Black Christmas (1974) is a frightening masterpiece of a slasher, if you could really call it one. Though it holds the conventions of a slasher, it still very much holds itself up as a home invasion film.
Going into Black Christmas, I was definitely expecting a traditional slasher, something fun and campy, but that is not what this film is at all. Black Christmas is terrifying and I am still feeling chills and anxiety walking around my apartment, not sure if the unknown killer is still at large. Least of all, I was expecting this film to end with a cliffhanger, with the identity of the killer still a mystery. The movie is ultimately unforgiving, reveling in its violence and refusal to reveal the killer or his backstory.
The mysterious killer, never seen, but given the name “Billy” is an Every Man in the worst way possible. He is the epitome of the man who gets away with violence, which makes the film even more terrifying in a very real way.
The plot is a general setup of a slasher, though this comes before the making of Halloween, so tropes of the genre have yet to be established. It takes place at Christmastime at a college sorority house. The sisters have been getting mysterious and disturbing phone calls from an anonymous source who goes on and on about inflicting violence upon a woman named Agnes. We never find out who Agnes is, but based on the rest of the context clues from the film, the caller definitely has Mommy Issues, which only becomes more apparent as time goes on.
The first killed is Clare, who is strangled in plastic and set in a rocking chair right next to the window, eventually holding a baby doll. The setup of her corpse is gruesome, chilling, and suggests that the only place where a woman belongs is as a mother. Taking into consideration the general assumptions about sororities being associated with wealth, promiscuity, and a culture of partying, our Billy condemns the women for their choices to live outside of patriarchal norms.
The killer is not the only one who does this, however, in fact, the film’s other main man Peter is the final suspect of the mystery that the detectives get wrong. Peter is the boyfriend of sorority girl Jess, who reveals to him that she is pregnant with his child and is going to get an abortion. Peter does not accept her decision and threatens her repeatedly if she is to go through with her decision. Due to this behavior, he is thought to be the person responsible for the suspicious calls, as well as the person responsible for the disappearance of Clare.
After the murders of the rest of the sorority sisters, Jess is left as our Final Girl coward underneath the house as Peter breaks in and makes a go at her. She kills him with a fire poker and the cops believe that their case has been solved, saying they always knew it was the boyfriend.
But alas it was not.
The film ends with a haunting panned shot over the remainder of the rooms of the sorority house, ending with the camera making its way up to the attic where we see Clare still in her chair and the sorority mother who was killed by Billy with a hook, all with the continued muttering of Billy. Peter is not Billy and Peter’s death was not a solution in ending the violence against women.
Billy mutters on some horrifying language about Agnes once again, ending the film with the sentiment that though we never see his face, Billy’s intentions of punishing women are perfectly clear. Whatever happened with Agnes is the catalyst for his crimes, and these same sentiments are universal when it comes to men who kill women.
The misogyny that exists inside Peter and Billy, though not the same exact reasoning for their behavior, stems from the same place. Some woman did something that a man did not approve of and to maintain control, the man must resort to violence. Jess is going to have an abortion and refuses Peter’s marriage proposal, taking control of her body and giving herself the opportunity to live the future she desires. He feels attacked by these actions, stating that he gave up his dreams of being a composer for their future together, forcing a path on Jess that she never indicated that she wanted. He gaslights her and makes her feel guilty for making her own decisions, which is violence in itself.
Both Peter and Billy have it out for women who refuse to live within the confines of patriarchal expectations and violence in the only way they can forcefully get them to oblige.
It also needs to be said: all hail Jess, the Final Girl who believes in abortion as a human right.