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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 1/18/01

Black Christmas
1974 (2000) - Film Funding/Vision IV (Critical Mass Releasing, Inc.)

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Black Christmas Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/B

Specs and Features

98 mins, R, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, cast filmographies, two interviews with John Saxon, theatrical trailer, film themed menu screens, scene access (13 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none

"If this movie doesn't make your skin crawl, it's on too tight."

It's hard to believe that the man who gave us Porky's and A Christmas Story also gave us Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things and Black Christmas. But he did. It would seem that Bob Clark is equally adept at horror as he is with comedy, and God bless him for it.

The story goes a little something like this: it's Christmas Eve and a homicidal lunatic escapes from the local asylum, only to take quiet refuge up in the attic of a local sorority house. Most of the sorority girls have headed on their merry way for the holidays, but a select group of girls have remained behind. There's the lovely Olivia Hussey (fresh from her adolescent nude scenes in Romeo and Juliet), Andrea Martin (a few years before she would make her mark on Canada's SCTV) and, of course, a completely sane Margot Kidder (in her legendary role as a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed sorority girl). There's also a gaggle of "deadmeat" girls, but they don't really count, do they?

As the evening grows closer, the girls go about their usual business. But just as they're settling in for a cold winter's night, the killer starts a series of frightening phone calls which are first sexual and then quickly grow violent. I guess these calls are meant to set the girls on edge and make them that much more attractive to kill one by one. And kill them one by one he does.

Long before Michael Myers killed babysitters, Jason killed camp counselors and Wes Craven showcased teens in new and witty states of death, Bob Clark set up what would become the quintessential slasher flick. You have young and attractive victims, a faceless psychopathic killer with imagination and - oh, what the hell - John Saxon as the ever-faithful small town cop. It's the perfect horror flick, isn't it? This is a slasher film made before the genre really existed as such. Halloween, Friday the 13th and When a Stranger Calls all owe Black Christmas a nod. It may not be the best of the lot, but it was certainly first.

This Canadian DVD presents the film in a digitally remastered full frame aspect ratio. Although usually presented widescreen in the past, this edition preserves ALL of the video information top, sides and bottom. Critical Mass pulled a Kubrick by deciding to present this film full frame. There's some info on the top and a few shadows that could have benefited by matting, but every inch of the frame is included in this transfer, and my thinking is too much is better than not enough. Pulled from a negative stored in the Canadian National Archives, Black Christmas looks stupendous. It's not necessarily reference quality, but keep in mind that this film was shot cheap and the film stocks used weren't exactly the best money could buy. Any blemishes in the transfer are due to imperfections on the negative. The sound is Dolby Digital 2.0 and the track does its job well. The mix is clean, clear and playful. I don't think I'd want to hear this film in full-blown 5.1 anyway, so this is just about perfect.

There aren't too many extras, but having the film look this good is all that really matters. Still, that doesn't mean that you don't get a few things. Included is a set of interviews with John Saxon, shot moments after he's viewed the film for the first time in decades. It's nice to see this, because Saxon is like a teenager remembering what was going on in his head and with his acting. Plus, he's wearing this beautiful shirt... and you too can find one by calling the number for his outfitter on the menu page (no kidding). There's also a collection of cast filmographies and the film's theatrical trailer (which gives away most of the deaths and should be viewed after the film for it's spoiler content). The disc is not quite a special edition, but not too shabby either.

If you're dreaming of a Black Christmas, then this first slasher film really satisfies. You'll probably have to get it off the Internet (it's hard to find here in the States), but it's worth tracking down for all you gorehounds out there.

Todd Doogan
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