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Critical Mass presents
Black Christmas: Special Edition (1974)

"Darling, you can't rape a townie."
- Barbie (Margot Kidder)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga   
Published: December 12, 2006

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:43s
Release Date: December 05, 2006
UPC: 880934124191
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+A-A A

DVD Review

It's been released on DVD twice before, but that isn't preventing a third edition of 1974's Black Christmas. Directed by Bob Clark, the same man behind another Christmas classic (of an entirely different sort), A Christmas Story, this horror movie trend-setter still holds up despite being over 30-years-old.

The Pi Kappa Sigma sorority house is full of Christmas cheer, with many of its inhabitants staying behind for the holidays to celebrate. With the egg nog flowing and the festive songs echoing throughout the house, none of the girls notice a killer making his (or her) way to the upstairs attic. At the same time, a series of disturbing prank phone calls come in to the house, complete with strange whining and demonic noises. When one of the girls, Clare (Lynne Griffin), doesn't meet her father for an arranged visit, the police become involved and begin attempting to trace the phone calls. Barbie (Margot Kidder) is too drunk to realize what's happening, but Phyllis (Andrea Martin) and Jessica (Olivia Hussey) are terrified. Lt. Fuller (John Saxon) believes that Jessica's boyfriend, Peter (Keir Dullea) is behind the whole thing, but it won't be long before the killer, whoever it is, strikes again.

The body count is kept surprisingly low and we don't get to see much blood, but this is still considered a pioneering "slasher film." It's a solid, stylized thriller, but the rather large contingent that considers Bob Clark's picture to be superior to Halloween is overdoing their praise a bit. Still, the numerous "killer phone calls" are the major aspect that set this apart from other copycat thrillers, in that the strange noises and voices we hear are truly cringe-inducing. One of the earlier calls sounds eerily like that of Mercedes McCambridge, who voiced the possessed Regan in The Exorcist. It's not actually her, but these noises only add to the overall scare factor.

As a horror movie fan my entire life, I'm shocked that it took me this long to actually see Black Christmas. I had always heard random mumblings about how good it was, but there was never the sense of urgency to see it as there was for fare like Halloween or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But despite the dated look and countless, similar horror flicks I've seen since, this one really had me hooked and on the edge of my seat the whole time.

A warning for you Superman fans; the Margot Kidder in Black Christmas is no Lois Lane. She's far from it, actually, doing a great job playing a drunken sorority girl who winds up so far gone that she's oblivious to her impending doom. The rest of the cast is stellar as well, with a post-Romeo & Juliet Olivia Hussey shining in what turns out to be the lead role. Saxon plays a cop yet again (he was one in A Nightmare on Elm Street also) and SCTV-alum Andrea Martin gives a touching performance as one of the geekier girls in the house.

Don't be lulled to sleep by a few slow spots in the middle, because the movie's ending and the true identity of the killer has been argued for decades now. It's nice to see that the increased presence of the film (thanks to the three DVD releases) has only heated up the debate again in recent years. The ambiguity of Clark's ending is what really takes Black Christmas to the next level and beyond being just a run-of-the-mill horror film.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: After a pair of failed attempts, we finally get Black Christmas on DVD in its proper aspect ratio. This 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation still can't hide the film's age, but things have been cleaned up quite a bit for this release. Not all of the grain and blemishes could be removed, and these flaws are especially prevalent during the darker sequences, of which there are many. Overall, image detail is high, and the color scheme is well-rendered, providing a marked improvement over the previous DVDs.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The looks of Black Christmas are nice, but the audio mix has always been its bread and butter. This time around we get not only the original mono track from the previous releases, but a brand-new, revelatory Dolby Digital 5.1 blend as well. The spooky phone calls take on a life of their own, thanks to this track's ambience and liberal use of directional effects. Carl Zittrer's creepy score is also given some breathing room, and the dialogue is flawless.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. "Uncovered" Sound Scenes - Alternate mixes for two scenes.
  2. "Midnight Q&A" - 2004 post-screening session with John Saxon, director Bob Clark, and composer Carl Zittrer.
  3. Interviews - Talks with Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, and Art Hindle.
Extras Review: Leading-off the wonderful extras collection is the documentary 12 Days of Black Christmas, which runs just under 20 minutes. Narrated by John Saxon, himself, and made possible in large part by Dan Duffin, the webmaster of a Black Christmas fan website, this piece gives us an extensive history of the film. We get numerous, recent interviews with quite a few of the cast members, including Olivia Hussey and even Margot Kidder. The most interesting aspects involve a discussion by Albert Dunk, who handled the unique camera shots.

There are a pair of sequences viewed with "Uncovered" Sound Scenes that are worth a listen, as well as a 20-minute look at footage from a Q&A session that followed a special screening. Taking place at "The Nuart" in Santa Monica, California in December of 2004, this segment features Saxon, composer Carl Zittrer, and even director Bob Clark. The first question Clark gets involves the identity of the killer, and his answer is much more fulfilling than I thought it would be, even hinting that the upcoming remake might delve further into the matter.

We also get interviews with actors Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, and Art Hindle. Hussey's talk lasts 17 minutes, and is a candid one, where she muses about the highlights of her career, and how Black Christmas isn't one of them. Kidder speaks for 22 minutes, coming across as very flighty, but still managing to give us some juicy tidbits about the shooting. Hindle's interview is almost 24 minutes long, and he isn't as interesting as the ladies, but his poised speaking style is appealing and there's enough discussion on the film to make this worth a look.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

The third time's a charm for Black Christmas on DVD as Critical Mass has finally gotten it right with their special edition release. The film is as effective as modern horror releases, if not more so, despite its age. Plus, superb audio and video presentations and a ton of amazing extras make this the perfect adult stocking stuffer.


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