The college town of Bedford is receiving an unwelcome guest this Christmas. As the residents of sorority house Pi Kappa Sigma prepare for the festive season, a stranger begins to stalk the house. A series of obscene phone calls start to plague the residents of the sorority and it becomes clear that a psychopath is homing in on the sisters with dubious intentions. And though the police try to trace the calls, they discover that nothing is as it seems during this Black Christmas. "Stuffed with extremely tense moments, chilling cinematography, amazing characters and long-lasting dread… [this] genuine classic is completely deserving of every bit of respect and admiration it's picked up over the last 40 years" (addictedtohorormovie.com).
“Super Tongue strikes again!”
In the slasher genre there are a million films that carry a million variations of the horror tropes we have all come to know, love, and revile. Rabid cult horror fans point to Bob Clark’s 1974 film ‘Black Christmas’ as the one that started it all. More of a thriller than a true slasher by today’s standards, this small budget Canadian film all but disappeared before TV stations started playing the film much to it’s audiences delight. Even with several botched home video releases the film has lived in obscurity while tentpole slasher titles like ‘Halloween’ and ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ formed a reuseable and recognizable blueprint for the genre. It’s Christmas time again and what better way to celebrate the holidays than curling up with the mother of all slasher films, ‘Black Christmas’!
Christmas break is approaching and the girls of Phi Kappa Sigma are making preparations for their holiday party. With some of the residents gone for the break their old sorority house is a bit darker and quieter than usual. Barb (Margot Kidder), Jess (Olivia Hussey), Phyl (Andrea Martin), and Clare (Lynne Griffin) are the only students left along with their house mother Mrs. Mac who shares most of the house with her hidden bottles of booze. When some obscene phone calls wreck their evening the girls are worried the stranger on the other end will live up to his perverted promises. Soon after the calls start Clare goes missing. Inept law enforcement officers are called in to handle the case led by Lieutenant Fuller (John Saxon) and Sergeant Nash (Doug McGrath). When a local girl is found murdered nearby the cops finally show some interest in Clare’s disappearance. A wiretap is set on the house hoping to trace the crazed caller. Jess sits nervously by the phone hoping she can keep the caller on the line long enough to get a trace. Across town the bumbling cops are following leads while the demented killer attempts to finish the job at Phi Kappa Sigma.
Bob Clark’s film is a low budget horror thriller that emphasizes the moments of tension and character development over predictable bloody violence. Using atmosphere, shadows, music, and creepy-as-hell dialogue ‘Black Christmas’ gives the audience just enough information about our story (and it’s killer) to keep you guessing. With Margot Kidder, Olivia Hussey, Andrea Martin, and John Saxon having promising careers after this film it’s fun to see them in their early days really putting in their time on a low budget Canadian film. It may sound blasphemous, but I’ve always felt Margot Kidder over-acted her scenes. Killer lines like “It’s a sorority not a convent” seem thrown away under her careless approach to Barb. Olivia Hussey rightly steals the show portraying Jess’ conflicted life balanced with her growing terror.
It’s been 15 years since I last watched ‘Black Christmas’. I remember a simple little movie that didn’t impress me with jump scares or gory effects. After some intense years of “study” I’m able to recognize the cheap tactics horror movies use to scare us. Now I understand what makes a great horror film. It isn’t jump scares, or gratuitous nudity, or even blood gushing effects. It’s a solid narrative with measured pacing, the right score, and character development that builds upon the emotional awareness of the film. Clark’s approach is marvelous for this material. The third act is bursting with tension, but you aren’t spoon-fed an ounce of it. The camera pushes through the phone exchange boards without unhinged panic. Even the focus pull on Jess after “the call” is slower than you’d expect. He allows you enough time to process every moment that’s presented. The tension builds within the viewer rather than pushed into you. Clarke's inclusion of POV shots cement the tension by putting us in the driver’s seat to witness the killer’s actions. ‘Black Christmas’ is a prime example of how fear can be created with sound, lighting, and dialogue rather than gratuitous bloody violence.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
‘Black Christmas’ arrives on Scream Factory Blu-ray in a two disc package. The film is pressed onto a BD50 disc housed in a double sided keep case with reversible artwork. The main feature disc opens to the Shout Factory and Scream Factory logos before settling onto the Main Menu. When you hear the creepy Christmas music you’ve made it!
Presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 this new 2k scan of ‘Black Christmas’ looks phenomenal! The film begins with a statement about this new transfer:
“This new 2k scan was made from the film negative and retains the grain and softness you would have seen during its original release in 1974. We have not applied any digital noise reduction and restored the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio used in US theatres. We have done our best to clean up the element which had suffered some damage over the years. We hope you enjoy this new transfer.”
Colors in this 2k transfer seem more natural than in previous releases where they appear a bit washed out. Black levels are deep and consistent throughout the feature. Grain is resolved and without the compression issues from previous releases on the Critical Mass and Anchor Bay Blu-ray discs. With a high bit rate and deep grain present this transfer of ‘Black Christmas’ looks as film-like as you’re gonna get! Those purists who scoff at the 1.85:1 can pop in the special features disc to check out the 1.78:1 Critical Mass HD Master version of the film. I believe this transfer doesn’t match the quality of the Scream Factory 2k, but it’s nice to have the option for comparison.
