Black Christmas Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Bob Clark
Written by Roy Moore
1974, 98 minutes, Rated R
Released on December 13th, 2016
Olivia Hussey as Jess Bradford
John Saxon as Lt. Fuller
Margot Kidder as Barb
Keir Dullea as Peter
Andrea Martin as Phyl
Marian Walderman as Mrs. Mac
Art Hindle as Chris
Lynne Griffin as Clare Harrison
James Edmond as Mr. Harrison
Black Christmas ranks highly on my list of non-traditional seasonal entertainment and Scream Factory grants my holiday wish for this genre classic by presenting the film with a shiny new restoration that really knocks my socks off! Among the several home video releases over the years, there have been two previous Blu-rays. Die-hard fans curious if they should triple dip, will want to skip down to the audio/ video and special features sections of this review.
In 2009, I reviewed the Critical Mass DVD Special Edition of this horror classic as part of an assembled collection of holiday horror movies loosely titled “The 12 Days of ZigZag”. Last year’s Season’s Grievings Edition from Anchor Bay Canada, allowed me the opportunity to share some additional thoughts on the terrifying tale and that review is reproduced below.
Black Christmas (1974) works best in its simplicity. A murderous psychopath stalks sorority girls during the holiday season; his identity and location remaining elusive to both the potential victims and the police trying to stop him. Building on the energy of proto-slasher titles like A Bay of Blood and Blood and Lace (both 1971), director Bob Clark (Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things) furthers the evolution of the budding subgenre by laying the groundwork for countless imitators to follow over the next decade, which would come to be known as the golden age of slasher films (1974-1984). In an interesting approach to the material, the audience is given first-person perspective of the killer. We not only know the threat is real, but we are shown firsthand where the maniac is hiding before the girls even suspect they are in any danger. As intimate as the relationship to the murderer becomes, we only catch isolated glimpses of his identity.
The holiday season usually arrives with a wave of good cheer, but this year the girls of Pi Kappa Sigma are suffering a blue Christmas. Jess and Peter are feeling the added pressure of an ill-timed pregnancy on an already strained relationship, Barb’s family life sends her spiraling into depression and Claire has completely disappeared. Further agitating the situation, the house is receiving obscene phone calls beginning with heavy-breathing, and then escalating to the insane ravings of a deranged individual. Adding to the glum spirits are reports that a local teenage girl has gone missing in the cold, and the community is organizing to help police search. Claire’s father is on hand to assist, but his own daughter’s absence is a growing concern. The killer identified only as “Billy” steadily increases his body count and continues to taunt Jess by phone while the police struggle to keep up.
Bob Clark expertly manipulates viewers by upturning conventions and painting a positively bleak portrait of the Christmas spirit. The coup for this dark tale is the stellar cast led by Olivia Hussey (Psycho IV), Margot Kidder (Sisters), Keir Dullea (2001: A Space Odyssey) and John Saxon (Enter the Dragon). Taking the time to develop these characters’ traits pays off, as they become more than simple archetypes waiting for slaughter. Jess is not the typical Final Girl, dependent upon a man to rescue her from danger. She is pregnant with Peter’s child but wants neither, and his reaction to her decision is a tantrum, but his pain is sincere. Barb is a tough-talking hard-ass for the majority of the picture, but appears vulnerable in the wake of an asthma attack that also allows Jess to appear maternal as a care-giver. Even Lt. Fuller is given a few moments to relax and have a few laughs at his naïve deputy’s expense. These touching moments are all the more wrenching when Clark pulls the rug out from under everything with the revelations in the final shot, and the lingering question of what will happen next.
The film is visually stunning in regards to the craft that went into presentation. Reginald Morris’ cinematography is lush and filled with scenes composed of long single takes that include both elaborate camera moves and often involve a variety of focus-settings that occur so unobtrusively as to go unnoticed. The camera rig worn by Bert Dunk providing Billy’s POV while climbing ladders and allowing both hands to be seen within frame is both creative and, when employed with the wide-angle lens for the subjective camerawork sequences of stalking and murdering his victims, completely disturbing. The unsettling and creepy score by Carl Zittrer (Prom Night) amplifies the tension as the haunting chords enhance the overall experience. Roy Moore’s script would inspire many knock-offs over the following decades, yet he never returned to the genre. Moore’s efforts are solid, but he does miss the mark occasionally with an over-reliance on a comedic subplot involving the secret drinking of Ms. Mac, the sorority house mother.
Black Christmas truly is a haunting picture that will stick with you long after the lights come up at the end of the show. There are many original elements on display that would become par for the course and even cliché to the slasher genre, including the use of “killer POV” shots. Many subsequent pictures owe a huge debt to Bob Clark’s masterpiece, including When a Stranger Calls (1979) and He Knows You’re Alone (1980), but both of those lack his storytelling ability. John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) is the most closely associated film with the launch of the slasher craze, despite arriving four years after Clark mapped the territory. All of these films are wonderful in their own right and can be traced back to earlier efforts. I am glad that with this new Collector's Edition, Black Christmas is finally getting some much deserved respect.
