Black Christmas (1974)
During their Christmas break, a group of sorority girls are stalked by a stranger.
It's time for Christmas break, and the sorority sisters make plans for the holiday, but the strange anonymous phone calls are beginning to put them on edge. When Clare disappears, they contact the police, who don't express much concern. Meanwhile Jess is planning to get an abortion, but boyfriend Peter is very much against it. The police finally begin to get concerned when a 13-year-old girl is found dead in the park. They set up a wiretap to the sorority house, but will they be in time to prevent a sorority girl attrition problem?
On the evening that the Pi Kappa Sigma sorority (which is headed by their house mother, the booze swilling Mrs. Mac) is holding their Christmas party, the house receives the latest in a string of obscene phone calls from who the girls call "the moaner", but who identifies himself as "Billy". Some like Jess Bradford don't like the calls, others like brash Barb Coard are somewhat amused by the calls, others like Phyl Carlson don't think much of them, and straight laced Clare Harrison is offended by them. The calls are just the latest trouble for Jess, who is pregnant and who doesn't want to tell her sensitive but volatile boyfriend, music student Peter Smythe. For this latest call, which is a bit more elaborate than those previous, Barb decides to make a snide comment in return, which provokes a threat by Billy. The next morning, one of the girls goes missing. The desk sergeant at the police station doesn't think much about this as a missing person case, especially as the police are already dealing with another missing person case (a thirteen year old girl named Janice Quaife). The police don't act until more information is brought to the attention of Lieutenant Kenneth Fuller by Clare's boyfriend, Chris Hayden. As Lt. Fuller and his men investigate, which includes placing a wire tap on the sorority house phones, more and more incidents happen to those living at the sorority house. In addition, the obscene calls continue and increasingly have a personal connotation to one of the girls, which includes information that could only be known by those involved. Or is there another reason why the caller knows so much about the specific girl in question?
Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder star among an ill-fated houseful of sorority sisters celebrating the holiday season. Festivities turn fatal when obscene phone calls break the serenity and it becomes clear that a psychopath is stalking the house.
- The film opens at night on a snow-covered college campus. There is a Christmas party underway in one of the sorority houses, a large converted mansion. The sorority sisters and many of their boyfriends are inside. Outside in the snow, a point-of-view shot illustrates someone looking into the windows. The person breathes heavily and seems to be a man, but this is all we can tell. The person prowls around before climbing a rose trellis and entering the house through an attic window. He then climbs down through the attic trap door and lurks in the upstairs of the house, watching the girls downstairs.
One of the sorority sisters, Barb Coard (Margot Kidder), receives a phone call from her mother. Barb seems to have been planning on going home over the Christmas holiday, but her mother has made plans to go away with her latest boyfriend. Barb calls her mother a gold-plated whore and says she'll make other plans for the break. She asks fellow sorority sisters Phyllis Carlson (Andrea Martin) and Jessica Bradford (Olivia Hussey) to go skiing with her instead. Jess also gets a phone call from her boyfriend, Peter (Kier Dullea), an aspiring concert pianist. She seems tense and wants to talk to Peter about something important. She says she'll see him tomorrow at the rehearsal studio. After their boyfriends leave, the girls get another phone call; Jess answers the phone and announces to all the other girls that its "The Moaner". Together they listen to the bizarre phone call, which starts out with simply heavy breathing and then escalates into strange ranting and obscene language. Barb gets on the receiver and bawls out the caller, firing back with her own obscene comments, until the caller suddenly lowers his voice and says "I'm going to kill you." He then hangs up.
A sorority sister named Clare Harrison (Lynne Griffin) seems more timid than the others. She questions Barb's judgment in provoking an unstable individual, and reminds her that a girl from town was raped recently by an unknown assailant. Barb reacts angrily and upsets Clare, who then goes upstairs to pack; her father is picking her up the next day to take her home for Christmas. Clare finds Claude, the house mother's cat, in her room, even though the door is closed. She is unaware the killer is watching her from within her closet. In a morbid twist, the psychopath meows like Claude and lures Clare into the closet, where he lunges at her and wraps plastic cleaning bags around her head, smothering her to death. He then carries her body up into the attic and places it in a rocking chair by the window, the plastic bag still over her head. He places a doll in her lap and refers to her as Agnes.
Downstairs, the other girls are oblivious to Clare's death, and they welcome in the house mother, Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), who seems to have just returned from shopping. They present her with a Christmas gift: a frilly nightgown. She pretends to like it but makes sarcastic remarks about it (and the girls themselves) while she is alone. Mrs. Mac goes to the library and seeks a book--"B for Booze!"--and hidden inside of it is a bottle of brandy, from which she takes a secret drink. She later fishes a bottle out of the toilet tank in her bathroom, as well, and rinses her mouth with booze after brushing her teeth.