Scream Factory provides a 5.1 DTS, 2.0 DTS, and a 2.0 Mono track for ‘Black Christmas’. The 2.0 DTS is a downmix of the 5.1 track. The mono track is the closest you’ll get to the original sound mix of the film from 1974. Unfortunately a consistent sibilance and hiss issue is present in this mono track. Students of the film’s home video legacy will no doubt prefer the mono on previous releases. Scream Factory’s 5.1 surround does an admirable job in capturing the film’s music and effects while retaining the film’s dated experience. Rear channels capture music and effects minimally without drawing attention. Levels are balanced without any noticeable pops or hiss. Dialogue is clear and clean. The 2.0 mix is a welcome relief is the mono track gets you down.
-Director Commentary with Bob Clark (from 2001 25th Anniversary Edition DVD) A great commentary from the director in which he discusses everything from locations to casting. The quality of the recording isn’t great so keep that remote handy.
-Actors Commentary with John Saxon and Keir Dullea (from 2001 25th Anniversary Edition DVD) Recorded separately before splicing, this actor’s commentary is a bit dry and repetitive if you’ve watch some of the featurettes on this release. It’s still a great listen regardless to hear John Saxon.
-Commentary with Billy (From the Anchor Bay “Season’s Grievings” Canadian Blu-ray) Nick Mancuso records an in-character commentary for the film as “Billy”. A clever idea that can be fun if you’re familiar with the film and need a good laugh.
Audio Interview with Bob Clark (30 mins) Not technically a commentary, but this interview with Clark plays over the film and details the film’s legacy and it’s impact on audiences since 1974.
2006 Critical Mass Cut: The 2006 HD Master of ‘Black Christmas’ in the original Blu-ray 1.78:1 aspect ratio without any digital restoration. Audio tracks available: 5.1 DTS, 2.0 DTS.
Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle (HD) (26:11) Art Hindle, who played Chris Hayden in the film, fondly tells stories about the production and his time as a struggling Canadian actor. Filmed exclusively for Shout! Factory.
Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin (HD) (26:35) Lynne Griffin takes a matter-of-fact approach to the legacy of the film, her celebrity status, and the resurgence of cult horror. Filmed exclusively for Shout! Factory.
Black Christmas Legacy (HD) (40:22) Ported over from the Anchor Bay Canadian “Season’s Grievings” Blu-ray edition. Retrospective documentary of the film using interviews from cast, crew, horror directors, and leaders in the horror industry.
40th Anniversary Panel at FanExpo 2014 (HD) (18:02) From the “Seasons Grievings” Blu-ray, this panel features John Saxon, Art Hindle, Lynne Griffin & Nick Mancuso. Some really cool stories here that are repeated in other interviews or featurettes on the disc.
On Screen: Black Christmas (HD) (48:41) From the 2001 25th Anniversary DVD this made-for-TV documentary features interviews with Bob Clark, production crew, and industry experts. A well-paced piece that covers the backstory of the production and the legacy of the film. Start here with your trek through the special features disc as this documentary covers nearly everything about the film.
12 Days of Black Christmas (HD) (19:48) Narrated by John Saxon, this featurette is carried over from the 25th Anniversary DVD. Not too much new info here on the film. Some archival photos, but it all seems redundant considering the better produced features on the disc.
Black Christmas Revisited (HD) (36:25) Hosted by Art Hindle and Lynne Griffin this documentary from the Critical Mass DVD follows the two actors as they revisit the house from the film. My favorite part is the cringe-worthy recreation of their kiss from the film. Peppered into their antics are more interviews and footage from the film. Other than the house tour with Art and Lynne there really isn’t any new info here.
Archival Interviews (HD) (1:41:30) Uncut footage of the 2006 Critical Mass interviews used throughout the featurettes spread across these various home video releases. Interviews include: Olivia Hussey (17 minutes), Art Hindle (23 minutes), Margot Kidder (23 minutes), Bob Clark (25 minutes), and John Saxon (13 minutes).
Midnight Screening Q&A (HD) (20:21) From the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles in December 2004 this panel features Bob Clark, John Saxon, and Carl Zittrer.
Two scenes with a new soundtrack (HD) (3:04) Unused audio was discovered while mixing the 5.1 audio track. Scene One: Trellis Climb & Scene Two: Final Pan
Theatrical Trailers (English and French) (HD) (8:06) First trailer is in English with a bad Vincent Price-styled narration on top. The second trailer in French looks like the film is projected through a glass of milk.
Original Radio and TV Spots (HD) (3:09)
Alternative Title Sequences (HD) (2:47) The ‘Silent Night, Evil Night’ title sequence gives John Saxon his own solo credit apart from the other cast. “Stranger in the House or Black Christmas - Silent Night, Evil Night” opening credits sequence differs only with just the awfully long title card which includes all the film’s alternate titles.
Those alternate titles came about when studio executives thought the film’s title would confuse people into thinking it was a blaxploitation movie. Can you imagine a blaxploitation sorority house slasher movie? It would’ve done better business than the 2006 remake that’s for sure!
Photo Gallery (HD) (4:33) 55 images that auto-play through various marketing materials, posters, lobby cards, and promotional materials.
‘Black Christmas’ birthed the slasher genre back in 1974 and remains a highly influential piece of horror cinema to this day. It’s a taut thriller with a great cast and frights that linger well after the credits roll. Shout! Factory’s choice to retain the film’s 70’s patina should satisfy classic horror fans. I am so excited that this institution of horror is finally getting a worthwhile home video release! The outstanding A/V presentation combined with nearly all of the special features from previous editions make this Blu-ray of ‘Black Christmas’ the perfect stocking stuffer for any horror fan. Highly Recommended.