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Music Video Distributors presents
Black Christmas: CE (1974)

"Hello? Hello? Oh no, not again!"
- Jess (Olivia Hussey)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: December 02, 2002

Stars: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea
Other Stars: John Saxon, Andrea Martin, Art Hindle, Lynne Griffin, Margot Kidder
Director: Bob Clark

MPAA Rating: R for (language and minor horror violence)
Run Time: 01h:37m:38s
Release Date: December 03, 2002
UPC: 778854137394
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-BB+ B+

DVD Review

Bob Clark is a director largely known for his twisted holiday classic A Christmas Story, but it is his brilliantly executed 1974 psycho-killer-on-the-loose film that earned him godhead status amongst fans of genuinely unnerving horror. Black Christmas was first released on DVD in November of 2001, in what was billed as a 25th Anniversary Edition, though it sadly lacked what even the most casual movie fan would have considered proper "anniversary" treatment. While the film itself still retained its finely-crafted sense of overpowering dread, the void in the supplemental materials seemed incongruous.

This newest release, dubbed The Collector's Edition, more than picks up the slack from the comparatively thin Anniversary Edition. Two commentaries, a 36-minute documentary, and a trio of extended interview segments (more details below in the Extras section) fill things out, along with a 1.66:1 widescreen transfer that is unfortunately non-anamorphic. This is the type of royal treatment that not many early 1970s low-budget horror films are likely to receive, and Clark's Black Christmas is one that is certainly deserving.

If you haven't seen Black Christmas, you might be wondering exactly what the hub-bub is. Fans of John Carpenter's Halloween will see striking similarities, though the fact that Clark did his film almost five years earlier should indicate just who the trendsetter really is. The basic story here is not that different from a thousand slasher flicks that eventually follow, in that we have a mysterious, shadowy killer picking off innocent college sorority girls one by one. Will square-jawed Lt. Fuller (B-movie king John Saxon) be able to save the day as the number of missing girls starts to add up? The creepiness factor is notched up as the killer, often shown in groundbreaking POV, speaks in a positively chilling, child-like gibberish, as well as alternating between a number of other different, equally spooky voices.

The films stars a radiant post Romeo and Juliet Olivia Hussey as Jess, the girl genre fans easily realize will eventually be the only one left to confront the big bad. Hussey's Jess is a smart and strong-willed character, one who is calmly willing to contemplate having an abortion and who can also flee from danger WITHOUT tripping over a log or falling down the stairs, unlike countless slasher heroines to follow. Based on her noticeable absence in the extras on this disc, I sense that Hussey somehow may have found Black Christmas beneath her; her absence in the supplementals is glaring, to say the least. Outside of her portrayal of Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli's film, I think her turn as Jess is as well-delivered as any of her other subsequent film roles, and certainly one of her most long-lasting performances.

There are plenty of familiar faces adding to the solid acting and ambience of Black Christmas, including Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin, Art Hindle, Keir Dullea, in addition to Saxon and Hussey. But to call this a simple slasher film is an insult, as Clark uses very little in the way of on-screen blood and gore to sell the scary stuff, and the result is something far more effectively eerie.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: When I reviewed the 25th Anniversary release of Black Christmas, I was fairly certain that the 1.33:1 full-frame transfer on that disc was likely to be "as good of a release as we are going to get for Black Christmas, so enjoy it." Well, this new Collector's Edition proves me wrong, and moves up the DVD buff food chain a bit by presenting the film in a 1.66:1 matted, non-anamorphic widescreen print. Beefs about it being non-anamorphic notwithstanding, this latest release corrects some visual framing gaffes (errant boom mikes, etc) evident in the full-frame version, and overall looks far better than a low-budget early 1970s horror film should really have a right to. Print flaws are minimal, outside of some grain and a few minor specks, and like the earlier release, colors come across very warm. I compared the two versions, and I noticed very little variance in image quality between them, other than the aspect ratio.

I was proven wrong before, but unless an anamorphic release is somewhere in the future, this 1.66:1 print will likely be the definitive edition to own. Far from flawless, but certainly presentable.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: A bonus on this new release is a 2.0 Dolby Digital track (in addition to the original English mono track also found on the 25th Anniversary release). The 2.0 is marginally just a minor improvement over mono, but it does present a noticeably fuller, though still a bit dynamically shrill, soundstage. I found this hiss-free track to be mixed significantly louder, and it retains a generally improvement, in terms of fidelity.

