When it comes to bad girls of horror, none are badder than Barb from the original, and still-supreme—no matter how many remakes they throw at us—Black Christmas (1974). The film is legendary, and so is Margot Kidder’s performance as the wisecracking, frequently intoxicated sorority sister Barb. It’s filled with outstanding performances, including Olivia Hussey as one of the first “final girls” Jess Bradford, Andrea Martin as everyone’s friend Phyl, John Saxon as Lt. Fuller, and Keir Dullea as Jess’s boyfriend Peter. I think this is one of the reasons Black Christmas, often considered a sort of proto-slasher in the American tradition, has garnered such critical acclaim and such staunch fans because: not only is the story of a killer inside the sorority house picking off girls scary as hell, but the performances are first-rate and the subject matter that director Bob Clark and writer Roy Moore touch on—including abortion—were progressive for the 1970s and still come across as incredibly progressive in today’s sociopolitical climate.
Many of the young women in the sorority house are good, kind people. Jess, our heroine, is one of the most thoughtful, sincere, and compassionate characters in horror cinema. The city-reared Barb stands out like a sore thumb in this quiet college town, griping about “townies” and picking on a virginal sorority sister just for kicks—and of course because of jealousy, most likely. Barb’s bite isn’t as bad as her bark, but she still has a lot of fun being bad. She might drive you crazy if you knew her in real life, but in the world of this film, she’s a constant delight. Here’s a quick rundown of her badness—and in Barb’s case, “badness” is decidedly cool.
During one of the killer’s ranting, obscenity-laden phone calls, Barb grabs the phone and tells him off: “Oh, why don’t you go find a wall socket and stick your tongue in it? That’ll give you a charge.” Maybe not the smartest response when you’re dealing with a homical maniac, but heck, she didn’t know that yet!
She gets a little boy “schnockered” at the house Christmas party by letting him take nips from her cocktail. “I think the little bugger’s schnockered, son of a bitch” she proudly declares!
A phone call with her mother (who must be a peach too!) ends abruptly when Barb tells her, “You’re a real gold-plated whore, mother, you know that?”
In one of the most memorable moments, she creates a fictitious telelphone exchange for the hapless desk cop at the police precinct when he asks for their number. The exchange about the exchange is priceless:
Sergeant Nash: Excuse me? Could you give me the number at the sorority house? Please?
Barb, smirking as the lightbulb flicks on in her head: Yeah, sure. It’s, ah… Fellatio 20880. Fellatio. It’s a new exchange, FE.
Sergeant Nash, after a dramatic pause: That’s a new one on me. How do you spell it?
Barb, with an impish grin: Capital F, E, little L, L-A, T-I-O.
Sergeant Nash, looking perplexed: Thanks.
Barb, trying to stifle laughter: Don’t mention it.
As the father of a missing girl sits distraught, waiting for news from the police, Barb inexplicably launches into a dirty discourse on the mating rituals of turtles: “Did you know, this is a very little known fact, but… did you know that there’s a certain species of turtle that… there’s a certain species of turtle that can screw for three days without stopping. You don’t believe me, do you? Well, I-I mean, how could I make something like that up?” She’s not done, though! “No, really! They just… three days, 24 hours a day, wha-voom! Wha-voom! Wha-voom! Can you believe that, three days? I’m lucky if I get three minutes! Do you know how I know this? Because I went down to the zoo and I watched them. It was very boring. Well actually, um, I, uh, didn’t stay for the whole three days, I went over and I watched the zebras, because they only take thirty seconds! Premature ejaculation!” Oh Barb, how we love you so.
You might have noticed a theme: Barb drinks, a lot. Along with house mother Mrs. Mac, who stashes bottles of liquor all over the house, the two of them make Black Christmas one of the booziest horror movies ever made. And that’s appropriate, because who hasn’t gotten schnockered on Christmas to numb the pain of all that forced fun with people you don’t really want to hang out with anyway?
Margot was my first movie crush as a kid, thanks to her role as the plucky, funny, sexy Lois Lane in Superman: The Movie (1978). Once I discovered Black Christmas, Barb quickly vied for top spot with Lois on my list of favorite Margot roles. She’s staggeringly good in this film; not only is she a riot but she also let’s us see the pain just beneath the surface for Barb. She’s caustic because she’s always in defensive mode, trying to hide insecurities and protect herself by making others uncomfortable. Margot makes Barb sympathetic, even in moments when she seems cruel or mean for no reason. Barb’s badness feels like a put-on, a defense mechanism honed over years of dealing with a narcissistic mother and lord only knows what else.
Barb’s demise at the hands of Billy the attic-dwelling maniac is shockingly brutal. He stabs her to death in her own bed, with the sharp horn of the glass unicorn statue she keeps next to her bed. A unicorn is a rare creature, something or someone who stands out as unique, often in amazing ways. The ultimate irony might be that she was killed with a symbol of something she probably dreamed of being seen as in the eyes of others, but could only really achieve through sarcasm and snide remarks. Yes, Barb was special, different, but hardly rare. She was an asthmatic who drank too much, had no filter, and felt like an outsider in her social circle. Many of us can relate to at least some of that, which is part of what makes Margot’s portrait of Barb so affecting. Sure, Barb could be cutting and mean-spirited, but no one deserves that fate. Yet, as a wonderfully vibrant and memorable character she will live on forever in our hearts, as will the woman who portrayed her.