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The Surprising Connection Between Black Christmas and A Christmas Story

Black Christmas, arguably the best Christmas horror film ever, is linked forever to a very different holiday film.

By Matthew Jackson
Jess Bradford (Olivia Hussey) looks fearful while gripping a phone in Black Christmas (1974).

Black Christmas, now streaming on Peacock, is one of the most important Christmas movies of all time in the larger pop culture scheme. Released in 1974, the film is an early adopter of the slasher movie tropes that would help to define the subgenre over the course of the next decade, making it an essential horror film for fans that still happens to be scary almost 50 years later. It stands on its own as one of the great Christmas-set movies, and arguably the best Christmas horror movie ever made, but it also has a surprising and amusing connection to another holiday classic, one that has nothing to do with horror movies.

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See, Black Christmas was produced and directed by Bob Clark, then a little-known filmmaker who'd started to build a career with low-budget horror movies like Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. With Black Christmas and its tale of a sorority house terrorized by a deranged killer, Clark saw something that might take his filmmaking to the next level, and it turns out he was right. The film was an immediate hit in its home country of Canada, and went out to become a recognized horror classic. Clark, for his part, went on to bigger movies with bigger stars, but while it might have been the launching pad that pushed his career up to the next level, Black Christmas actually wasn't the holiday film Clark first had in mind.

The unlikely connection between Black Christmas and A Christmas Story

Like many radio listeners in North America in the mid-20th century, Clark was a fan of Jean Shepherd, the American raconteur whose improvisational monologues featuring stories from his own childhood had made him into a comedy favorite. According to Vanity Fair, Clark once became so enraptured by one of Shepherd's stories that he kept driving around the block to hear the rest of it, and ended up extremely late for a date in the process. In the years before Black Christmas, he vowed that he would one day make a movie based on Shepherd's tales, in particular his stories of growing up around the holiday season. It took more than a decade, but after he directed the hit comedy Porky's in 1982, he finally got his wish.

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Have you put it together yet? That's right, the guy who directed Black Christmas is the same guy who directed A Christmas Story nearly a decade later. Though his career started in a very different place, Clark held onto his dream to adapt Shepherd's stories for film, and in the early 1980s was finally able to approach him as a successful Hollywood filmmaker with an eye toward making a Christmas film based on the tales. After Porky's became one of the biggest hits of the 1980s, MGM was willing to pony up the budget necessary for the Shepherd adaptation, and A Christmas Story was born, featuring Shepherd himself providing narration over the story of Ralphie Parker and his family. 

It's a fascinating piece of movie trivia, and once you know it, you sort of can't help but look at both films just a little bit differently. Of course, they're very different movies at their core, one focused entirely on dread and violence and the other focused on childlike glee and imagination, but if you look closely, you'll find that Clark's visual sense links the two. The way he shoots Christmas decorations and quiet scenes at home in Black Christmas, and the way he shoots snowy nighttime landscapes, carries over into A Christmas Story, giving the first film a retroactive sense of warmth and giving the second a sense of dark possibility that Ralphie's dramatic storytelling only underscores. It's a remarkable side-by-side comparison, and it means that the films make a great double feature... just maybe watch Black Christmas first, so things end on a happier note with A Christmas Story.

Black Christmas is now streaming on Peacock.

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