Black Christmas: Collector's Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Shout! Factory
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (9th January 2017).
The Film

There is only one Bob Clark Christmas movie I watch each year and it doesn’t feature Ralphie and his Red Ryder fantasies.

The endurance of Clark’s 1974 legendary slasher, “Black Christmas”, can be chalked up to a number of factors but the greatest is this: it is a disturbing film. I frequently come across horror message board topics asking for genuinely scary titles devoid of jump scares and excessive gore, but oddly enough “Black Christmas” doesn’t get many mentions. Maybe because it has been relegated to the “seasonal viewing only” heap? Regardless, fans will agree that the unsettling events portrayed don’t diminish with repeat viewings; if anything, subsequent watching serves to reinforce that it is a standout among a sea of imitators. The film is also a noted influence on John Carpenter’s “Halloween” (1978) – arguably the granddaddy of slasher films – adding a bit of prestige to its legacy.

The girls of Pi Kappa Sig are throwing a holiday party before the Christmas break when, toward the end of the night, they receive a phone call from a man they’ve been calling “The Moaner”, who has a habit of calling and making unusual noises. Jess (Olivia Hussey) initially accepts the call but also allows her other sisters to listen in, prompting outspoken Barb (Margot Kidder) to jump on the line and goad this mystery man. She and Phyllis (Andrea Martin) argue over the possibility this guy may be more threatening than anyone realizes. Unbeknownst to the ladies partying downstairs, however, moments before the phone call came through an unidentified person (very likely this same caller) snuck up the side of the house and into the attic. And once the party wraps up that same person is found hiding in Claire’s (Lynne Griffin) closet, whereupon she is strangled and placed in a rocking chair in the attic.

The next day Claire’s father comes to the campus to meet her and is understandably stood up. He heads to the sorority house and reports her missing, at which point the girls and their housemother, Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), agree to help him locate her. The file a report with the police, led by Lt. Fuller (John Saxon), and Jess also wrangles in Claire’s semi-boyfriend, Chris (Art Hindle), who helps bolster the search by raising hell at the station. Jess, meanwhile, is having problems of her own after confessing to her boyfriend, Peter (Keir Dullea), she is pregnant. She wants an abortion; he is vehemently against it. Claire’s absence grows more concerning when another missing girl is found dead in a nearby park, prompting the cops to ramp up their efforts. The girls are being picked off one by one as the unseen assailant remains hidden in the attic, continuing his phone calls that come after each murder. The cops suspect Peter may be a person of interest, as his interactions with Jess have become increasingly aggressive, but everyone is in for a shock when a tap on the line reveals the true source of the calls – they are coming from within the house.

With the film having been around for over forty years, and fans having been sold one “upgraded” home video version after the next, I suspect most readers are more interested in how Scream Factory’s Blu-ray stacks up against similar editions – which is basically my way of saying this review is a bit glib. For the uninitiated, however, let me say that I cannot overstate how exceptional Clark’s film is – never giving the killer an identity, an entire subplot concerning abortion, a palpable sense of grief for Claire’s father, a cast of interesting, unique people who don’t ever feel like archetypes, and a potentially downer of an ending. Some of his moviemaking tricks are brilliant, like the decision to create Billy’s voice from a combination of three different people (one a woman) and using interchangeable actors to portray the killer so you’re never quite sure who is in the attic. Carl Zittrer’s score is disorienting and minimal, making use of odd instrumentation to add extra unease; it also appears infrequently, giving the movie more of a real life quality. “Black Christmas” was a reasonable success upon release, more so commercially than critically, but time has been kind to this old gem and many now view it as an outright horror classic.

Hell, it was Elvis’ favorite Christmas movie.

Video

Now the news you’ve all been reading for: the transfer. Scream Factory has taken the odd step of including not only their new 2K scan from the negative but also Critical Mass’ 2006 transfer, which is odd because that edition is clearly inferior to their own. The first disc presents the film with a 1.85:1 ratio, while the second disc includes the film with 1.78:1 ratio. Both offer a new 2K 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded picture that is very likely the best this film can and will ever look. “Black Christmas” has a long home video history of looking very grainy, murky, dulled, and soft. I can’t say the new disc’s results are far off that mark but there are clear improvements. For one, grain has been resolved in a tighter field that looks less noisy and more “grindhouse-y”; do not expect an image clear as a crystal unicorn by any means. There is still softness to many faces and objects though detail looks far better here than it ever has before. Colors are more vibrant, too. Black levels run on the hazy side but they’re more stable here than ever. I suppose with a scan of higher resolution and some meticulous work the picture could be improved to some degree but that isn’t to take anything away from the good work Scream Factory has done.

