Directed By Bob Clark
Starring Margo Kidder, Andrea Martin, John Saxon, Olivia Hussey
Black Christmas is a little known film by this generation of slasher film fans and that’s a mistake. Everyone knows Friday the 13th and Halloween, but before those films there was this little Canadian film. Now, the film is over 30 years old so the question is does the film still hold up?
Black Christmas is directed by one of the most eclectic directors in Hollywood; Bob Clark. Clark dabbled in horror and exploitation with this film and Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things before creating some other much more lighthearted offerings that became classics such as the teen sex comedy Porky’s and the family Christmas film A Christmas Story. Judging by his filmography Clark has many interests and those interests are apparent in this film too. This may be the film’s biggest problem.
The story is fairly basic and familiar to any fan of slasher films. A group of sorority girls are preparing for a Christmas party when they are pranked by a mysterious heavy breathing caller. What starts as a prank though slowly turns to terror as the girls are murdered one by one. The film mixes slasher elements with whodunit parts to create a suspenseful atmosphere. The film is definitely slow paced but the precise editing and POV shots are very reminiscent of an Italian horror film similar to some of the early Bava films. The scares are broken up by some silly humor that feels a bit out of place in this kind of film, at least in the era in which the film was created. Some of the humor works though and adds just a bit of levity to the slowly tightening noose that this film becomes.
The film is low budget but it survives due to the vision of Clark as uneven as it can be at times, and some solid acting from Margo Kidder before she became Lois Lane, from Olivia Hussey, and from future horror genre staple John Saxon. The only thing about Kidder is that she, like Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween, seems too old to be in the film. She looks older than the other girls and just seems to have an older personality and attitude.
The film is redundant today because all of its themes and setup have been done over and over but this film is truly one of the innovators of the slasher film genre and is a must own by fans of the genre. It’s slow paced which just adds to the tension when the murders finally do come. The characters are fun and interesting enough to hold your attention between kills and they actually build some sympathy for themselves before they get the proverbial axe or knife or whatever. Black Christmas is more in line with a film like Twitch of the Death Nerve than Halloween which in and of itself makes it stand out and worth a look.
This is a 1080p presentation so it’s hi def but it’s not a full restoration. The compression looks fine with no major issues with artifacting but the issues related to the source material really hamper this presentation. The source print is rough with dirt and scratches, Colors are extremely washed out and shifted to red which makes the blood look great but skin tones are skewed making some characters appear a bit sun burned. Black levels are murky, grain is extremely heavy, and the overall image is soft and lacking in detail.
So, the film looks pretty bad here but I have to say that I kind of love it for that. Don’t get me wrong I wish this film had been given a premo restoration but at the same time the way this film looks is the only way I’ve ever seen it. The old VHS copy that I used to have looked just like this blu-ray. That’s why you see films like Grindhouse purposefully affected to look worn, grainy, and color shifted because it makes the film seedy and edgy. Well, there’s no effects here, this film is really of the era and just looks this way because of the age and poor condition of the source print. It looks like an old print that’s been run to death in some small second run theater.
Black Christmas deserves a full restoration but at least this film iws out there for genre fans and even film history fans to enjoy.
Again, the audio hasn’t been restored here just transferred to DVD. There’s a mono presentation and a Dolby Digital 5.1 option too. The 5.1 option is the superior option but don’t expect much. There’s no dynamic range here and almost no use of the surround environment. With that said the dialogue is strongly mixed and easy to hear for the most part throughout the film. There are a few instances where the dialogue feels like a dub though. Overall, it gets the job done at a minimal; level, that’s about the best I can say.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The single disc blu-ray comes in a standard amaray case with a fairly basic looking poster art from the cover. Some sort of really retro looking horror movie poster would have been really cool.
This film has been out on DVD a few times and there have been featurettes and commentaries done for it before. The featurettes from the previous release are here but the commentaries and other specials done for earlier releases are missing.
The 12 Days of Black Christmas is a short featurette about the film and its history. John saxon is interviewed and he narrates the featurette. Along with Saxon most of the other cast is interviewed. Unfortunately director Bob Clark who ahs passed away isn’t a part of this featurette.
Midnight Screening Q&A is a panel discussion at a midnight screening of the film that features Bob Clark, John Saxon, and the films’ composer.
There are also the raw uncut interviews with Margot Kidder, Olivia Hussey, and Art Hindle. These interviews are quite informative, more in depth and in the case of Kidder more fun.
Black Christmas is one of those little known films that don’t have the popularity of a film like Halloween with the mainstream but with other filmmakers in the genre it’s very well known. Fans of the genre need to give this film a look. Sadly the film doesn’t do anything to take advantage of the blu-ray hi def format though.
Overall (Not an Average) 6.5/10
The Movie 8.5/10
The Video 3/10
The Audio 5/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 5/10
Overall (Not an average) 6.5/10