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The few remaining residents of a Canadian sorority house are celebrating the onset of Christmas vacation when a thirteen year-old girl is found dead in the park. Soon, it is discovered that one of the sorority sisters is missing, which triggers a terrifying chain of murders within the house. Director Bob Clark's ('Porky's', 'A Christmas Story') tense, effective film is a precursor to the slasher films that would come a half decade later, but never relies on gore. Olivia Hussy ('Romeo and Juliet') stars alongside Margot Kidder and SCTV's Andrea Martin.
For more about Black Christmas and the Black Christmas Blu-ray release, see Black Christmas Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on November 24, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin, John Saxon, Art Hindle
Director: Bob Clark
» See full cast & crew
Black Christmas Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, November 24, 2008
A cult picture that had a profound effect on John Carpenter's future work "Black Christmas" (1974) is considered to be one of the key entries in the slasher-genre. Violent and claustrophobic pic tells a familiar story while boasting a moody soundtrack with catchy ambient tunes. Courtesy of Somerville House.
Christmas time. A group of sorority girls are getting ready for a much anticipated vacation. They talk about the future, their sweethearts, and gift-swapping. An anonymous caller begins to harass them and they become concerned. The local police forces are informed immediately.
A string of killings throws the campus into a state of hysteria. It becomes apparent that a merciless killer is on the loose and the police finally get the idea that something very serious is in progress. They decide to track down the killer by tapping the phone lines in the sorority house. Will the killer fall for their trap?
Black Christmas is a film that will force many of you who have never seen it before to believe that it is irreparably damaged by a number of genre clichés. And you will be dead wrong for assuming so. Why? Because Bob Clark mainstreamed a lot of what nowadays is considered to be cliché – killers phoning their unsuspecting victims, extreme close-ups capturing the panic replaced by horror in the victim's eyes, the gothic soundtracks used to enhance the moody environment "slasher" films necessitate.
I am unsure I feel comfortable stating that Black Christmas is a classic. Such a description carries too much weight. It also, arguably, invites too much undeserved criticism towards films that may be representative of the genre they belong to but aren't necessarily what critics refer to as "groundbreaking". I feel more comfortable in stating that Black Christmas was simply a trend-setter, a film that influenced countless copycats.
There are two reasons why Bob Clark's Black Christmas resonated so incredibly well with viewers and soon-to-be important directors some thirty four years ago. First, the film builds a moody and very spooky environment which it effectively sustains until its dramatic finale. Furthermore, its tempo is notably accommodating of the main protagonists and their erratic behavior. As a result, I believe that the horror overtones, while nowadays coming off as rather campy, must have felt quite effective when the film initially premiered.
Second, the direction is very strong. The manner in which the camera follows the killer should be among the primary reasons why you would want to see this Black Christmas. It is incredibly imaginative for a film from the early 70s, and it is anything but suggestive of its low-budget. In fact, it is what gives Black Christmas a distinctive flavor many film directors shamelessly imitated.
Carl Zittrer's soundtrack, a terrific collection of ambient tunes, is also an excellent addition to Black Christmas. It effectively enhances the campy tone of the film during selected scenes where the narrative begins to stutter a bit. In fact, occasionally it also takes over the action and becomes the focus of attention. Not surprisingly, Black Christmas very much fits the profile of a film one is likely to see in the wee hours of the night when one's mind slowly but surely begins to drift away. It is only then when such films suddenly become incredibly effective and powerful, masking many of the loopholes a daylight-screening is likely to reveal.
Black Christmas Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC, and granted a 1080p transfer Black Christmas arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Somerville House.
Before we get to the technical evaluation of this recent Blu-ray release I would like to point out a few things to you. First, Black Christmas is not a big-budget production. It is a fairly modest project with a distinctively dated look. Second, the film has never received a proper release and as far as I know it was never digitally-restored. Third, the DVD release of Black Christmas is not only of terrible quality but also, as far as I am concerned, practically unwatchable.
A quick look at the Blu-ray release for Black Christmas reveals precisely what I expected – a passable progressive transfer eliminating an overwhelming amount of the issues that plagued the SDVD release, a relatively stable color-scheme, and good detail. In fact, the film looks far better in 1080p than what I expected to see. Yes, there are quite a few specks and scratches, some macro-blocking patterns as well but, unlike what other reviewers claim, these are truly not an issue of concern. Clarity and detail, as mentioned above, are also rather decent and I certainly would not hesitate recommending the disc to those who like the genre Black Christmas champions. This being said, I am quite amused by some of the dismissive comments that have been unleashed as of late towards this modestly produced disc. There seem to be a lot of critics out there who appear to be comparing how big Hollywood projects look on Blu-ray with how small, unrestored, campy films look in 1080p. Obviously, dirt, edge-enhancement, and macroblocking will not be detectable on the expensive, fully-restored, Hollywood projects. Therefore, small-budget films, such as Black Christmas, simply cannot compete with them for now (there are only a few exceptions where full-blown restorations for such films have been completed). Thus, think about it before you start criticizing how poor these films look as even during the SDVD boom they never got the type of attention they were/are entitled to. And just so we are clear on this one – I am not suggesting that you change your evaluating criteria, I am urging you to look into the bigger picture and consider what improvements the Blu-ray transfer offers over the corresponding SDVD version(s), and what is actually feasible with such Blu-ray releases. (Note: This is a Region-Free release which you will be able to play on your PS3 or SA regardless of your geographical location).
Black Christmas Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are three different tracks on this disc: English Mono 1.0, French Mono 1.0, and English Dolby Digital 5.1. I opted for the original English Mono track and wasn't disappointed. It is a relatively stable audio track without any major balance issues to report. The dialog is also very easy to follow. Finally, I did not detect any hissing, pop-ups, or cracks to report either. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track, however, is rather uneven. There are portions of the dialog that tend to stick out and the trained ear will certainly hear that balance is quite problematic here. This being said, I would encourage you to stay with the mono track as it is certainly the more rounded and naturally sounding option. Finally, I switched to the French mono track during a few selected scenes, just to hear what the dub sounded like, and I must conclude that unless you are a French speaker there isn't much here that you can benefit from. Optional subtitles for the main feature are not provided.
Black Christmas Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The following extras are included on this Blu-ray disc: An informative featurette titled "The 12 Days of Black Christmas" where you will find a number of interviews with Margot Kidder, Doug McGrath, Lynne Griffin, Olivia Hussey, John Saxon, and Art Hindle. The interviewees talk about the production values of Black Christmas, how it was all put together, and what it meant for them to be involved with the film. The next extra is a short featurette titled "Midnight Screening Q & A" where the late Bob Clark appears, next to Carl Zittrer and John Saxon, answering questions in an improvised press-conference held at the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles in December 2004. Next you will find a gallery of rather long interviews with Olivia Hussey, Art Hindle, and Margo Kidder. Each interview offers interesting recollections addressing the time when the film was made, its reception, and history. Finally, in addition to the English and French trailers for the main feature you will also find two alternate audio fragments that were apparently found while the producers of this disc were working on the 5.1 mix. Both of those audio scenes are not incorporated into the final version of Black Christmas. Their titles are Trellis Climb and Final Pan.
Black Christmas Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Bob Clark's cult Black Christmas had a very unsuccessful run on SDVD. Fortunately, Somerville House have put a decent Blu-ray package which eliminates key issues previous standard-def releases struggled with. Yes, this is a unrestored print and, yes, there are some technical limitations that surely won't sit well with audio-video purists. However, if you actually think about the history of the film, and what is currently feasible on the Blu-ray market, you will certainly begin to see why I consider this to be a good package. Or, at least I hope you will. Recommended.
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