During their Christmas break, a group of sorority girls are stalked by a stranger.

Watching old movies can be a tricky thing: innovative movies that became copied can come across as cliche to modern audiences. This is one of those movies.

This was the first of the holiday horror films and originally intended as the first instalment of a holiday-horror themed anthology series that never panned out. John Carpenter reportedly loved the idea and asked for permission to use it and thus created the iconic Halloween in 1978. It was also spiritual precursor to such films as Friday the 13th (1980) and My Bloody Valentine (1981).

It is also considered one of the first slasher films, though the body count is fairly small compared to many modern instances of the trope.

We open with a POV shot with heavy breathing approaching Pi Kappa Sig, a sorority house where there is a Christmas party in progress. The POV climbs up the side of the house and enters an upper window. Throughout, we only see the killer’s POV and occasionally his hands and memorably,  a single eye.

The sisters receive their annual “moaner” obscene phone call. They all listen together. Barb (Margot Kidder) is taking none of his crap, and the caller ends with “I’m going to kill you.”

The first kill is iconic, and spoiled in the poster: Clare (Lynne Griffin) is packing to go home for Christmas and the prowler attacks her from his hiding place in the closet and suffocates her with drycleaning plastic.

The killer retreats to the attic. Later we see he has pulled Clare’s body up there and set her up by a window with a creepy doll in her lap. He singles “Bye Baby Bunting” low and creepy.

In a side plot, we discover Jess (Olivia Hussey) is pregnant, and plans to get an abortion, to the anger of her boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea).

Clare’s father shows up looking for her because she never showed, and eventually they go to the police.

There is another call. Jess answers. It is the moaner again, screaming, weeping and doing multiple voices in apparent conversation. “Billy. Where did you put the baby? … What your mother and I must know is, Billy, where did you put the baby?” Flustered, Jess hangs up.

The fans of the movie often call the killer “Billy,” but in-world it is unclear whether the caller is Billy or Billy is just one of the many characters he voices. In fact, we don’t actually know it’s a he.

After a second undiscovered death and a second phone call, Jess calls the police and they put a tap on the house phone. Detective Fuller (John Saxon) seems to be the only one connecting the calls to the disappearance of Clare and the recent murder of a town girl.

Peter comes down the stairs and startles Jess, says he was upstairs asleep. He confronts Jess about the abortion and tells her he wants to get married. She declines. Peter rages. Setting himself up as a suspect, both to the audience and eventually the police.

The murders continue, each followed by a call, each too short to be traced.  Modern audiences will be unsurprised when the calls are traced to inside the house near the end of the film, but this was an original and shocking idea in 1974.

As usual, the studios didn’t like the enigmatic ending, but Bob Clark (Bob Clark) stuck to his guns, and there are many questions left unanswered by the end of the film: Why was there a phone in the attic? What was Billy’s motivation? How could he do those voices? Why does Jess has a faintly British accent? What happened to Claude the Cat? Was Jess a Final Girl?

There was just released the 2019 remake, about which the less said, the better.

Happy Christmas!

Color out of Space
RATING: UR
Runtime: 2 hr 16 Mins.
Directed By:
Written By: