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FINAL GIRL PROFILE: Jess Bradford, Black Christmas (1974) 

by Gina Freitag

Funny how the holidays make for excellent slasher film settings: people are brought together, tensions rise, secrets come to light, violence breaks out. The holidays can also be pretty isolating – and can also bring out the weirdos. Bob Clark’s seasonal Canadian thriller, Black Christmas (1974) bears the familiar markings of a slasher, with obscene phone calls coming from inside the house, sorority girls getting picked off one by one, eerie killer P.O.V. shots that pre-date even those in Halloween, and Jess Bradford (Olivia Hussey) as the brave Final Girl.

Just as Laurie Strode becomes woke to the sinister goings on around her, so too is protagonist Jess Bradford, a Pi Kappa Sig sorority girl who is set apart from others with her accent, her unisex name, and her private struggle. Jess fends off the unsettling attentions of a deranged crank caller who inexplicably fixates on her and her roommates during the Christmas holidays, and who, as it turns out, happens to be keeping a pretty close eye on them. Before the virginal waif image has had a chance to take hold (as with later horror films), Jess grapples with an unwanted pregnancy and an infuriated boyfriend while also shouldering the responsibility of assisting police to track down the increasingly threatening caller.

As the body count rises, Jess outlives her beloved roommates and eventually comes eye-to-eye with the murderous creep. She escapes to the basement, arming herself with a fireplace poker, ready to penetrate the killer at his next attack. Like most horror films, the relative safety of the heroic protagonist is in question even at the end, but one thing is for certain: Jess Bradford is a strong case for the Final Girl archetype, challenging both patriarchy and the meek female victim that horror films previously have offered.

Black Museum Debate Club’s FINAL GIRL FACE-OFF is on December 12, 2017.

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