Black Christmas (1974)
By: Devon B. on December 25, 2009  | 
DVD
Somerville House (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0, French DD 2.0. 98 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Bob Clark
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon
Screenplay: Roy Moore
Country: Canada
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
I think Black Christmas is the first film I ever reviewed, but at the time I'd never seen it. I had a friend who had a deadline to get a review of it in to a magazine, but he couldn't be fucked writing it up. I wrote a mock up review for him based only on the tagline and the fact that he didn't like it. That review never went to print, maybe my friend felt it would be plagiarism, so I'm having another go at reviewing Black Christmas, though at least this time I've seen it.

At a college just about to break for Christmas, a sorority house has been getting crank calls. The calls are genuinely creepy, and the caller seems to be suffering from a bad case of multiple personality disorder. The caller also has a special entrance into the sorority house. It soon becomes obvious that the calls are the least of the girls' worries, as the caller isn't content with just reaching out to touch someone and is also thinning out their numbers. It's the first ever sorority house massacre!

The movie's a bit of an odd one. Helmed by Bob Clark, who also gave us Porky's and that other yuletide classic A Christmas Story, Black Christmas is a horror movie with quite a bit of humour. It's one of the modern slasher proto-types (along with Twitch of the Death Nerve), and while I love slashers, this one doesn't fully do it for me. I'm sure if I'd seen it 15 years ago it would be a fav, but its power has been diminished by rehashes and rip offs. I'm not even talking about the official remake (which I haven't seen. What's the tagline, though? Maybe I'll review it anyway). The humour is hit and miss, but some of it is very funny, like the sorority mother's interactions with the father of one of the girls. Andrea Martin (who was also in Cannibal Girls) co-stars before her Second City TV days, but here she's more of a straight woman, with future Lois Lane Margot Kidder getting to deliver many of the gags. Martin starred as the sorority mother in the remake, so hopefully she got to provide some laughs in that version.

An obvious comparison to Black Christmas is When a Stranger Calls, but Black Christmas predates that film, and is the better movie. Unfortunately it's just a little slow for my tastes, but credit where it's due, the killer has an intensity that screen psychos often lack.
Video
Black Christmas is a 34 year old movie so it still has specks, spots and some significant grain. The film is presented at 1.85:1, which is the intended theatrical ratio. The full frame version does contain more picture information, but also features boom mikes, a sure sign the movie wasn't meant to be see at 1.33:1. Previous releases were at the wrong aspect ratio and non-anamorphic.
Audio
Ah, choices. You can choose from an English or French mono track, or a 5.1 remix of the English language track. Both of the monos have some distortion and are louder than the 5.1, but they aren't too bad. The 5.1 isn't really necessary on this film, but it does give the score a chance to swirl. The sound seemed better balanced in the 5.1 mix, but background noises that were clear in the mono mixes are hard to hear in the 5.1 mix. The movie features a killer that makes unsettling phone calls using a variety of shrieks and noises. I got very surprised when suddenly the 5.1 track made it sound like the killer was right outside my door, but quickly realised that a koala had come up to the tree outside and was growling to stake its territory. Those things make some scary noises! Have you ever heard koalas mating? It sounds like someone's being murdered in ways worse than anything found in Black Christmas.
Extra Features
Black Christmas was already released on DVD, so some new extras were put together for this release. There's a new doco that runs about 20 minutes, but is missing a few principles like Clark and Martin. This disc does not feature the other docos from previous releases, and having read up on them, those other docos seem like they'd be better than this one, 'cause at least Clark is featured. During the 5.1 mixing, extra audio was found for two brief sequences, and these additional sounds are presented here. There's also a midnight screening Q&A with Clark, composer Carl Zittrer, and John Saxon, which gives some insight into the background of the killer. Finally we get extended interviews with Olivia Hussey, Kidder and Art Hindle from the doco. Now, fans of the film have probably realised that there are extras missing from previous releases, most notably Clark's commentary. The man behind this DVD has defended this decision because the bit rate to transfer the film was so high it didn't leave much room for the previous extras, plus it would make the previous DVD release redundant. I still find this annoying, because I think it'd be better to have made a two disc set that renders the previous obsolete; this way fans are going to be stuck with two or more releases of the film. It does seem like the R2 Tartan DVD has the best mix of the new video transfer and the older extras, so that may be the way to go.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
I find this the worst kind of double dip, one where you can't even get rid of the old purchase, but maybe that delights most people. If they like clutter. The movie itself is essential viewing for slasher fans, but be warned it has been weakened by the clones.

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