black christmas film
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Bodies and feminist autonomy in horror: Black Christmas

The holiday period is the perfect time to dive into seasonal films, and there’s certainly no shortage of holiday horror for fans of the genre, from Gremlins (1984) to The Lodge (2019).

The cult classic Black Christmas (1974) is an underrated Canadian horror film in which a group of sorority girls is stalked and murdered by a disturbed rapist.

Each of the women brings something that pulls the movie together, from central character Jess (Olivia Hussey) and house mother Mrs Mac (Marian Waldman) to Barb (Margot Kidder).

Despite her substance use being a clear issue, Barb’s unapologetic sexual nature is important.

She doesn’t feel shame for enjoying sex and being a sexual being – she owns it throughout the film, making for an endearing performance as well as an interesting depiction of a more sexual character in horror.

One of the earliest slasher films, Black Christmas presents some topics that are still considered too radical to discuss.

Abortion is one that comes up throughout the film with Jess and her boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea).

Her unwanted pregnancy and explicit desire to have an abortion is incredibly refreshing for horror.

Pregnancy isn’t often presented as something unwanted (consider The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, or A Quiet Place).

Even in the direst situations or at the worst possible timing for the one who is pregnant, it is usually depicted as a miracle or blessing, but Jess is very firm in wanting an abortion, and Peter doesn’t quite like that.

The conversations that Jess and Peter have throughout regarding the abortion, pregnancy, and marriage are all too relevant.

Rather than bending to what Peter wants, Jess is explicit in what she doesn’t want.

In those moments, she claims ownership of her body and her needs as a person.

This furthers Peter’s anger towards her, resulting him breaking tree ornaments, calling her a selfish bitch, and becoming eerily aggressive in his words.

Instead of having Peter be supportive, he’s realistically depicted as a straight cis man who thinks he owns the woman he’s dating and that he has a claim on what she does with her body.

Being a slasher, bodies and what’s done to them is a huge element of this movie – Jess making a decision for her body, Barb being sexual with her body, and the killer brutalizing the bodies of women throughout.

His violence towards women is obvious, and how he takes their lives contains subtext, from suffocation (silencing the victim) to stabbing with a phallic object (often seen as a sexual extension of the self).

This 70s horror explores not only the fear of violence that women especially face on campuses but also abortion and claiming ownership of the body, men feeling they have claim over women’s bodies, and authorities not taking the sorority girls’ concerns seriously until it’s too late (no surprise there).

Black Christmas is all in all the perfect watch for horror lovers and casual viewers alike.

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