Black Christmas (1974)

98m, 8766 feet
35mm, filmed in Panavision, Technicolor, 1.37:1 [negative ratio], 1.85:1 [intended ratio]
mono, English

A Canadian horror film directed by Bob Clark. Pre-dating John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) by four years, it established many of the tropes of the film cycle of the 1980s.

Plot Summary

During break, the girls of a college sorority house are preparing to return to their families. But they are subjected to a stream of abusive and scary phone calls – then one of them disappears and the don't seem overly bothered. But when a body turns up in the park, they finally take notice – but will they get to the killer before he strikes again, and how many victims has he already claimed?


Directed by: Bob Clark
© Film Funding 1974
Produced in cooperation with Canadian Film Development Corporation and Famous Players
Executive Producer: Findlay Quinn
Produced by: Bob Clark
Screen Play: Roy Moore
Director of Photography: Reg Morris
Editor: Stan Cole
Music by: Carl Zittrer
Soundman: Rod Haykin
Wardrobe: Debi Weldon
Make Up: Bill Morgan
Hairdresser: David Beecroft
Art Director: Karen Bromley

Olivia Hussey (Jess Bradford)
Keir Dullea (Peter)
Margot Kidder (Barb)
Marion Waldman (Mrs Mac)
Andrea Martin (Phyl)
Art Hindle (Chris)
James Edmond (Mr Harrison)
Lynne Griffin (Clare Harrison)
Douglas McGrath (Sergeant Nash)
Michael Rapport (Patrick)
John Saxon (Lieutenant Fuller)
Les Carlson (Graham)
Martha Gibson (Mrs Quaife)
John Rutter (laughing detective)
Robert Warner (doctor)

Alternative Titles

Det er morderen som ringer – Norway
Jessy – Die Treppe in den Tod – Germany
Musta joulu – Finland
Un natale rosso sangue – Italy
Silent Night, Evil Night
Stilla natt, blodiga natt
– Sweden
Stranger in the House
– USA (television)

Black Christmas (2006)
Black Christmas (2019)

Extracts included in
Mad Ron's Prevues from Hell (1987)


Variety 16 October 1974 p.16
Black Christmas, a foul-mouthed, bloody, senseless kill-for-kicks feature exploits unnecessary violence in a university sorority house operated by an implausibly alcoholic ex-hoofer. If it was made to play less discriminating situations, Black Christmas will succeed, but if its aim is to run anywhere else the venture can be marked as a failure. […] Severely trimmed, Black Christmas may find violence-seeking audiences in drive-in situations. Production values are lame, what with alternating good and dismal sound, and occasional out of focus shots. Only Marian Waldman as the house mother comes across with any life. Keir Dullea, as the psycho nut, has little to do but cry a little and smash up a piano. The only relief is in a scene where a dumb policeman takes down a telephone number which the constantly-swearing Margot Kidder tells him begins with the exchange, “Fellatio,” and he accepts it without question. Even the ending is confused. After the killer is finally done in, there is an indication that another senseless murder has taken place out of camera range. Black Christmas does no one connected with it proud. It has tension, but that of an artificial nature. None of the characters is given any real life, and without that audiences won't care. The language is raw, and the only thing missing from this ponderous effort is sex. – from a review by Adil

Monthly Film Bulletin vol.42 no.501 (October 1975) p.217
Even though it sets itself no greater task than to permutate a collection of hoary suspense devices, Black Christmas is a well turned out thriller that rises above its material in much the same way as the similar Blind Terror. Present, once again, are the noises in the attic, the subjective camera playing the part of the psychopath, and the climactic retreat to the basement; but these elements are strung together with a keen awareness of their potential and a total lack of pretension by director Robert Clark, and the killer's periodic telephone calls (which consist of demented babbling and menagerie grunts and barks) are genuinely chilling. A more elegantly groomed production would have dispensed with some of the light relief, which becomes a mite indulgent in places: there is almost a sense of relief when the jovial, drunken char meets her doom in reel three. But as it is, one's nerves are effectively teased by Black Christmas, if not racked.” – from a review by David McGillivray

Films Illustrated vol.5 no.51 (November 1975) pp.104-105
Robert Clark's sorry shocker (it relies for its rating more on verbal extremities than visual horror) disobeys every rule of the genre, even using the subjective camera that represents a murderer, as a red herring. Finally, and fatally, it fails even to identify the killer. One effective shock moment notwithstanding, there is little compensation – certainly not from Olivia Hussey's lacklustre heroine, nor Keir Dullea's ambiguous music student, nor yet Margot Kidder's permanently inebriated sourpuss. That inept exploitation films such as this can be made with government monies is one of the astonishing irregularities of a country is which original film talents have to struggle to get themselves on celluloid. – from a review by D.C. [David Castell]