A serviceable mono track, devoid of any real fidelity problems, is also included. Dialogue has that occasional scratchy sound to it, most notable during louder passages, but for the most part it is pretty clean and hiss-free.

A French mono track is also provided.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Murder By Decree
4 TV Spots/Teasers
3 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Bob Clark, Keir Dullea, John Saxon
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
  2. Reversible Cover Art
  3. Easter Egg
Extras Review: Black Christmas has been lovingly cared for in the extras section this time around, and fans of the films should be quite pleased with the offerings.

Well, during my 25th Anniversary Edition review (a disc with really nothing in the way of extras), I openly bemoaned the absence of a "Clark/Hussey/Saxon commentary." My prayers were partially answered, because we are thankfully treated to a pair of scene-specific commentaries on this release. But alas, no sign of Olivia Hussey anywhere. Bob Clark helms a solo track, and it is unfortunately anchored by a rather echo-y recording that makes it sometimes difficult to understand in spots. Regardless, Clark delivers a slow, softspoken, generally informative litany of information, much of it technical in nature, concerning camera techniques and setup. As a huge fan of Black Christmas, I was really eager to hear Clark's comments, and glumly found them somewhat lacking. I actually found his unabridged interview segment (24m:57s), which is also included on this disc, to be far more concise and informative.

John Saxon and Keir Dullea provide the second full-length commentary, though it seems they were recorded separately. B-movie vet Saxon is a real treat to listen to, and his perspective on the film is presented well, to say nothing of being a vast improvement in the sound-quality department (when compared to Clark's track). I found Dullea to be an odd choice as commentator, considering he only spent three days as part of the cast, and his comments don't have much in the way of deep, insightful revelations. Saxon, a far more prominent player in the film, held this track together quite well with his recollections.

Saxon-ites should be content with a couple more extras focused on the man himself. In addition to the aforementioned unabridged Clark interview, there is also an extended Saxon interview (12m:50s), parts of which were on the earlier release. An unaired episode of the Canadian interview program Dark Dreamers (19m:46s) is also included, and it is yet another interview with John Saxon. This segment touches on more of his overall career, focusing on his numerous horror films.

Black Christmas Revisited (36m:23s) is a new documentary hosted by cast members Art (Chris) Hindle and Lynne (Clare) Griffin. Set in the actual house where Black Christmas was filmed, Hindle and Griffin yuk it up in between interview segments with Clark, producers Gerry Arbeid and Victor Solnicki, Dullea, Saxon, composer Carl Zittrer and camera operator Bert Dunk. Again, the lovely Miss Hussey is nowhere to found, but that doesn't prevent this from being one solid little feature. Clark's moving story about Edmond O'Brien (originally slated for the Saxon role) is a real heartbreaker, and pretty much overshadowed the rest of the content. As much as I wished for a commentary, this documentary (along with the unabridged interviews) were a welcome additions. In Black Christmas Revisited, Griffin even recreates her dry-cleaner bag to the head death scene. What a blast!

The section entitled Alternate Openings, Trailers, TV and Radio Spots contains exactly what it says it does. We get two alternate title sequences, each 01m:20s, for when the film was lamely billed as Silent Night, Evil Night and/or Stranger in the House. These don't differ in any way from the regular opening, aside from the film title. A trailer for Clark's Murder By Decree, a pair of Black Christmas theatrical trailers (in English and French), three television spots and two radio spots are also included.

Quality leftovers include a Photo Gallery of 21 color and black-and-white promotional art and stills, an impressive set of 36 chapters (3 times what was on the earlier release), and as an added bonus, reversible cover art. Both sides feature the character Clare, while one side uses a slightly garish red-tinged closeup of her death throes, while the flipside uses the films original artwork of her body in the rocking chair.

Easter egg hunters will be rewarded with a fairly easy-to-find set of DVD-ROM extras, which offer the original script, press book and two posters as PDFs.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

The release of this well-stocked Collector's Edition eclipses the earlier 25th Anniversary version by leaps and bounds, strictly in terms of the extras. The new 1.66:1 widescreen transfer (ok, it's not anamorphic) relaxes some of the cramping evident on the full-frame disc, and the result is a film that now seems far less constricted.

This is a remarkably scary film, and Clark is able to deliver the thrills and chills without a heavy dose of blood and gore.

Fans of Black Christmas will want to upgrade just for the extras.

Highly recommended.

 


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