Warner Bros. went all out to promote the holiday horror masterpiece.
Forty-two years ago, director Bob Clark unknowingly kick-started the slasher sub-genre with Black Christmas, originally released in Canada in October of 1974. The film was subsequently picked up by Warner Bros. for release here in the states, debuting in theaters on December 20th of that year. The Canadian slasher grossed several times its $620,000 budget at the box office, pulling in an estimated $4,035,000. A success by any definition of the term, Black Christmas went on to become revered as one of the most important and influential horror movies ever made.
But like all films, Black Christmas had to first be marketed in an alluring enough way to generate interest and put asses in the seats. An original film that used the most joyful holiday of the year as the springboard for a foul-mouthed horror show, Clark’s seminal slasher certainly wasn’t for everyone, and Warner Bros. got very creative in an effort to connect with the target audience.
As outlined in the film’s original press book, the marketing campaign for Black Christmas was highly imaginative and unique for the time. To generate initial interest, Warner Bros. set up a bank of automatic telephone answering machines that played a pre-recorded message for each caller, from Billy, and the number was promoted with a series of ads in newspapers and press outlets.
The interactive approach to promoting Black Christmas continued on the beaches and streets of Los Angeles, where the film was actually released in August, 1975. That summer, young men were dressed up as Santa Claus and tasked with handing out advertisements and buttons out of sacks adorned with the movie’s title and release date, which must’ve been a strange sight in August.
An even stranger sight? Warner Bros. literally took to the skies to promote Black Christmas. Believe it or not, they hired skywriters to write the aforementioned telephone number in the skies above southern California, which was coupled with the mysterious text “Obscene phone call?” The skywriters did their thing at the same time the Santas were canvassing high-traffic areas, making for a summer spectacle that no doubt got people talking and piqued interest in the film.
Of course, much of the promotion for Black Christmas was done in theaters, where various props and posters were put on display for movie-goers to see. In some theaters, wreaths were hung up with black cardboard bows on them that read “It’s going to be a Black Christmas,” and in other theaters, dummies were set up in rocking chairs and placed in the lobbies. The chairs, equipped with electric motors, rocked back and forth continuously throughout the day. The dummies had plastic bags over their heads, and the displays essentially brought the film’s poster art to life.
Another important part of the pre-release campaign was a series of eight teaser advertisements that were taken out in newspapers, one per day leading into the release date. The ads, featuring cartoony artwork that depicted various holiday icons getting the proverbial (and sometimes literal) axe, counted down the days until Black Christmas hit theaters, and they were nothing if not eye-catching. One of the ads even paid homage to Jaws, which at the time (summer 1975) was setting the summer box office on fire. You can check out all eight of the humorous ads below.
Paid tweets and promoted Facebook posts just aren’t as fun, eh?