Olivia Hussey is an actress who hits me especially hard. I adore her in everything. Whether her non-horror roles like ALL THE RIGHT NOISES (1970) the classic ROMEO & JULIET (1968) or low-budget, underrated flicks like HEADSPACE (2005) and ICE CREAM MAN (1995), she always captivates and compels. When deciding which of her roles to showcase it was a tossup between her portrayal as Norma Bates in PSYCHO IV (1990) or as Jess in the cult classic BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974). I chose BLACK CHRISTMAS for a few reasons.
First, Hussey’s performance is incredibly powerful as the lead protagonist. As Jess, she exhibits strength, fortitude, intelligence and the confidence to stand up for herself in the most complex situations and pertaining to some of the most difficult circumstances. She’s is independent and follows her own path regardless of the pressure put on her by those around.
Second, BLACK CHRISTMAS is a predominately female led cast. The focus is on a sorority house tormented by a prank caller and homicidal maniac who uses misogynistic threats and sexist vulgarity to psychologically fuck with the sisters before murdering them. It is the way in which the sisters handle the perverted freak and the tough demeanor some exhibit when speaking directly to him that makes this a fabulous film to celebrate true feminism and female empowerment.
Also, there have been two atrocious BLACK CHRISTMAS remakes, and I think that scares some new fans of horror away from the original. In 2006, when the first reboot occurred, I remember thinking “This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen and no movie will ever be worse.” Then, thirteen years later, Sophia Takal came around and said, “hold my beer.” Her version was so bad that it made some people rethink their hatred for the 2006 attempt. I didn’t though. I still loathe both of those trash-bag flicks. Admittedly, Takal’s is FAR worse.
Lastly, it’s practically Christmas so there’s really no better time for me to jump in and give Hussey her props on this one.
The movie opens as the sorority gals are partying for the holidays and the phone rings. Jess answers, but is spooked when the caller is revealed to be a prankster who has called before. Scared, Jess calls all the sisters over to hear, but it’s not the typical heavy-breather. The scumbag makes all these awful pig snorts and then in a freaky ass voice becomes sexually aggressive and asks to perform oral sex. Trust me, this is one nutjob that no lady wants anywhere near their vaginas. That wackadoo makes chastity belts look like a reasonable fashion choice.
The call is genuinely terrifying, and most of the gals do freak out. Barb (Margot Kidder) doesn’t though. I adore Barb! She’s a tough-as-nails, party gal who doesn’t sweat the prick on the other line. She takes the phone from Jess and tells the dipshit off. He’s unimpressed and threatens to kill her before disconnecting.
Though I’m totally Team Barb, the rest of the gals were right to be concerned. The weirdo freak is super dangerous and begins a murderous rampage. Usually, I would find myself cheering the demise of sorority bitches in horror films, but these aren’t the clichéd, Valley Girl, snobby twats we generally see. These women have depth and act like human beings, not shitty-ass caricatures.
Meanwhile, Jess has other drama going on in her life. She’s pregnant and wants an abortion, but her boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea) is a prick about it. To be fair, Peter does look great in mock turtlenecks, has pretty eyes, great hair and knows how to rock a piano. If he never opened his mouth, I’d see why she got down to funky town with him.
Now, this film was made in 1974! A woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy had just become protected under the US Constitution. This was not an easy subject for the movie to tackle, and it would have been simple to ignore. There’s a million different reasons Peter and Jess could have been at odds with one another, but kudos to Clark for choosing this topic. It served as a window into Jess’s determination. Even when Peter offers to marry her, she says no. She sticks to her decision and what’s right for her.
That isn’t to say Jess is thoughtless. She cares about Peter. She isn’t malicious despite Peter being a dick and insulting her. That said, the gal is focused on her future and education. She’s not a pushover. She’s respectful, kind and listens to Peter, but she doesn’t roll over and take shit. She also doesn’t fold when Peter throws a tantrum and acts like a fool. Make no mistake, that chick is a badass babe! She is the embodiment of female empowerment.
To be fair, it isn’t only the women that are fab in this There are a few more RAWRtastic gents. When Jess’s sorority sister Clare (Lynne Griffin) goes “missing,” her boyfriend Chris (Art Hindle) shows up at the police station to find out what the hell is going on; and he is just a bundle of yumminess. He has this cool-ass winter coat, wavy disheveled hair and a “I don’t give a fuck” attitude that strikes all sorts of chords with me. He needs to take off that gorgeous jacket he’s wearing, throw it on the floor, get Jess down there and screw her so good that she forgets the Piano Man’s name.
At the precinct, Chris has a conversation with Lt. Ken Fuller (John Saxon), who is another fantastic dreamboat that makes me say “mmmmmmh.” John Saxon has always done it for me, though. He’s amazing. I was even on his side in NIGHMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) when he was going to shoot Rod (Jsu Garcia), and that boy was innocent. I just don’t go against Saxon. He depicted a cult leader once on THE A-TEAM (1983) and I had his back, even then. When I hit the pearly gates, I’m definitely going to be hanging on his cloud for more than a minute.
The ending of BLACK CHRISTMAS is one of the most terrifying conclusions to any movie in history. In my favorite scene, Jess finds out that the harassing calls have been coming from inside the house. The cops plead with her to get out. They tell her to save herself and that help is on the way. Does she go? Hell no, because that chick is bad-to-the-motherfucking-bone.
Don’t get me wrong. She’s not unafraid. She’s petrified. Her eyes say it all. She screams for her friends trying to beckon them out. When they don’t show, she still refuses to leave them. Breathing heavy and moving quietly, she grabs a fireplace poker for self-defense. She then creeps up the same stairs the police told her to run from, knowing she could come face-to-face with whoever it is that is waiting and watching.
God damn, I love this movie. It’s like a rollercoaster ride that doesn’t end. The final moments do not bring peace. The film stays with you far after the credits roll. It’s an intense and uneasy watch, yet impossible to look away.
BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) is one of the best horror movies of all time and arguably the scariest. Bob Clark did a masterful job. The man was a genius, and his contributions to the film world are limitless. When discussing his finest work, I couldn’t honestly choose between this or CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972), as both are spectacular in their own distinct ways.
Here, I applaud his focus on resilient and self-determined women. The themes of sexism and misogyny work flawlessly within the structure of the production. They aren’t shoehorned in and no one is standing on a soapbox. Clark showed the upmost respect for his audience and never spoke down to them. Instead, he allowed BLACK CHRISTMAS to build naturally and weaved in matters of importance, organically. The movie is art!
Following Clark’s direction, Olivia Hussey allowed the journey and evolution of her character to be shown in an unaffected and realistic way. Jess didn’t have to break a dude’s balls to stand on her own. She was both sensitive and courageous, but most of all human. She was a multifaceted, young woman with a bunch of insanity going on that she was trying to navigate through.
I can’t suggest BLACK CHRISTMAS enough, and it’s the perfect time of year to throw it in. If rating it, I’d give it a 10/10. Just don’t accidentally watch the remakes. They’re dreadful.