Academic journal article CineAction

Black Christmas: The Slasher Film Was Made in Canada

Academic journal article CineAction

Black Christmas: The Slasher Film Was Made in Canada

Article excerpt

Contrary to popular belief, John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) is not the first incarnation of the modern-day slasher film. That honour belongs to the small Canadian production Black Christmas (1974). This relatively unknown film is responsible for a genre that Informed dozens of Hollywood imitations and continues to be a popular part of contemporary cinema. Black Christmas is an example of how the formulaic nature of genre cinema does not necessarily restrict a filmmaker's means of political and national expression, because this film reflects a Canadian sensibility that doesn't exist in its Hollywood counterparts. That an influential cinematic genre originated with a Canadian film challenges the assumption that genre cinema opposes national cinema, and the constant exchange between cultural texts means that Canadian cinema can impact an institution as dominant as Hollywood.

Black Christmas--a low-budget Canadian horror film directed by Bob Clark--follows a group of co-eds during the days leading up to their Christmas holidays. While living in a sorority house, these women repeatedly receive threatening phone calls and are eventually murdered by a man named Billy, whose true identity is never determined. This film takes place during a holiday, foregrounds the killer's subjective point of view, and features adolescent female victims stalked by a deranged male predator--all characteristics typically associated with the slasher film (1). Subjective camerawork is prevalent; the camera is often restricted to Billy's point of view so that his body remains hidden. The film begins with an extended sequence in which a shaky camera approaches the sorority house, accompanied by Billy's heavy breathing. The camera voyeuristically peers through an open window obscured by curtains, and we see male hands reach up to climb a trellis and scale the house. We see through Billy's eyes throughout the film, especially when he is killing the girls. Another slasher trope established in this film is the Final Girl. In virtually all slasher films there is a female character who knows what is going on, resists the killer's attacks, and survives until the end of the film. (2) Jess is such a character in Black Christmas.

John Carpenter's Halloween was released four years after Black Christmas, but it is often recognized as the first slasher filing (3). Because it was so successful, its stylistic and narrative choices were imitated and developed by later Hollywood films. While Halloween did not necessarily copy Black Christmas, it gets the credit for starting the slasher tropes found in the earlier film. Carpenter's film also follows a group of adolescents, overwhelmingly female, who are killed by a psychotic male named Michael. It uses a subjective camera to reflect the first-person perspective of the killer, most prominently in its opening sequence that bears a striking resemblance to the opening of Black Christmas. Halloween begins with a long take from the killer's perspective, effectively concealing his Identity. The camera peers in the windows of a suburban home before entering the house. Next we see a long-sleeved hand grab a knife and murder the film's first victim. Halloween also features a Final Girl, Laurie, who is hyper-aware, fights off the killer's repeated attacks, and survives until the end of the film.

There are significant differences between these two horror films, and even Bob Clark does not think Carpenter is guilty of plagiarism, as indicated by his interview on the 2002 DVD release of his film. However, he does acknowledge that his film influenced Carpenter's production. In the same interview he recalls a conversation he had with Carpenter in which he described a possible sequel to Black Christmas; this purely hypothetical films would have taken place during Halloween of the next year, and Billy would have broken out of a mental institution to resume his stalking of the sorority house. In Halloween, Michael escapes from a mental Institution to return to his former home and stalk those he associates with it. …

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