The next day, Clare's father (James Edmond) comes to collect her, but she is not at the appointed place. When he seeks her at the sorority house, he is shocked by the sexually suggestive posters he finds in her room, and also surprised that she has a boy's photo next to her bed (her boyfriend, Chris). Mr. Harrison seems to blame Mrs. Mac for the permissive attitude in the house. Mrs. Mac assures him that Clare is a good girl, and that she's probably just at one of the fraternity houses visiting Chris. Mr. Harrison offers to drop Mrs. Mac off at the store on his way there. Before they leave, Mrs. Mac hears Claude meowing but cannot find him; he is in the attic.
Jess visits Peter while he is practicing for a very important audition, and she breaks some news to him: she is unexpectedly pregnant. Peter thinks it's good news, but Jess admits that she wasnt even going to tell Peter about it. Jess intends to get an abortion. Peter is adamantly opposed to this, and makes an ominous threat against Jess for even considering such a thing.
Barb is at the fraternity house with Phyl's boyfriend, who is dressed like Santa and taking photos with small children. Barb has a bottle of wine and is getting drunk, and she gives one of the children sips of her alcohol. Mr. Harrison phones home and assures his wife that they will find Clare.
Back at the sorority house, Jess receives another obscene phone call. This one is more elaborate; the killer speaks in several different voices and makes references to "Agnes" and "Billy". He also seems to be speaking in the voices of two adults, presumably the parents of Agnes and Billy. The voices even seem to overlap at times, adding to the unsettling effect. Jess is upset, especially after her confrontation with Peter.
Phyl and Barb take Mr. Harrison to the police station to report Clare missing. The officer on duty at the desk, Sgt. Nash (Douglas McGrath), endures hostility from Barb about the incident. Sgt. Nash tells Mr. Harrison that hes sure Clare is just somewhere with Chris. Sgt. Nash asks Barb for the phone number at the sorority house, and she tells him its Fellatio-20880. "It's a new exchange, FE" she explains. Nash, who apparently does not know the meaning of the word fellatio, writes it down and thanks her.
Back at the sorority house, Mrs. Mac tells Jess that Clare is missing, so Jess goes to see Chris while he is at hockey practice. Chris is furious when Jess tells him that the police are not taking it seriously because they think she's shacked up somewhere with him.
Peter performs his audition and fails miserably, distraught about the news Jess has given him. The instructors who listen to the recital are shocked that he cannot seem to hit the right notes, and later he destroys the piano after they've gone.
Chris and Jess appear at the police station and Chris angrily lashes out at Sgt. Nash for having a big mouth (meaning his suggestion that Clare was shacked up with him). Lt. Fuller (John Saxon) overhears and becomes interested in the case--he has already been taking another missing person report from a distraught mother named Mrs. Quaife, whose 13-year-old daughter Janice has suddenly disappeared while on her way home from school.
Mr. Harrison has dinner with Phyl, Barb, and Mrs. Mac at the sorority house, but Barb is extremely drunk and launches into a vulgar tirade that ends with her lashing out at the others. Barb feels guilty because she was careless to Clare, and she says the others think her disappearance is Barb's fault. Barb's curt suggestion that Clare might be dead shocks Mr. Harrison, and Phyl reacts angrily, telling Barb to go to bed. Barb goes upstairs and leaves them alone. Meanwhile, Jess and Chris come back to the house and tell the others about Janice Quaife's disappearance. A search is underway, and Phyl and Mr. Harrison join them. Mrs. Mac tells them that she's leaving for her sisters house and may not be there when they return. When Jess leaves, Mrs. Mac packs her bags and calls a cab, but she is distracted by sounds from the attic: the killer lures her into the attic by making sounds like the cat. When Mrs. Mac opens the attic door, he swings a large hook at her, designed to pull things up into the attic crawlspace. The hook impales her under her chin and hangs her. Outside, the cabbie becomes impatient and leaves.
The extensive search of the park turns up a body: Janice Quaife. Jess rushes back to the house, where she receives another frightening phone call from the killer. Again he uses multiple voices and reenacts some weird scenario involving naughty Billy and baby Agnes. This time, Jess calls the police to report the obscene phone calls. As she talks to Sgt. Nash, a figure approaches her from behind and startles her--it is Peter, who has been napping in the house while waiting for Jess to return. Nash does not take Jess's report seriously, although Mr. Harrison is sitting near him in the police station and overhears him talking to Jess about the calls. He and Phyl and Chris tell Lt. Fuller about it, and Lt. Fuller angrily scolds Nash for being so inept.
Meanwhile, Peter proposes to Jess. He would like to quit the conservatory and marry Jess and be a father to her child. Jess, however, refuses. She does not want to get married or have a child yet, as she has things she wants to accomplish first. Peter becomes hurt and angry, telling Jess that she's talking about killing their baby as if it's like having a wart removed. Jess becomes frightened by his mounting hostility, and tells Peter to leave.
