Black Christmas (1974)
Director: Bob Clark
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder & John Saxon
Released by: Scream Factory
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
From Director Bob Clark (Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, A Christmas Story), Black Christmas finds a houseful of sorority sisters stalked by a menacing stranger. Harassed with obscene phone calls and violently picked off by the mysterious killer, fear and panic overwhelms the friends when their assailant proves to be closer than they thought. Olivia Hussey (Romeo and Juliet), Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey), Margot Kidder (The Amityville Horror) and John Saxon (A Nightmare on Elm Street) star.
Hailing from the chilly Canadian north and predating John Carpenter’s 1978 trick-or-treating opus, Black Christmas, largely overlooked for its impact within the genre casts a masterfully suspenseful tone that continues to cut like a sharp icicle over four decades later. Set within the bustling college town of Bedford, the ladies of the Pi Kappa Sigma house are prepping for their holiday getaways from school when terror strikes. Disturbingly vulgar phone calls quickly turns into murder leaving the remaining sorority sisters scared for their own lives. Brought to life by a diverse cast of local talent and thriving domestic stars, the house residents quickly gain the admiration of audiences for their naturalness and their unique character developments that find them struggling with alcoholism and relationship woes. Unsettled by the murder of a young child and disappearance of their dwindling housemates, an investigation, led by Lt. Kenneth Fuller (Saxon), turns up more questions than answers related to the true culprit. Incorporating POV footage from the killer long before its use became commonplace and encasing the film in a suffocating grip of dread eased only by well-injected touches of light humor, Black Christmas excels in its methodical plotting that although, slower-paced, serves the pre-slasher effort increasingly well. Successfully tripping viewers up with several red herrings, tightly edited death scenes juxtaposed with Christmas caroling children and a strong “less is more” approach to its macabre narrative, Black Christmas remains one of the finest slices of holiday horror with twists not seen coming and a frightening finale that lives up to its cheeky tagline.
Boasting a new 2K scan from the original negative, Disc 1 features Black Christmas with a 1080p transfer, sporting the director’s preferred 1.85:1 aspect ratio. In order to temper expectations, Scream Factory appreciatively alerted viewers of inherent damage to the negative that remains present although, not hopefully intrusive. True to their word and free of any digital noise, skin tones are natural-looking while, contrast is nicely more boosted than previous releases with colors in costume textures and patterns appearing lively. Instances of speckling remain on display throughout the film but remain noticeably more cleaned up than before while, black levels also even out nicely with passing moments of murkiness observed. Amidst its age-related anomalies, presentation is filmic as can be earning Black Christmas its best HD outing to date. For completists, Disc 2 includes the equally adequate 2006 Critical Mass HD Master, screened in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio for those who fancy it. Equipped with a serviceable DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that hones pleasing exchanges of dialogue, blowing winds and creaky floorboard ambiance in the sorority house, controversy has emerged regarding the track’s uses of substituted sound effects and drowned out lines while, its accompanying audio options (DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo and Mono mixes, namely the latter) suffers from substantial cracks and pops. Although an internal investigation appears to be underway for the tracks, the 5.1 mix remains the most effective listening option.
Predominately packaged with recycled extras on top of a few new exclusives, Disc 1’s special features consist of three vintage Audio Commentary tracks. The first including Director Bob Clark, the second featuring Actors John Saxon & Keir Dullea and lastly, one from “Billy”. In addition, an Audio Interview with Director Bob Clark, lasting roughly 30 minutes, can also be listened to while observing the feature.
Meanwhile, Disc 2’s bonus feature packed offerings include, the newly captured Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle (26:11) and Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin (26:35), both of which dig deep into the thespians respective careers and their time making Bob Clark’s Christmastime shocker. Vintage additions cover, Black Christmas Legacy (40:22), a 40th Anniversary Panel at FanExpo 2014 (18:02), On Screen!: Black Christmas (48:41), 12 Days of Black Christmas (19:48), Black Christmas Revisited (36:25), Archival Interviews with Olivia Hussey, Art Hindle, Margot Kidder, Bob Clark & John Saxon (1:41:30), a Midnight Screening Q&A with John Saxon, Bob Clark & Carl Zittrer (20:21) and Two Scenes with a new soundtrack (3:04). Finally, English and French Theatrical Trailers (8:16), Original TV and Radio Spots (3:09), an Alternate Title Sequence (2:47) utilizing the film’s Silent Night, Evil Night moniker and a Photo Gallery (53 in total) conclude the on-disc treats while, Reversible Cover Art featuring the original 1-sheet poster is also provided.
A genre staple that made way for the masked madman antics of the 1980s, Black Christmas has endured due to its chilling tone and strangulating suspense that makes it one of the scariest gift wrapped features to revisit during the jolliest time of year. Early reports and ongoing speculation into the release’s audio issues aside, Scream Factory’s new 2K transfer makes for an early Christmas miracle that should easily satisfy dedicated fans while, the release’s few new extras and Joel Robinson’s cover artwork nicely compliment the hefty sum of repurposed supplements. While its technical merits have rightly been questioned with a hopefully pleasing resolution to follow, Black Christmas remains highly recommend for the trailblazing shocker it is.