Bob Clark's 1974 horror film Black Christmas is one of the most influential slasher movies of all time, and it has an unforgettably chilling ending. The story takes place in a sorority house, where the residents are throwing a Christmas party before they depart for the summer. Little do they know, however, that a perverted killer has made his way into the house, and is preparing to pick them off one by one.
Black Christmas was inspired by a classic urban legend of a babysitter who learns that the threatening calls she's receiving are coming from inside the house. In the film, the mysterious murderer makes calls to the house in which he speaks in different voices, carrying out conversations referring to people called "Billy" and "Agnes," interspersed with strange moans and screams and violent, sexually explicit mutterings. The protagonist of the movie, Jess, grows concerned when one of her friends goes missing and contacts the police, who tap the sorority house's phone line in order to find out who is making the calls. As if the murders and the phone calls weren't enough to deal with, Jess has also discovered that she's pregnant, and her boyfriend Peter grows increasingly unstable after she tells him that she plans to get an abortion.
Jess' friend Clare has actually been killed by Billy, who has stashed her body in front of the attic window in a grotesque display. The body of a 13 year-old girl is also discovered in a nearby park, and is presumed to be Billy's first victim of the night. Sorority mother Mrs. Mac is murdered while searching the attic for her missing cat, and Jess' sorority sisters Barb and Phyl are also brutally killed. Eventually only Jess is left alive in the house, and after a series of failures the police are finally able to work out where the calls are coming from.
What Happens in Black Christmas 1974's Ending
Lt. Ken Fuller, the police officer in charge of investigating the calls and missing people at the sorority house, stations a cop in a car outside - but it's revealed that Billy has already killed him, leaving Jess alone and defenseless. Meanwhile, Fuller himself is at the music conservatory searching for Peter, whom he believes to be a prime suspect, and discovers a piano that Peter had violently destroyed earlier. It's at this point that Billy makes another phone call, this time staying on the line long enough for the call to be traced and to reveal that the phone calls are coming from inside the house. Fuller contacts bungling police officer Nash and instructs him to call Jess and tell her to get out of the house without raising a panic. Nash, however, loses his cool and tells Jess that the killer is in the house. Instead of leaving, Jess goes upstairs to check on Phyl and Barb.
She finds them, alright, but they are beyond saving - bloodied and dead in one of the bedrooms upstairs. After discovering their bodies, Jess looks through the crack in the door and sees Billy hiding behind it. She flees downstairs, but the front door is stuck, so she runs into the basement instead and locks the door behind her. After trying and failing to get through the door, Billy retreats, leaving a frightened Jess in the basement. She sees a shadowy figure peering through the basement windows, and then Peter appears at the door, calling for her. Jess, believing that Peter is the killer, tries to hide, but he breaks a window and climbs into the basement. Soon discovering Jess' hiding place, he approaches her slowly.
When Fuller and the other police finally arrive on the scene, they find Jess and Peter in the basement, with Jess clutching Peter's dead body. Terrified of him, she killed him with a fire poker before he could have a chance to kill her, and the police conclude that Peter was responsible for all of the murders - driven mad by the thought of his baby being aborted. Jess is sedated and put to bed and the police, believing the house to be safe again, head back to the station, leaving just one officer outside. It's then revealed that Billy is still in the house, now alone with Jess. The movie cuts to a wide shot of the sorority house, and we hear the phone start to ring inside just before the credits roll.
Peter Was Not the Real Killer in Black Christmas
Black Christmas is in part a murder mystery that does its best to make it look like Peter might be the killer. After he learns that Jess is planning to get an abortion, he gives an unhinged piano recital and later smashes the piano with a microphone stand. He comes to the house when Jess is alone, says that he's planning to quit the music conservatory, and then tells her that they're going to get married. When Jess responds that she won't marry him, that neither of them should drop out of college, and that she's still planning to get the abortion, Peter becomes irate, accusing her of wanting to hurt their baby. She makes him leave, but he is later seen creeping around outside the house.
Jess also suspects that Peter might be responsible for the obscene phone calls when the caller utters the phrase "just like having a wart removed," an echo of something that Peter said about her planned abortion. She later realizes that it couldn't have been Peter, because he snuck up on her while she was on the phone listening to one of the calls. However, with Peter's erratic and threatening behavior it's little wonder that she believed he was the killer - especially when he starts searching the basement just moments after the killer chased her into it. But while he was certainly unpleasant and unstable, Peter didn't actually kill anyone.
Black Christmas Never Explains Who "Billy" and "Agnes" Are
The real killer in Black Christmas is never identified, but since he identifies himself as "Billy" in his bizarre conversations, it's generally assumed that that's his name. Director Bob Clark has revealed that Billy and Agnes were siblings, and the film alludes to some terrible incident taking place in their childhood with Billy saying, "don't tell them what they did." It's possible that Billy used to live in the sorority house as a child, which is why he chooses it as a target (and has such an intimate knowledge of its layout), or even that he somehow has a connection to Mrs. Mac (after all, her first name is never revealed - perhaps she's Agnes) or one of the sorority sisters. Ultimately, though, the identity, backstory and motive of the killer is deliberately left ambiguous.
Not so in the 2006 remake of Black Christmas, which decided to explain in painstaking detail who Billy and Agnes were. In that movie it was revealed that Billy was a boy with a condition that made his skin yellow, who witnessed his mother and her lover murdering Billy's father. Billy's mother locked him in the attic for the next 16 years and at one point raped her own son in order to conceive a child. That child was Agnes, Billy's daughter/sister, Agnes. Billy later killed his mother and step-father and left Agnes badly disfigured and... well, if it sounds like this elaborate backstory is less interesting than simply leaving the killer's origins mysterious, then a lot of horror fans who have seen both versions of Black Christmas tend to agree.
The Real Meaning of Black Christmas' Ending
From start to finish, Black Christmas is a gleefully dark take on the holiday season - as the movie's title suggests. Christmas at the sorority house is a seedy affair and the film perverts many of the usual holiday tropes. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, but Black Christmas' story largely revolves around Jess' decision to get an abortion. The sorority's supposedly maternal figure Mrs. Mac is an alcoholic who stashes liquor all around the house. Phyl's boyfriend, Patrick, dresses up as Santa Claus but swears crudely in front of the children. Barb is seen plying a small child with liquor and then declaring, "I think the little bugger's schnozzled!" And while a choir of children sing to Jess, Barb is upstairs getting stabbed to death with the horn of a glass unicorn. It's little wonder, then, that the movie's ending is as nihilistic as the rest of it.
There is one disturbing detail that's crucial to the meaning of Black Christmas' ending: Billy only makes a phone call after he's killed someone. The first call in the movie presumably marks the death of the high school girl who was found in the nearby park. He makes another call after killing Clare, and further calls after killing Mrs. Mac, Barb, and Phyl. The ending of Black Christmas already heavily implies that Jess is doomed, since she's left alone in a house with a killer, unconscious and helpless. However, the sound of the phone ringing adds an extra sting to the ending, since Billy making another phone call means that he has killed again - and there's really only one person he could have killed.