Just as Peter is walking out, Phyl arrives with Lt. Fuller and a phone company rep named Graham, who puts a tap on the house phone. Fuller notices that Peter seemed angry, and he questions Jess about it. He also looks around Clare's room and asks more questions about her. Graham asks if there is another phone in the house and Fuller tells him that it is a private line belonging to Mrs. Mac and that there have been no obscene phone calls on it, so they don't tap it. Fuller tells Jess that he'll be listening in on all of her phone conversations from the station, and Graham tells her to keep the caller on the line for as long as possible so that he can trace the call. Fuller has also left an officer in a squad car outside to watch the house.
When he leaves, Phyl begins crying and tells Jess that she's sure Clare is dead. Tired and emotionally exhausted, she goes to bed, and Jess waits for another phone call. Meanwhile, the killer goes into Barb's room and watches her sleeping. Barb, who has asthma, suddenly suffers an attack, and Jess rushes to her aid with an inhaler. Barb tells her that she had a nightmare about a stranger coming into her room. Barb goes back to sleep, and Jess is distracted by a group of Christmas carolers at the front door. The singing masks the sounds of Barb's murder; the killer returns and stabs her to death using a glass ornament near her bed.
The carolers are suddenly rushed off by a concerned parent who has just found out about the murder of the little girl in the park. Jess hears the phone ringing, and it's the killer. He wails at her in a strange voice, and says "It's just like having a wart removed!" before hanging up. Jess is shocked; these are words she used in private to Peter. Lt. Fuller picks up on this but Jess denies that it has any significance. Phyl comes back downstairs and Jess tells her about what just happened; Phyl seems to not think the killer could possibly be Peter, and neither does Jess, but she is not sure. Peter himself calls then, and begs Jess not to kill the baby. This conversation doesn't last long enough to trace, either, but Fuller calls to ask Jess about what they were talking about. Jess admits she's pregnant, and that Peter objects to an abortion, and Fuller seems to think that Peter could be the caller after all. Jess, however, has a revelation: Peter was here at the house with her when one of the calls came through, so it couldnt be Peter calling. Fuller is still suspicious, and he requests Peters records from the Dean of Admissions. He goes to the conservatory and finds the piano violently smashed.
Jess is convinced that she can now rule out Peter as a suspect, and both she and Phyl are relieved. They have a brief laugh after they are startled by two bumbling men from town who are out looking for the killer. Phyl and Jess go around the house locking all the doors and windows, when Phyl goes into Barb's room. Just inside the door, someone whispers "Agnes!" and the door slams shut. Jess tries to find Phyl but the phone rings; its the killer again. This time Jess keeps him on the phone long enough for Graham to trace the calls--they are coming from 6 Belmont Street, the same address as the sorority house itself. Nash radios Fuller with the news, and Fuller realizes the calls are coming from the house mother's phone. He tries to radio the policeman parked outside the sorority house, but the cop is now dead, his throat slit by the killer. Fuller radios Nash and tells him to call Jess and warn her to get out of there, without letting on that the killer is in the house with her. Nash, of course, is unable to do this; when Jess tells him she's going to go upstairs and get Phyl and Barb, Nash admits that the calls are coming from inside the sorority house itself.
Jess is terrified, and she screams out for Phyl and Barb over and over again. The house is silent. Instead of leaving, Jess gets a poker from the fireplace and goes upstairs. In Barb's room, she finds the bodies of both Phyl and Barb on the bed. From the crack in the door, Jess sees the killer's eye watching her. "Agnes, its me, Billy! Don't tell what we did!" he whispers. Jess slams the door on him and runs. Howling in rage and pain, the killer chases after her. With no time to unlock the front door, Jess heads for the cellar. The killer catches her hair as she passes the stairs, but Jess is able to break free and bolt the cellar door behind her just in time. Eventually the maniac stops pounding on the door, and Jess hears sounds as if he is going out the front door. Unsure, she remains in the cellar. Through the basement windows, Jess can see someone prowling around the house. Unable to gain admittance, the figure seems to spot Jess in the cellar; it is Peter. He calls out to her but Jess ignores him. Peter breaks a window and enters the basement with her. "Whats the matter, Jess?" he asks, as she approaches her. He will not be dissuaded.
Outside, Fuller arrives with other policemen close behind, and they find the patrolman dead in his car. Hearing Jess screaming from inside the house, they break in. By the time they reach the basement, they find Jess and Peter lying together; they appear to both be dead, but Jess stirs. She has killed Peter with the fire poker.
A doctor gives Jess a sedative and she is sleeping, although the house is bustling with activity. Fuller, unable to question her, hypothesizes about the case, convinced that Peter was the killer. Mr. Harrison suddenly goes into shock. The doctor intervenes and wants to take Mr. Harrison to the hospital. Chris leaves with them, and so do the other police officers, leaving Jess alone and unconscious with a guard in front of the house. After they leave, the house is silent, and the attic door opens. The bodies of Clare and Mrs. Mac are still up there, unnoticed by anybody yet. The killer climbs down out of the attic, saying "Agnes, its me, Billy!" As the camera slowly pulls away from the house, we see the lone police officer on the front porch, smoking a cigarette. Suddenly the phone begins to ring, just as it did after all the murders that came before.