Black Christmas (also released under the titles Silent Night, Evil Night, and Stranger in the House) is a 1974 Canadian independent horror film directed by Bob Clark and written by A. Roy Moore. It stars Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin, Marian Waldman and John Saxon. The story follows a group of sorority sisters who are stalked and murdered over Christmas vacation by a killer hiding in their sorority house. It was inspired by the urban legend of "The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs", but was also largely based on a series of murders that took place in Quebec, Canada around Christmas time. Black Christmas is generally considered to be one of the first slasher films. A remake of the same name, produced by Clark, was released in December 2006.
A disoriented man climbs up into the attic of a sorority house while the occupants hold a Christmas party. Jess Bradford (Olivia Hussey) receives an obscene phone call from "the moaner," a man who has recently been calling the house. After sorority friend Barb Coard (Margot Kidder) provokes the caller, he replies, "I'M GOING TO KILL YOU" then hangs up. Claire Harrison (Lynne Griffin) is offended by Barb and goes upstairs to finish packing for her trip home. She hears Claude the cat's cries and goes to investigate. Claire is attacked and asphyxiated with plastic sheeting over her head. Her dead body is carried up into the attic, where the killer places her in a rocking chair next to the window and puts a doll in her lap. The next day, Claire's father arrives to take her home for the holidays. When she is not at their appointed meeting place, he goes to the sorority house. Jess meets her boyfriend, Peter Smythe (Keir Dullea), a neurotic aspiring pianist, to inform him that she is pregnant and wants to have an abortion. Peter is upset and orders her to discuss the situation with him more later but she refuses. Mr. Harrison and sorority sisters Barb and Phyllis "Phyl" Carlson (Andrea Martin) go to the police to report Claire's disappearance. Sgt. Nash dismisses the report and says that Claire is probably with a lover. Claire's boyfriend, Chris (Art Hindle), is informed by Jess about the disappearance and Sgt. Nash's unwillingness to help, they rush back to the police station to discuss it with Lt. Kenneth Fuller (John Saxon). A mother reports that her daughter, Janice, who's also missing as well. That evening, Mr. Harrison, Chris, and the sorority sisters join a search party aiming to find Janice or Claire. Back at the house, Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), the sorority's housemother, hears Claude's meows in the attic. There she discovers Claire's body, but the killer launches a crane hook and hangs Mrs. Mac. After one search party finds Janice's dead body, Jess returns home and receives another obscene call. Jess phones the police. Peter arrives and argues with Jess about her planned abortion. He leaves after Lt. Fuller arrives to discuss the phone calls. A technician places a tap "bug tracer" onto the sorority house phone. An officer is also stationed outside the house. Barb is sent to bed for vile temper and for being "drunk." Minutes later the killer appears in her room and stabs her to death with a unicorn ornament but door-to-door Christmas carolers drown out the noise of the attack. Jess receives another obscene call that quotes a part of the argument she had with Peter. She now suspects Peter of being the caller, but then she and Phyl conclude that it cannot be him, since Peter was present during one of the earlier calls. Phyl goes upstairs to bed, deciding to check on Barb first. The door suddenly shuts behind Phyl. The calls continue to come in. Jess manages to keep the caller on the phone for a minute, allowing the police to trace it to inside the house (from Mrs. Mac's separate phone line). Jess is ordered to leave the house immediately. She puts down the phone and yells up to Barb and Phyl. At the police station, Lt. Fuller is informed of the situation and leaves for the house. Jess arms herself with a fireplace poker and ventures upstairs, finding both Barb's and Phyl's dead bodies. The killer attacks Jess and chases her through the house before Jess locks herself in the cellar. Peter appears outside a basement window, telling Jess he heard screaming. He breaks the glass and enters. Jess, believing him to be the attacker, backs into a corner as he approaches. Lt. Fuller and the police arrive to find the officer stationed outside dead in his car with his throat slashed. When they hear Jess scream, they rush inside and find Jess in the basement with Peter, whom she has bludgeoned to death in self-defense. Jess is sedated as Fuller and the officers discuss how Peter must have been the killer all along. They also discuss the fact that Claire's body still has not been found, revealing that they neglected to look in the attic. The officers leave Jess to sleep in her bed, stating that a man will be right outside the front door. Once the house is quiet, the camera pans to the attic, with Clare's and Mrs. Mac's bodies still undisturbed and the killer descending the attic stairs. The camera pulls back to show the outside of the house. The telephone rings as the credits roll.
The screenplay was written by Canadian writer Roy Moore who based it off of a series of murders that took place in Quebec around the Christmas season. However, there has been speculation over the years as to whether the screenplay was actually inspired by The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs urban legend as opposed to real events. Moore died in the late 1980s and was never interviewed about the film. The script was originally titled "Stop Me" and was partially typed and partially handwritten. Moore submitted the screenplay to director Bob Clark. Clark made several alterations in dialogue, camera placement and added some notes. On the final page of the screenplay was a hand written note by Clark calling it "a damn good script". The original screenplay in its entirety was released as a DVD-ROM feature on one of the film's DVD releases Filming of Black Christmas began in early 1974 over an 8-week time schedule in Toronto, Canada and several scenes were shot around Annesley Hall National Historic Site. The film's budget of $620,000 was shot in 35mm format by utilizing Panavision cameras. Cameraman Albert J. Dunk created the POV camera shot by mounting a camera onto his back and creeping around the house. He crawled up the housing trellis in the beginning of the film as well. According to Bob Clark, due to the surprisingly light snowfall, most of the snow scenes outside of the sorority house were made of foam material provided by a local fire department. The house used for the sorority residence was filmed on location in Toronto. The house is still standing today and has become a private residence in Toronto. The role of Mrs. Mac was offered to Bette Davis. The role of Peter was originally offered to Malcolm McDowell, but he turned it down. The role of Lieutenant Fuller was originally supposed to be played by Edmond O'Brien, but due to failing health he had to be replaced. John Saxon was brought in at the last minute. Gilda Radner was offered the role of Phyllis Carlson. She was attached, but dropped out one month before filming began owing to Saturday Night Live commitments. The composer of the film's score, Carl Zittrer, stated in an interview that he created the film's mysterious music by tying forks, combs and knives onto the strings of the piano in order to warp the sound of the keys. Zittrer also stated that he would distort the sound further by recording its sound onto an audio tape and make the sound slower. The audio for the disturbing phone calls was performed by actor Nick Mancuso, director Bob Clark and an unknown actress. Mancuso stated in an interview that he would stand on his head during the recording sessions to make his voice sound more demented. During preparation in 1975 for the film's American release, Warner Bros. studio executives asked Clark to change the concluding scene to show Claire's boyfriend, Chris, appear in front of Jess and say, "Agnes, don't tell them what we did" before killing her, however, Clark insisted on keeping the ending ambiguous. The original title of the film was initially planned to be Stop Me. Clark has stated in an interview that he came up with the film's official title, saying that he enjoyed the irony of a dark event occurring during a festive holiday. According to Clark as well, Warner Bros. changed the title to Silent Night, Evil Night, for the U. S. theatrical release. During later television broadcasting, the film's title was changed to Stranger in the House, however, it was cancelled due to broadcasters deeming it "too scary" for television broadcast.
Black Christmas was officially released on October 11, 1974, in Canada through Ambassador Film Distributors, and in the United States on December 20, 1974, through Warner Bros., where it grossed $4,053,000. It was released in October 1975 in New York City and Chicago, and previously played under the title Silent Night, Evil Night in Virginia in July 1975. and grossed over $4,053,00 internationally, managing to earn more than the film's budget of $620,000. When released in the UK, the BBFC had the word "cunt" removed, as well as several other crude and sexual references during the first obscene phone call.
Two editions of the DVD release of the film have been specially designed. A bare-bones release was released on 6 November 2001. The release was followed by a collector's edition that was released on 3 December 2002, containing a making-of documentary, behind-the-scenes footage and more bonus content. Critical Mass and Alliance Atlantis released a special edition on 5 December 2006, before the theatrical release of the remake of the film on Christmas day, containing extra and similar bonus content to the previous collector's edition, including interviews with stars Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder. A Blu-ray edition of the film was released on 11 November 2008.
The film garnered mixed to negative reception from critics upon its initial release. A writer for The New York Times scored the film a 1 out of 5, calling it "a whodunit that begs the question of why it was made." Variety also gave the film a negative review, stating that the film was heavily clichéd and calling it "a bloody, senseless kill-for-kicks feature" that "exploits unnecessary violence", lending praise only to Marian Waldman as the secretly alcoholic sorority house mother. The film has since received generally positive reviews from modern critics. According to the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, it has a 63% "fresh" score based on 24 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2 out of 10. Heidi Martinuzzi of Film Threat called the film "innovative" and praised the leading actresses, Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder.