Black Christmas: The constant cycle of Misogyny and Violence toward Women

By Reyna Cervantes

Christmas time is always one of the most emotional times of the year. It brings joy, happiness, and jolly good cheer. But it can also bring other emotions too: pain, sorrow, fear. In Bob Clark’s 1974 slasher masterpiece “Black Christmas”, these emotions are all brought to the forefront in very realistic and sometimes unnerving depictions. At the core of this film is women fighting for acceptance, the right to their bodies and ultimately their lives.

The film opens up with a sorority house Christmas party, with an unknown assailant stalking the ground outside peering into windows and the like. An unwelcome voyeur. We soon head inside where we meet Barb played here by Margot Kidder. The spitting image of feminism and sexual awakening in the early ’70s, she has a brash “take no prisoners” attitude. Among the sisters that live in the house is also Jess, played by Olivia Hussey.

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Olivia Hussey in Black Christmas (1974)

While the intruder enters the house during the Christmas party, the girls are making arrangements for the Christmas holiday. While the mood is the air is joyful and cheerful the house receives a phone call. As Jess answers, she’s greeted to some heavy breathing. This isn’t the first call the house has received like this. Frightened and angered she hands the phone to Barb. “It’s that pervert again.” When she takes the phone she is bombarded with explicit and obscene phrases that even to this day would send a shiver down a decent person’s spine. Barb decides to argue back and she’s greeted with a phrase that is one of the most haunting in the picture: “I’m gonna kill you.”

The police initially refusing to help represents the reluctance that society has in believing in victims when they come forward. Many voices are either silenced to cast aside when they speak up.

This scene plays out like a set up in a horror film but to me represents the backlash that women face when they stand up to their harassers. The phone call representing the constant harassment and unwarranted abuse that women face on a constant basis and the death threat being the very real fear of retaliation in the wake of women speaking or standing up for themselves. The intruder then proceeds to attack Clare and suffocate her with a plastic bag.

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Later on in the movie, Jess reveals to her boyfriend Peter, that she is pregnant. Peter’s response at first is of excitement and happiness until Jess reveals that she plans to have an abortion. His response then turns from warm and happy to intimating as he berates her for even thinking such a thing. His justification is that it’s his child and he should have the right to decide if she keeps it or not. Completely disregarding the idea that it’s Jess’ body and ultimately her choice in the end.

When the phone calls don’t stop the women in the house go to the local campus police to report the phone calls and Clare’s disappearance and hopefully receive help in the matter. Initially, the women are entirely dismissed by the front counter officer, Nash. The police lieutenant, Kenneth Fuller agrees to help the girls when Clare’s boyfriend, who is a friend of his enlists his help in trying to find her.

The police initially refusing to help represents the reluctance that society has in believing in victims when they come forward. Many voices are either silenced to cast aside when they speak up. Who do you turn to when the ones that are supposed to help you refuse to help? This is a question presented by this allegory.

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I highly suggest you seek out the original one before because it remains one of the most important and thought-provoking horror films I’ve ever seen.

Later on, Jess receives a phone call from the killer once again who proceeds to shout obscenities. A distraught Jess attempts to leave and report the phone call once again when she is met by Peter in the house. He offers to marry her for the sake of the child but she refuses. Peter doesn’t take this very well and he leaves in an emotional state. All the while Lt. Fuller comes by to set up a wiretap on the phone.

A group of carolers arrive at the house and begin distracting its last few remaining habitats. Songs of joy and good cheer are being sung aloud and there doesn’t seem to be a worry in the world. All the while the killer is entering Barb’s room and proceed to murder her, her screams being covered up by the carolers at the front of the house. This represents the distractions on the surface to cover up the violence and hate women face every single day. For all, we know everything is alright but below the surface, something more sinister exists.

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Jess receives one final phone call. This one long enough for the police to trace back. They reveal the origin of the phone call is coming from inside the house itself! The danger that Jess so very much fears is in the place that is supposed to be the safest: her home.  Realize the danger she’s in, she makes a run for it and is pursued by the killer where she discovers the bodies of the other inhabitants of the house. She ends up in the basement where her only form of self-protection is a fireplace poker. Suddenly Peter appears outside one of the windows and smashes it in an attempt to reach Jess. She assumes he’s the killer and proceeds to bludgeon him to death in a gory fashion.

The killer in Black Christmas not being discovered is representative of the abusers getting away. Unfortunately in most cases of abuse, violence, and harassment towards women, most abusers don’t face the consequences for their actions.

The police arrive and discover her in the basement barely awake and with Peter lying next to her in a pool of his blood, dead. She’s put to bed and the police begin their investigation of the crime scene. It’s then revealed, a figure is climbing down from the attic and begins looking into her window, as her phone begins to ring. Peter wasn’t the killer after all, and her fate isn’t revealed.

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The killer in “Black Christmas” not being discovered is representative of the abusers getting away. Unfortunately in most cases of abuse, violence, and harassment towards women, most abusers don’t face the consequences for their actions. For a movie from 1974, the messages and themes of “Black Christmas” remain as relevant as ever.

There is a light though, later this month a remake of the film is set to be released. This time it’s written and directed by Women. I’ll be reviewing the movie for this site and am excited to see what a female lens and perspective will bring to its story and themes! I highly suggest you seek out the original one before because it remains one of the most important and thought-provoking horror films I’ve ever seen. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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