Films and Filming vol.22 no.3 (December 1975) pp.30-31
After well over an hour-and-a-half of extremely well-maintained, indeed virtually unremitting, suspense I staggered out from Black Christmas with a sudden sense of anti-climax, to enquire of the usherette, who, presumably had been seeing at least sections of the film three times daily for a week, if she could tell me the identity of the killer. ‘Oh, no,' she replied, ‘I haven't been able to look at it – it's much too scarey.' So I was driven back to the synopsis, to discover that I had not been mistaken over what, to me personally, was the most unsatisfying denouèment in a lifetime of filmgoing. Since then I've thought the matter over repeatedly, and reached the conclusion that it is also one of the most subtle, or perhaps cleverest is a more apposite word for a film whose effects rely almost entirely on shoch tactics rather than subtlety. The usherette's assessment was, in fact, the highest commedation the film could have, from a cinema professional whose reaction could reasonably be expected to border on the blasé. […] In a minor league this is a thriller which really achieves its aims, and the psychopath's phone calls are genuinely horrific. As for the ending: devotees of the genre must see Black Christmas to make up their own minds. A brilliant title, incidentally. – from an illustrated review by Eric Braun

Empire no.176 (February 2004) p.135
Fascinating as opposed to wholly enjoyable, Bob Clark's sorority house slasher is largely gore-free, but bolsters the anaemia with a genuinely disturbing tone. The fascinating part is how well it lives up to its reputation as ‘the film that inspired Halloween‘, with its holiday theme, dying teens and killer's POV the clearest connections. Post-Scream it's often clunkily clichéd, but horror fans will delight in spotting precisely how much it has been ripped off ever since. – from a review (Rwd by MD [Mark Dinning])



  • Cinema Canada no.17 (December 1974-January 1975) p.78 (Canada) – note (Canada Report by Jack Ammon)
  • CinemaTV Today no.10096 (17 August 1974) p.12 – note
  • Empire no.176 (February 2004) p.135 – DVD review (RWD by MD [Mark Dinning])
  • Fangoria no.159 (1 January 1997) pp.13-19 – illustrated interview with Bob Clark (I'm dreaming of a Black Christmas by Keith Bearden)
  • Fangoria no.186 (September 1999) p.59 – illustrated DVD review (DVD and laser spotlight by Michael Gingold)
  • Fangoria no.201 (April 2001) p.67 – illustrated DVD review (Black Christmas by Michael Gingold)
  • Films and Filming vol.22 no.3 (December 1975) pp.30-31 – illustrated review (by Eric Braun)
  • Films Illustrated vol.5 no.51 (November 1975) pp.104-105 – credits, review (by D.C. [David Castell])
  • The Hollywood Reporter vol.236 no.27 (21 May 1975) p.11 – credits, review (by Charles Ryweck)
  • Monthly Film Bulletin vol.42 no.501 (October 1975) p.217 – credits, synopsis, review (by David McGillivray)
  • New Canadian Film no.29/30 (February/March 1975) p.26 – review
  • Psychotronic no.16 pp.52-53 – review
  • Radio Times 23 December 2000-5 January 2001 pp.53 – credits
  • Screen International no.3 (20 September 1975) p.15 – credits, synopsis, review (by Marjorie Bilbow)
  • Séquences no.80 (April 1975) pp.26-27 – review
  • Sight & Sound vol.14 no.3 (March 2004) p.75 – DVD review (Home movies: reviews by Matthew Leyland)
  • Variety 16 October 1974 p.16 – credits, review (by Adil)


  • Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror (2nd edition) pp.288-289 – credits, review
  • Creature Features Movie Guide Strikes Back by John Stanley p.44 – credits, review
  • Educational Institutions in Horror Film: A History of Mad Professors, Student Bodies, and Final Exams by Andrew L. Grunzke pp.118, 124-126, 168
  • English Gothic: A Century of Horror Cinema by Jonathan Rigby pp.270
  • Film Review 1976-1977 by F. Maurice Speed p.161
  • Hoffman's Guide to SF, Horror and Fantasy 1991-1992 p.44 – credits, review
  • Horror and Science Fiction Films II by Donald C. Willis p.33 – credits
  • Horror Films by Subgenre: A Viewer's Guide by Chris Vander Kaay and Kathleen Fernandez-Vander Kaay pp.99-100
  • Horror Films of the 1970s by John Kenneth Muir pp.313-316 – credits, synopsis, review
  • Retro Screams: Terror in the New Millennium by Christopher T. Koetting pp.306-315; 378 – illustrated essay; credits