Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Olivia Hussey, Keir
Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon
Director: Bob Clark
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Critical Mass
Features: See Review
Length: 98 Minutes
Release Date: November 11, 2008
Film *** (on the cult scale)
Once upon a time, a man named Bob Clark directed a small Christmas film that went on to become a perennial cult favorite and would even be cited by no less than Steve Martin as a personal favorite film. Oh, and if you think I’m talking about A Christmas Story…man, have you clicked on the wrong review.
No, long before Ralphie was shooting his eye out with his prized BB gun, Bob Clark arrived on the scene with the 1974 slasher picture Black Christmas. The budget was small, but the cast was fairly impressive, and it predated and laid the groundwork for later movies like Halloween and When a Stranger Calls, as well as any other number of stupid-teenagers-get-slaughtered knock offs that have adorned video shelves for decades. It even earned itself a remake for the new millennium.
There really wasn’t anything about it to suggest that the auteur behind it would eventually helm the most beloved and traditional Christmas film ever made, nor is there any reason to believe that TNT will one day have a marathon showing of Black Christmas to ring in the holidays. But without it, the modern world of horror might have been quite different indeed…who knows if we would have had John Carpenter, Wes Craven, or others?
It takes place in a sorority house, where the girls, led by the ever-liquored up Barbie (Kidder) and the sweeter, more innocent Jess (the eternally beautiful Hussey). Things are not well. Jess has learned she is pregnant by her music major boyfriend (Dullea), and he wants the baby. She doesn’t. And to make matters worse, a series of strange, obscene phone calls may be punctuating the fact that girls are starting to disappear.
You’ve seen it all before, but maybe if you were a moviegoer in 1974, you wouldn’t have been able to say that. It’s not a particularly bloody film, but it’s effectively disturbing, with a villain we never quite see but still maintains a menacing presence throughout.
It’s not a great film, but kind of culturally intriguing, and perhaps a little better made than most given the budgetary concerns. We just have to conclude that the late Clark had one of the most unusual resumes of any director, considering that between this film and Porky’s came the real Christmas movie we all know and love.
I think the best way to watch it is to clear your mind as best you can of all other horror flicks and pretend this is the first one you’ve ever seen. Don’t think about the ones that came later, even if some of them were better, and you might have a squirming good time with this once-upon-a-time original notion for a scary movie.
Sad to say, this is the worst looking Blu-ray I’ve yet seen. Granted, it’s an old, low budget film, but apparently restoration wasn’t in the works…the print is strained, and there is much in the way of noticeable grain and noise in the presentation. It works, but is far from exemplary for high definition.
The 5.1 remix is pretty good…there are a few forced moments, like phones ringing or bits of dialogue shoved to a rear channel just to liven it up. Dynamic range is minimal but spoken words always come through cleanly.
There is a retrospective documentary with new cast interviews, some separate interview segments with Margot Kidder and Olivia Hussey, two original scenes with new vocal soundtracks, and a midnight screening Q&A from some years back featuring Bob Clark and John Saxon.
So who the hell is Billy? And Agnes? We will never know. But this pioneering, small budget cult favorite will keep us having a good time guessing. Black Christmas is not exactly a pinnacle for Blu-ray, but if you’re a horror fan, I think you owe it to yourself to check this one out.