘Agnes’. Either it is the simple ramblings of a lunatic or perhaps Billy once upon a time had a hardship with Agnes. Who Agnes is exactly – and who Billy is – is never explained. There is something, however, the two have done that Billy insists cannot be discovered. He is also overly concerned about a baby, which again leads right back to the concept of motherhood throughout the film – and the failure to take the role seriously. He is also very angry with the ladies in the house and is vile and crude in reference to their lady parts.

Side Note: The name Billy, from William, means ‘protection’ while Agnes means ‘pure and holy’.

The last part of this puzzle could be overlooked yet it is right there in your face. The film is set at Christmas. The birth of Christ can be seen in parallel to Billy’s rampage. Both are meant to give a sense of redemption. Billy is ridding the world of sinners, just like Christ absolving sin. Yet the major part of Black Christmas being set when it is ties directly back to motherhood. Christmas and Jesus Christ’s birth was a simple transition for his mother Mary – who is said to be very young in the Bible when giving birth – from a child to a mother.




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