has an average rating of 7.3 on IMDb
1080p in AVC MPEG-4 on a 25gb disc
Dolby Digital 5.1 @448kbps
are pretty darn nice & ALL in HD!
– 98 minutes
– Critical Mass (Somerville House)
Overall Verdict – Strictly for the Fans
The Movie Itself is directed by Bob Clark, of “A Christmas Story” fame, and written by Roy Moore.
Like so many people, I thoroughly enjoyed John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” And like many fans of the film, I was under the impression that Carpenter’s film was the first of its kind — the very genesis of the “Slasher” film sub-genre.
It wasn’t until college that I learned about the film, “Black Christmas” through my pop-literature professor. As it so happened, Halloween was quickly approaching, and the professor decided to hold a lecture about “mastering the unseen.” Many examples of classic horror were cited for their effectiveness in implementing the “unseen” technique. By this, I mean of course the deliberate use of shadows, literal and metaphorical, to prevent the audience from seeing — or understanding — the horror stimulus too much. The theory was that if you, or the audience, were to fully behold the element driving the horror scenes, that they would in effect no longer ensnare you. In many ways, this can be directly applied to the common understanding of fear — that we fear what we do not understand.
Prompting a debate about the effective usage of these techniques and methods in film, our professor asked us to create a list of films we thought adhered to these principles. Naturally, I was quick to mention “Halloween” among others, and as we went around, the list on the board was fleshed out. After all was said and done, we had a substantial collection of films, but we were informed that there was one remaining film that we failed to mention, one that was the true forgotten master of the unseen. That film, we were told, was “Black Christmas.”
Having never heard of the film until that point, I was greatly enthralled by the possibility of watching the forgotten classic, and understanding further why it had gone overlooked by so many horror fans, for so long.
As it turned out, I had a great deal of trouble tracking down the film on DVD, as no copies had been released at that time — at least none that I could find through traditional means. It wasn’t until 2006 that I finally got my hands on the (then new) special edition of “Black Christmas” and I was able to see for myself first hand why this horror classic was so iconic, and revolutionary.
Predating all slasher films, “Black Christmas” essentially defined the sub-genre through the heavy usage of the subjective/P.O.V. camera, isolation narrative techniques, realistic scenarios, and grisly, disturbing — though never gratuitous or exploitative — murder sequences. Arguably, one of the most effect film techniques that was employed, and popularized by the film was indeed the killer’s P.O.V. camera. It’s hard to imagine now — since P.O.V. has been used in films to the point of viewer desensitization — but up until this film, the technique was used very sparingly, and never to such degree. Shot through an almost dizzying wide-angle lens, with an unsteady movement it effectively creates a bridge between the viewer and the killer, which succeeded in unsettling many people. Aside from this subjective view, we are given little else to associate with the killer. His identity remains a mystery, even after the film has concluded. Short of a few quick glimpses of legs, hands and silhouettes — and one very haunting image of the killer’s eye — the audience is given very little photographic evidence of what the killer looks like. This, combined with the aesthetic choices made by Clark, make this one of the greatest slasher/thrillers ever made — a veritable trendsetting film.
While “Black Christmas” might not have pioneered the down-beat, unresolved ending, it definitely popularized it, as is evidenced by the films that followed in its wake, recycling the formula.
What’s interesting to note is that Clark himself isn’t happy with being labeled the forefather of the “Slasher Film.” In his commentary, he informs that he’s always seen the film as more of a thriller than anything else, and that his goal was to show as little of the killer, and the death scenes as possible. As a result, we’re left with a film that succeeds in its aspirations to be a unique thriller, but also inadvertently ended up giving birth to an entire sub-genre through its fresh approach to a tired horror genre.
Also worthy of note is the fact that Clark was said to have been approached by Carpenter, and asked whether or not he planned to make a sequel to “Black Christmas.” Clark informed him that he had kicked the idea around but decided against it, but instead offered Carpenter a hypothetical storyline — had he gone through with it, it would have taken place the following Fall, picking up with the escape of the killer from a mental institution, and it would feature the title “Halloween.” Obviously, this idea struck Carpenter, and so the seed was planted for the 1978′s semi-spiritual-successor, “Halloween.”
If you haven’t seen “Black Christmas” you’re truly missing out. There’s a reason why this film has such a loyal and dedicated fan base. It is sad that it wasn’t released in time for Halloween — as it would have made a great addition to horror-movie-marathons the world over, but it will surely be available in time for the Christmas holiday, providing everyone with the chance to have a frightfully “Black (and Blu) Christmas.”
Video Quality on this release is 1080p in AVC MPEG-4 on a BD-25 (25 gigabyte Blu-ray Disc) and presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. First thing to keep in mind here is that the original DVD of this film isn’t neccesarily something you’d find too easily or did this have the highest budget in the world back in 1974 when it was filmed. You’d think that since it was originally released theatrically by Warner that it would have over the years been something the studio would keep it’s hands on for home video distribution. Only in 1998 did Warner decide to release it on Laser Disc and supposedly VHS prior. Once DVD came into the picture it was released by Independent distributors such as Critical Mass (part of Somerville House) that has released it finally on Blu-ray Disc. I mention all this upfront to you because I’m very unhappy with the Hi-Def transfer we get here and I wanted to mention some previous home video releases primarily as well as the film’s low budget and filming period to give you an idea of why it had things going against it. Another film was shot on an even lower budget almost exactly around this time and released the very same year. That film was another horror classic, “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” which I’ll tell you straight up, looks much better on Blu-ray Disc than this and it was only shot on 16mm in comparison the 35mm “Black Christmas” was shot on (technically a year later).
I’m not too sure what Somervile House (Critical Mass) was thinking here but I know they were NOT thinking restoration in any way what-so-ever. This comes to High Definition plagued with tons of film dust, dirt, grain and noise present in the 35mm print. As a result of this you get a very skewed black level that lacks solidity throughout. It does have it’s times that you achieve a “inky” black level but it’s never consistent. The color palette isn’t exactly all that vibrant, despite the tacky 70′s colors and bright Christmas lights setting the backdrop. The fleshtones here are fairly accurate. Speaking of which, the lovely (for her time) Margot Kidder does look good but it doesn’t feel like her beauty is being done justice. The amount of clarity here is low and there is an obviously lack of detail the majority of the time. This transfer does boast a tad bit of an improvement in detail with comparison to DVD at times but it’s really just not enough. I just can’t really see this to be too much of an improvement over the DVD release. The bitrate in the AVC MPEG-4 codec usually runs an average of 15Mbps, I found — which really is NOT too much of an improvement tech-wise over the bitrate of MPEG-2 on a DVD9 (9 gigabyte DVD).
I can’t really say anything positive in any way about this video transfer. I’ll end it with giving it the low “2 Star Rating” that I never thought I’d give anything on Blu-ray Disc this far into it’s existence. What a disappointment too! Such a classic and underrated horror film.
Now my ignorant rants aside, I would like to credit Reginald H. Morris for his amazingly innovative “POV” first-person camera style used on this film. The rough raw, dirty video quality doesn’t do it the true justice it deserves but it does give you an idea of how excellent of job the filmmakers did here a visual standard. Hats off to all of the original crew members that worked on this.
Audio Quality on this release is in Dolby Digital 5.1 @448kbps and Dolby Digital 2.0 replication of the original Mono track that runs @224kbps in both English and French. Most important to remember here are two things. First off that this was originally recorded in Mono, hence we get the Dolby Digital replication of it. Second, this is the type of horror film that mainly the dialogue and “element of surprise” spikes in the Score play vital to the plot. Safe to say this does the dialogue justice with distinct delivery throughout in both the Dolby Digital 5.1 and Mono mixes. The Score by Carl Zittrer comes across decently through the 5.1 soundscape. For a majority of the time you’ll hear use of the front left and right channels with very little rear channel or even bass presence — but once a spike of the score or sound effect comes into play you’ll hear some nice rear channel use.
There’s really not too much bass present here as it comes from a Mono source. Regardless of of it meeting up to the very basic requirements of a horror film it just doesn’t really impress too much in terms of sound. Not quite as bad as the video presentation I mention (crucified) above though, I will give it that. “Black Christmas”  on Blu-ray Disc earns a “3 Star Rating” for overall audio quality. A lossless 5.1 or Mono track would have been a major plus I’d like to close by mentioning. Instead of two Dolby Digital tracks we could have got a PCM 2.0 Mono track or DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that could have packed some extra punch. We don’t get that here and it’s a shame but oh well, this mistake has left a sour taste in my mouth from the start.
Bonus Materials are presented in 4:3 (Fullscreen) Hi-Def using the AVC MPEG-4 video codec and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo @224kbps sound.
- “12 Days Of Black Christmas” (20 minutes) interviews members of the cast and crew including Art Hindle, Olivia Hussey, Lynne Griffin, John Saxon, Doug McGrath, Karen Bromley, Margot Kidder, Bert Dunk (“POV” cameraman), and Carl Zittrer(composer).
- “Midnight Q&A” (20 minutes) is footage from a midnight screening of the film consisting of director Bob Clark doing a “Q & A” session in the theater.
- Interviews with Olivia Hussey (17 minutes), Margot Kidder (22 minutes), and Art Hindle (24 minutes).
- “Uncovered Sound Scenes” (3 minutes) while mixing the 5.1 track, some sounds were discovered that are not heard in the final version of the film; includes the scene “Trellis Climb”, and “Final Pan”.
- English Trailer
- French Trailer