Audio

There are a few audio options here, but know that as of this writing one of them is faulty. English DTS-HD Master Audio is available in original 2.0 mono, 2.0 stereo, and 5.1 surround sound. Being a bit of a purist I decided to go with the original mono track and was instantly greeted by extreme hissing and more popping than a breakdance contest. Scream Factory has (quietly) agreed to an exchange program for those who want a corrected copy. Switching over to the 5.1 track, the audio sounds smooth and refined, offering a more spacious environment for plenty of subtle, creepy rear effects to heighten the terror of Billy’s rampages. If the mono track’s issues are a deal breaker, by all means exchange your copy but if you have a surround sound system the multi-channel track is a definite winner. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired.

Extras

Expect to the exhausted to repetition. Scream Factory has included virtually all previously produced bonus features, collected from a few different home video versions, but much of the material will sound redundant because when you interview the same actors multiple times over the years they tend to recount the same stories. That being said, nobody better complain this disc is missing anything because I can’t imagine what more a fan could want.

DISC ONE:

There are four audio commentary tracks: director Bob Clark; actors John Saxon and Keir Dullea; “Billy” (actor Nick Mancuso reprising his role); and Bob Clark again, in what is really an interview played over the film.

DISC TWO:

“Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle” (1080p) is an interview featurette that runs for 26 minutes and 11 seconds. Hindle, who still owns that jacket, talks about being a working actor in Canada when there wasn’t much work, as well as how he wound up auditioning for Clark for a different role.

“Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin” (1080p) is an interview featurette that runs for 26 minutes and 35 seconds. The actress who is most famous for having a plastic bag over her head tells a few tales from the set.

“Black Christmas Legacy” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 40 minutes and 22 seconds. This is a lot of interviews from the film’s actors and notable fans. I found it to be a bit tedious.

“40th Anniversary Panel at Fan Expo 2014” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 18 minutes and 2 seconds. Saxon, Hindle, Griffin, and Mancuso sit down for this interview/q&a at a convention.

“On Screen!: Black Christmas” (SD) is a featurette that runs for 48 minutes and 41 seconds. This is an older TV episode covering the making of the film, filled with interviews and anecdotes.

“12 Days of Black Christmas” (SD) is a featurette that runs for 19 minutes and 48 seconds. Saxon opens this piece with some interesting trivia narration before it becomes another standard making-of.

“Black Christmas Revisited” (SD) is a featurette that runs for 36 minutes and 25 seconds. Hindle and Griffin revisit the old house used in the film, while talking heads are interviewed and spliced in between their visit.

“Archival Interviews with Olivia Hussey, Art Hindle, Margot Kidder, Bob Clark, and John Saxon” (SD) is a lengthy series of interviews that runs for 101 minutes and 30 seconds.

“Midnight Screening Q&A with John Saxon, Bob Clark, and Carl Zittrer” (SD) is an interview featurette that runs for 20 minutes and 21 seconds. Taken from a screening at L.A.’s Nuart Theater circa 2004.

“Two Scenes with a New Soundtrack” (SD) alternate scenes runs for 3 minutes and 4 seconds, these feature an earlier sound mix with some slight variations that only super fans or those who just watched the movie will notice. Cool nonetheless.

There a few theatrical trailers (SD), in English and French, running for 8 minutes and 16 seconds.

A series of original TV and radio spots runs for 3 minutes and 9 seconds.

An alternate title sequence (SD), under the name “Silent Night Evil Night” runs for 2 minutes and 14 seconds.

There is a photo gallery (1080p) containing 54 images, running for 4 minutes and 33 seconds.

Packaging

The two-disc set comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case, with each disc housed on a hub opposite the other. A slip-cover is included on first pressings. The cover art is reversible.

Overall

An outright, absolute classic this newest edition of Bob Clark’s seminal slasher is a must-own for fans thanks to the best transfer it’s likely to get and a comprehensive collection of all the best extra material.

The Film: A+ Video: B Audio: B+ Extras: A Overall: A-

 


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