• Black Christmas (Collector’s Edition)

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: December 13th, 2016.
    Director: Bob Clark
    Cast: Olivia Hussey, Andrea Martin, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Keir Dullea, Lynn Griffin
    Year: 1974
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    The Movie:

    In 1974 Bob Clark released Black Christmas upon an unsuspecting and unappreciative public. Over the years, the film has garnered a very strong cult following and is widely considered by many to be the inspiration for a lot of classic slasher movies, John Carpenter's Halloween in particular. The film also benefited from one of the best tag lines ever…

    “If this movie doesn't make your skin crawl... It's on TOO TIGHT!”

    The film begins as Christmas break approaches. A group of sorority sisters – Jess (Olivia Hussey), Barb (Margot Kidder), Phyl (Andrea Martin) and Clare (Lynne Griffin) - are making their holiday plans and going about getting ready for merriment and gift giving. Then some strange creepy phone calls start coming in from an unknown caller, and when they don't stop, the girls start to become a little concerned. Things get even more complicated when Jess wonders if she might be pregnant, much to the dismay of her boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea).

    Soon after the calls start, Clare goes missing. The police, led by Lieutenant Ken Fuller (John Saxon) and Sergeant Nash (Doug McGrath), are called in but don't really seem to be too concerned with the issue. This changes when a young teenage girl shows up dead in the park one night. Now they have no choice but to turn up the heat and start taking these threats seriously. In order to trap the killer, they setup a wiretap on the girls' house. The hope is that they’ll be able to trace the caller’s number and track him down to put a stop to the killings. Of course, time is not on their side and as the bodies pile up, the cops find themselves in a race against the clock to stop the maniac from killing again…

    A slick and very suspenseful low budget thriller, Black Christmas may sound cliché to today's audiences as the themes have been exploited countless times, but rarely have they been used so successfully. Bob Clark's direction is spot on in this film and he uses his sets and the ominous shadows they create for maximum effect. The sorority house is big and creepy, offering plenty of shadowy atmosphere and it proves to be the perfect central location for the film to be based around (the movie was shot in Toronto and the house is still around – there’s a very cool ‘tour’ online here). The cinematography from Reginald H. Morris (who worked with Clark on Porky’s and A Christmas Story and also shot the Canuxploitation sci-fi cult classic The Shape Of Things To Come!) is quite polished and helps to ramp up the tension with some clever camera angles and effective lighting. The picture isn’t super gory compared to the films that would follow in its wake but it is briskly paced and plenty suspenseful.

    Black Christmas is also a great chance to see a now famous cast in their youth. SCTV stalwart Andrea Martin, a year after she starred in Ivan Reitman’s Cannibal Girls, plays one of the college girls and is really solid in her part. Likewise, Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder have prominent roles here a few years before their respective careers would take off. All three of the aforementioned actresses are really good here, with Hussey in particular really standing out. John Saxon turns in a likewise excellent performance as top cop Fuller, before we see him for classics such as Cannibal Apocalypse, Nightmare on Elm Street and Dario Argento's Tenebrae to name only a few.

    Often imitated but rarely duplicated, Black Christmas remains a testament to low budget horror movie making at its best. It stands as a prime example of how suspense can be created with mood, lighting and atmosphere far more successfully than it can with blood and guts.


    Black Christmas has been released on Blu-ray before by Critical Mass and Anchor Bay Canada prior to Shout! Factory getting their hands on it – why does that matter? Well, those older editions didn’t look so hot. This one? It’s taken from a new 2k scan of the original negative and it is a pretty substantial upgrade over past editions in every way you would want it to be. Shout! Factory did issue the following statement about this transfer:

    “Our 2K scan was made from the original 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 theaters. Unfortunately, the negative had suffered some damage over the years but we have spent a lot of extra resources / costs to clean it up the best we could. We’re pleased with our results and hope you will enjoy the presentation.”

    With that out of the way, this new transfer is the one to beat. Some might prefer the 1.66.1 framing on the old edition to the 1.85.1 framing here, but that was Clark’s preferred aspect ratio and there is no obvious cropping or harm to any of the compositions here. Colors look excellent, the greens and reds and golds in all of the Christmas décor placed around the house really shines, while black levels are nice and deep. The film is quite grainy, but better to have it look that way than to have it digitally smeared and the fact that it’s presented on a 50GB disc with a very high bit rate means that there aren’t any weird compression issues or odd swarming effects. In short, it looks like film, which is exactly how it should look! We get a nice increase in detail here with nice depth and texture as well. No complaints here, this is impressive.

    DTS-HD tracks are provided in 5.1 Surround Sound, 2.0 Stereo and the film’s original Mono in its native English with optional subtitles provided in English only. The mono track sounds the ‘purest’ in terms of the film’s tone though it suffers from some hiss. The 5.1 mix does do some interesting things with effects and score placement in the front and rear channels. There isn’t a massive difference here, the 5.1 track won’t blow you away with an amazing surround sound experience but it’s fine for what it is. Regardless of which option you prefer, levels are properly balanced throughout and there are no noticeable problems with any distortion.