Video and Audio:
In my review of the “Season’s Grievings” Blu-ray edition I hailed the image as the best it was likely to appear until somebody sprung for a full remaster... Scream Factory has taken that challenge and delivers with an all new 2K transfer from the original camera negative that improves on the picture quality of all previous releases. Presented in the original 1:85 aspect ratio, the restored image offers an insane amount of detail and both colors and black levels are deeper and richer than ever before. This movie has finally gotten the love it deserves and I honestly cannot lay enough praise on the transfer.
The company also steps up the audio with a long overdue lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that makes clever use of the surround channels. The original mono audio is presented with a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. Dialogue and music levels are well balanced and free from distortion.
English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
This Collector’s Edition of Black Christmas assembles all previous extras and adds even more gifts under the proverbial tree for this long overdue deluxe release.
Purists worried about the idea of a new 2k restoration will be relieved to know the original 2006 HD master with a slightly opened up 1.78:1 aspect ratio is presented in its entirety on the second disc of this set.
The always welcome Art Hindle sits down to discuss his work on the film in the new segment Film and Furs (26 minutes). Many of his stories appear in other featurettes on this disc, but it is nice to know he continues to be quite fond of this project.
Victims and Virgins (27 minutes) is a newly recorded interview with actress Lynne Griffin, who carries just as bright a torch for the film as her co-star Hindle as she happily shares her memories from the set.
In 2005, the Canadian television program On Screen! (49 minutes) dedicated an episode to this classic film, offering contemporary interviews several members of the cast and crew including Bob Clark, John Saxon, Keir Dullea, Art Hindle and William Alexander (CEO Critical Mass)
Audio commentary enthusiasts have no less than four options to pass the time and learn everything there is to know about this picture. Bob Clark is up first and he fills the session with information both scene-specific and anecdotal. His self-effacing humor is a welcome touch, but he clearly takes the work seriously. The second commentary features the mighty John Saxon and Keir Dullea. Recorded separately and edited together, their thoughts and reflections reveal their very different approaches to the material. The third track is dominated by the psychotic voyeur Billy (Nick Mancuso), who gleefully watches this stroll down memory lane. A fourth commentary of sorts is an entertaining audio interview with Bob Clark on the radio program Movie Talk, recorded in 2006.
Black Christmas Legacy (40 minutes) offers a look back on the forty-year-old film, mixing new and archival interviews with several participants, including actors Nick Mancuso, Lynne Griffin, Margot Kidder, Olivia Hussey, composer Carl Zittrer and director Bob Clark. Contemporary journalists and fans of the film share their thoughts on this early slasher’s influence on the genre. This retrospective was directed by fellow Canadian filmmaker George Mihalka (My Bloody Valentine).
40th Anniversary Reunion Panel (18 minutes) was recorded at Canada’s 2014 Fan Expo, and is moderated by Paul Corupe (Canuxploitation.com) and features Lynne Griffin, Art Hindle, John Saxon and Nick Mancuso. Hindle and Mancuso dominate the panel, while Saxon mostly listens.
A photo gallery (55 images) offers a look at promotional items including international poster art, lobby cards and newspaper advertisements.
The original theatrical trailer featuring the inimitable James Mason as narrator runs an impressive four minutes in length and manages to reveal a significant amount of plot. A French import trailer is also included and runs a similar length, but sans Mason.
Black Christmas Revisited (36 minutes) is a well-made retrospective piece featuring Lynne Griffin and Art Hindle touring locations on the film’s thirtieth anniversary. Interview segments with assorted members of the cast and crew include producers Gerry Arbeid and Victor Solnicki, director Bob Clark, actor Keir Dullea, John Saxon and composer Carl Zittrer , production designer Karen Bromley and camera operator Bert Dunk.
The 12 Days of Black Christmas (20 minutes) is narrated by Saxon and features interviews with Marot Kidder, Doug McGrath, Lynne Griffin, Olivia Hussey, John Saxon and Art Hindle. This segment was created to celebrate the film’s twenty-fifth anniversary and is very informative and entertaining.
A collection of extended interviews, largely from the above segment, including Olivia Hussey (17 minutes), Margot Kidder (22 minutes) and Art Hindle (24 minutes), are presented in their entirety. Also on hand are separate segments with Bob Clark (25 minutes) and John Saxon (13 minutes).
A special midnight screening of the film was followed by a Q&A event (20 minutes) featuring Clark, Saxon, and composer Carl Zittrer, each offering wonderful reflections on their work and the lasting legacy of the film.
Recently discovered sound takes (3 minutes) featuring missing audio from the film appear in a pair of clips titled Trellis Climb and Final Pan. These elements were discovered while technicians were preparing the 5.1 surround mix for the 30th anniversary DVD release.
A collection of three TV spots and two radio ads provide a glimpse into the mainstream marketing campaign.