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BLACK CHRISTMAS
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Reviewed by: Pat Torfe

Directed by: Bob Clark

Starring:
Olivia Hussey
Keir Dullea
Margot Kidder
John Saxon

Movie:  
star star star star
Extras:  
star star star star
Overall:  
star star star star
What's it about

It's Christmas time, and what better way to start things off for the girls of Pi Kapa Sig than to be menaced by increasingly bizarre telephone calls? Soon, 'The Moaner' turns into 'The Killer', and begins offing the girls in some rather brutal ways. John Saxon shows up to investigate, suspecting a sorority girl's boyfriend. But as things go, they aren't always as they seem...

Is it good movie?

Before HALLOWEEN, there was BLACK CHRISTMAS. A dark little ditty by the late Bob Clark, who later became famous for the forerunner to AMERICAN PIE in PORKY'S. Then there was that other Christmas movie he directed, and BABY GENIUSES (and it's sequel), but seriously, the real horror came from this 1974 classic (unless you count Clark's previous horror efforts, but those are for another time).

One thing that sets BLACK CHRISTMAS apart from some of the later slasher films is the fact that there's an intelligence behind and in front of it. You won't find any stereotypical teens or the equally clichéd killer here. Using the most joyous time of the year to offset murderous intentions hadn't been done before, and was downright shocking back then as it was genius. Count how many films that have used this motif of a bloody holiday before and after 1974, and tell me that Clark didn't set the bar. Yep, John Carpenter may get the glory, but smart horror fans know better.

You'd also be hard-pressed to find a slasher before BLACK CHRISTMAS that was as real and visceral as this. Creepy POV shots? Believable characters you actually care for? The killer's unrevealed motives, as well as his tendency to stick to the shadows? It's all here, with none of that Scooby Doo crap, holding your hand and explaining dumbing everything down for you.

Clark keeps it all together with great pacing and effective character development mixed in. Let's not forget the ending, which hits you just when you think everything's been wrapped up. There also wasn't a need for buckets of blood for this one, as the film drips with tension and fear, and really, that beats out blood and gore almost any day. Seriously, what's scarier than what goes on inside your own mind?

If there was anything bad to say about this film, I'd have to say that the fact that Clark never got the opportunity to follow up BLACK CHRISTMAS with another equally chilling film was downright criminal. That, and the fact that we had to endure the half-baked remake BLACK X-MAS, which is worse than any BABY GENIUSES. Still, you really couldn't make a sequel for BLACK CHRISTMAS, since there's no room for riding on the coattails of this one.

I don't think I could say much more about the film, other than it being an essential piece to your horror collection, and that you should see it if you haven't. Or, to see it again to remind you just where the genre came from. And to stick it to those folks who thought the remake was 'scary' or an example of a 'good' horror flick. Filthy Billy, I know what you did, nasty Billy!

Video / Audio

Video: Despite being made on a low budget in 1970's Canada, BLACK CHRISTMAS certainly looks good. One thing you'll notice almost immediately about the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is the grain. There's quite the amount of it, which in some respects gives the film character (as if it needed any more). There's also the instance here and there of compression errors, but other than that, the image is clean and crisp.

Audio: Included in the release are three audio tracks: English Dolby Digital 5.1, English 2.0 Mono and Français 2.0 Mono. Those disturbing phone calls are made ever the more terrifying thanks to the 5.1 mix. Aggressive as it is spatial, the sound belies the low budget origins. While the French track tends to sound a bit tinny and muffled, like the other two tracks, it's complements the visuals perfectly in their restoration.

The Extras

Despite the different cover art, this release is basically the same as the Special Edition DVD of BLACK CHRISTMAS released a little over two years ago (right down to the menus), save for the fact that this release comes from Critical Mass and Anchor Bay.

First up is The 12 Days of Black Christmas documentary, featuring interview clips from folks such as Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Art Hindle and others. You get a really good idea about the amount of work and dedication it took to realize Clark's goals with this film. Cameraman Albert Dunk's description of how they got the POV shots is a perfect example of this. Still, the documentary lacks a major contribution in the form of Bob Clark himself, as well as explaining any obscure elements of the film, including the plot and the production. Despite this, it's a great piece to have.

Next is a set of two Uncovered Sound Scenes, complete with footage. Basically, these are alternate audio clips spliced with existing footage from the film. Interesting, but not as good as the documentary.

Following that are Individual Interviews with Margot Kidder, Art Hindle and Olivia Hussey. These are the longer and unedited interviews that were included in the documentary, so information overlap isn't a big surprise.

Finally, there's a Midnight Screening Q&A with John Saxon, Carl Zittrer and Bob Clark. Clark is quick to entertain and quite the tease with this interview, and takes up the majority of the questions. While he does say that some of the unanswered questions from the original would be answered in the remake *groan*, it's still a worthwhile alternative to his absence on the rest of the disc.

Also included in this release are 4 Black Christmas Greeting Cards, which depicts Clare in her plastic bag glory on the inside along with the phrase, 'Have yourself a scary little Christmas!'. Guess what the AITH staff are getting this year?

Unfortunately, this isn't the definitive disc in terms of extras, as the original Collector's Edition from Critical Mass (released in Canada) has a wealth of goodies, including two audio commentaries (including one by Bob Clark), more interviews, trailers, TV and radio spots, alternate title sequences and more. Grab them both for maximum goodness.

Last Call

Chalk this one up as a holiday horror classic, alongside other greats like SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT and GREMLINS. A superb transfer and audio track, backed up with some great extras, make this a must-own film for horror fans.

ARROW IN THE HEAD'S RATING SYSTEM
star star star star I'D BUTCHER MY FAMILY TO SEE THIS AGAIN
star star star HANG ME BUT I DUG IT A LOT
star star AN OK WAY TO KILL TWO HOURS
star JUST SLING AN ARROW IN MY HEAD AND LET ME DIE IN PEACE

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