    Extras are spread across the two discs in this set. Disc one starts off with two archival commentary tracks, the first of which is with Bob Clark and is unfortunately full of hiss. Interestingly enough, this was Clark's first commentary – he covers all the requisite stops, the casting, the locations, the use of music in the film, the murder set pieces and more. The second commentary track features Saxon and Keir. They talk about the making of this classic, and about how it came to be, is a tad dry at times, but still very much worth a listen. Both of these are carried over from the old Critical Mass special edition DVD release from years back. If that weren’t enough, a third commentary track features Billy (actor Nick Mancus in character)! This is amusing enough in its own strange way but more of a novelty than anything else as Billy mostly takes potshots at the other characters in the film and gives impromptu thoughts on the action.

    The first disc also includes an audio interview with director Bob Clark that runs about thirty minutes and which plays over the first chunk of the movie. Here he speaks about the film’s legacy and enduring popularity, some of his thoughts on the picture’s impact and how it has grown in statue over the years since its initial theatrical run.

    The second disc includes the 2006 Critical Mass HD Master version of the film presented in AVC encoded 1080p and framed at 1.78.1 widescreen with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The Critical Mass Blu-ray release featured some audio synch issues with its audio track but Shout! Factory has corrected those for this release. The movie doesn’t look nearly as good here but if you’re really adamant about watching the film in 1.66.1, here’s your option. It’s nice to have options!

    There are a few new featurettes here too, starting with Film And Furs: Remembering Black Christmas With Art Hindle, a twenty-six minute on camera interview where the actor talks about auditioning for Bob Clark at the Sutton Place Hotel in Toronto. He wasn’t familiar with Clark when he did this, he just looked at it as another job, but he looks back on it pretty fondly. He talks about how impressive it was to see Clark work up close with his crew, his thoughts on the different co-stars he was cast alongside and his thoughts on the film in general. Victims And Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas With Lynne Griffin is another new featurette, also twenty-six minutes, wherein the actress talks about how she got into show business at a young age only to wind up getting a part in Black Christmas. She notes that she was ‘cast an awful lot as victims and virgins’ during this part of her career and she talks about her co-stars, some of the challenges involved in the production, how impressed she was to be able to meet Olivia Hussey due to her work on Romeo & Juliette, getting recognized for her work in this particular film and more.

    Black Christmas Legacy is a forty-minute retrospective piece that looks back on the film’s enduring popularity by way of cast and crew interviews as well as input from film critics, the picture’s composer and quite a few others. Carried over from the last Blu-ray release, this is a really well put together piece. Some of the material here is covered elsewhere, which isn’t surprising when you’ve got a release as stacked as this one is, but this is worth checking out.

    The 40th Anniversary Panel at FanExpo 2014 featurette gets John Saxon, Art Hindle, Lynne Griffin and Nick Mancuso on stage together for an eighteen minute panel moderated by Paul Corupe from Canuxploitation.com. It’s an interesting piece in which the participants field questions from the audience and tell some stories about working together on the picture. On Screen!: Black Christmas is a forty minute featurette that talks about Clark’s origins before then going on to focus specifically on the making of Black Christmas. Corupse shows up here as well, and there are some interesting interview clips with the late director himself in here that are worth checking out.

    The 12 Days Of Black Christmas documentary takes a detailed twenty minute look back at the making of the film and its influence. Look for interviews with most of the cast and crew members as well as some neat behind the scenes pictures and promotional material used alongside clips from the film.

    Black Christmas Revisited is a documentary including current interviews with the cast and crew that runs approximately 30 minutes in length. While some of it repeats what is already in the commentary, it's also worth watching and it's great to see everyone remembering the film like they do. Among the most candid insights is that Gilda Radner was set to play the Andrea Martin part, but bowed out due to her getting a gig on SNL! Also, most entertaining is the silly interaction between stars Lynne Griffin and Art Hindle showing us the original house where the movie was shot; they really ham it up! The documentary looks and sounds a bit amateurish, as it's shot on DV, but it's endearingly so.

    From there, check out individual interviews with Olivia Hussey, Art Hindle and Margo Kidder, all of whom talk about their careers, how they wound up working on Black Christmas, what it was like, and how they feel about the picture in hindsight.

    The twenty minute Midnight Screening Q&A with Bob Clark, John Saxon and Carl Zittrer featurette is a video document of a Q&A session from a screening in San Antonio where Clark, Zigner and Saxon appear on stage to field questions from an enthusiastic audience about their work on the picture.

    Rounding out the extra features are the Trellis Climb and Final Pan alternate audio scenes, an English language trailer and a French language trailer, a selection of TV spots and radio spots, an alternate opening title sequences, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection. Both discs fit inside a standard sized Blu-ray case that features reversible cover art with the newly created Shout! Factory artwork on one side and the original one sheet art on the reverse. The first pressing of this release comes with a slipcover with the new artwork on the front panel.

    The Final Word:

    Black Christmas remains a seminal slasher picture and a hugely influential film. It’s tightly paced, well-acted and it still holds the power to keep us on the edge of our seat. Shout! Factory have done an excellent job on this one, giving the film a great new scan from the negative along with proper audio options and by not only carrying over all of the extras from past editions but providing some interesting new ones as well. This set is stacked and the film has never looked or sounded better on home video. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!