Black Christmas (1974, Canada)

The creators: Director Bob Clark, later of the slightly different holiday classic A Christmas Story and the slightly less classic SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2; screenwriter Roy Moore, of (Canadian!) television and the forgotten 1981 film The Last Chase.

The plot: Shortly before Christmas break, the four girls remaining at Pi Kappa Sigma sorority house at an unnamed (Canadian!) university throw one last party for themselves and their boyfriends. The party is interrupted by the sorority's dedicated and incredibly foul-minded prank caller, the Moaner, who may or may not be the same person that has just snuck into the sorority attic via a trellis. The Moaner is briefly shut up by Barb (Margot Kidder), until he hangs up with the threat "I'm going to kill you." First, though, he kills the virginal Clare (Lynne Griffin), whose absences goes unnoticed until her father comes to pick her up the next day. As the local police force, led by Lt. Fuller (John Saxon), the Moaner keeps picking off victims from his attic: lewd house mother Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), Barb and Phyllis (Andrea Martin). Leaving only Jess (Olivia Hussey) - whose older boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea) has gone a bit apeshit upon the news that she plans to get an abortion, and is now the prime suspect - to find and stop the killer.

Christmas cheer: Minimal. There are trees and songs scattered around, but in every essential, this could take place immediately prior to any random school holiday.

Type of horror: Pure dead-teenagers slasher.

The good: First off, it manages to be something that only one other slasher film - John Carpenter's Halloween - would ever manage to be: legitimately scary, in the Final Girl sequence, which doesn't really make much sense but is still an absolute nail-biter.

Speaking of Halloween, there are more than a few similarities between that film and Black Christmas in both story and technique, and for good reason: Black Christmas was the very first slasher film made in North America, and as such it has a great deal to apologise for, but it still manages to be one of the smartest slasher films, falling into nary a one of the classic slasher pitfalls (illogical behavior, poor characterisations, outré death scenes just for the hell of it). The cast of honest-to-God actors make the most of roles that range from extraordinary fully-written (Kidder as Barb) to a collection of stereotypes (Waldman as Mrs. Mac).

The bad: From the first death through the third death, there is not much plot momentum: just a whole slew of obvious red herrings and a lot of people repeating variations on, "Dearie me, there is a killer! We should find him!" Twenty minutes in particular, following Mrs. Mac's death, are just deadly slow. In general, Bob Clark doesn't seem to find any shot that he's not willing to let go on at least a few frames too long. There is an overreliance on POV shots that start out creepy and end up feeling like padding.

Blood: One ethereally beautiful murder scene involving a glass unicorn has some blood, but not much. Beyond that, there's not a hint of the red, red kroovy anywhere to be found.

Boobs: In one scene, a very drunk Barbara is checking out a magazine centerfold. I suppose this probably doesn't count.

Sex=death: Not in the least. The first victim is described as a "professional virgin," and the heroine, in cased you missed it before, is pregnant out of wedlock.

Body count: Six, plus a teen girl that we never see, dead or alive.

Sign it was 1974: It would be easier to list what wasn't a sign that it was 1974. Okay, for starters: the hair, the costumes, the set design, the film stock, the presence of Olivia Hussey and Keir Dullea, and the fact that John Saxon looks like he's ten years old.

Pithy wrap-up: Brilliant, one of the best slashers imaginable, largely because it didn't realise it was a slasher and didn't play by there dumbed-down rules. If this picture doesn't make your skin crawl, it's on too tight! Okay, I stole that last part from the movie's ad campaign. But it is a damn fine horror movie.

It has not a thing to do with Christmas, though.