Release Date(s)1974 (December 6, 2022)
Studio(s)Warner Bros (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A+
When 1974’s Black Christmas was seeing a resurgence in popularity in the late 2000s, most critics, journalists, and fans were quick to point out that it was a slasher film before slasher films were ever a part of the movie lexicon, especially as it pertains to 1978’s Halloween. It didn’t help that in interviews from the era, Bob Clark had mentioned that he told his idea for a possible sequel to Black Christmas, which would take place on Halloween, to John Carpenter. While there are definitely similarities between the two films, Clark always insisted that Carpenter wasn’t intentionally stealing from him and always gave him full credit for his own film. But because of this, the films became entwined in an unnatural way, always victims of constant comparison and contrast. In truth, Black Christmas and Halloween are their own entities, and thankfully, much of the ink written about them in regards to each other has died down recently.
Black Christmas managed to not only deliver on its tagline (“If this movie doesn’t make your skin crawl, it’s on too tight!”), but stands as one of the most effective horror films ever made. It’s been remade twice in the last twenty years, but none of those films can hold a candle to the sheer rawness and intensity of the original. The basic premise involves a women’s sorority house during Christmastime. Some are leaving to visit relatives, others are dealing with problems in their personal lives. One night while festivities are underway, an unknown man climbs up the trellis outside and takes up residence in the attic to spy on them and call them to say increasingly unhinged and despicable things. After one girl disappears and her father comes looking for her, the police begin investigating by tapping the phones in the house.
Part of what makes this premise so successful, besides the anonymity of the killer and the performance of the voice actor portraying him (Nick Mancuso), is the lack of score. There are occasional stinger cues and diegetic uses of Christmas music, but it’s otherwise stark, providing a spooky atmosphere. The visuals are also memorable, particularly the first victim who’s wrapped in plastic and sitting in a rocking chair by the attic window, which will stay under your skin long after you’ve seen the film. “Billy” is essentially a boogeyman, but we never see his face, nor do we learn where he comes from. The only information available to us is his interactions with things in the attic, as well as his unnerving phone conversations with himself when he calls the house.
Then again, when you think about it, it’s odd that there’s even a telephone in the attic in the first place. What’s more, it’s also strange that not just the police, but nobody else ever thinks to search it. Indeed, when the film ends and the police discover that the phone calls are coming from inside the house, they never bother to figure out which phone it is. There’s an off camera remark about not touching anything until the “lab guys” show up, including the attic, but that’s about it. Because the film is so compelling, it doesn’t really matter. In other, lesser films, this could be a glaring error, but because Black Christmas is so well made, it’s easily overlooked.
One of the other interesting facets of Black Christmas is its cast, featuring arguably one of the most famous female actors in the world at the time, Olivia Hussey (famous for Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet), but also John Saxon (no strange to horror films himself), Keir Dullea (who most will remember from 2001: A Space Odyssey), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane herself), Art Hindle (The Brood, Invasion of the Body Snatchers), Doug McGrath (The Outlaw Josey Wales, Porky’s), and Lynne Griffin (who also appeared later in Curtains and Strange Brew). It’s a surprisingly well-rounded cast of actors that do good work in the film, particularly Margot Kidder whose rude and tragic drunk bent serves the film well. It’s part and parcel to the film’s success, as characters are a little more three dimensional than the glut of slashers that were soon to come.
Black Christmas was shot by cinematographer Reginald H. Morris on 35 mm film using Panavision PSR R-200 cameras and Panavision Standard Prime lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Scream Factory revisits the film on Ultra HD with a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, graded for High Dynamic Range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are available). The film is presented in its original aspect ratio (various prior home video releases framed it at 1.78:1 or 1.66:1) and now carries the vintage red, white, and black Warner Bros. logo at the start. Black Christmas has always been a fiendishly difficult film for home video distribution, particularly on optical disc. Since it’s a film that’s soaking in darkness and grain, it’s always had problematical DVD and Blu-ray releases. It’s Ultra HD debut mostly excels, and it’s a marked improvement over all previous presentations, including Scream Factory’s 2016 Blu-ray. Despite its heaviness, grain is much more evenly tempered, spiking during transitions or opening and closing credits. The image is sharper and clearer with deep blacks and solid levels of contrast. The HDR grades push the color gamut wide open with boosted hues in and around the sorority house, as well as the college campus, and the police station. The image is stable and clean with nary a speck of damage leftover. The bit rate rides comfortably in the upper 70s and 80s for most of the running time, though it dips during some of the darkest scenes in the latter half of the film, most notably when Jess is in the basement hiding from Billy. However, nothing ever appears amiss in these moments, especially since they’re so darkly lit that there’s hardly any detail to really capture at higher bit rates anyway. It’s an imperfect-looking film, all said and done, but Scream Factory’s presentation is highly organic and film-like, delivering a presentation that will likely be the definitive one for years to come.
Audio is included in English 2.0 Mono and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. Both tracks have been newly-restored, reinstating moments of missing dialogue, music, and sound effects, as well as attempting to remove many of the changes made to the film’s soundtrack. Scream Factory’s previous Blu-ray release included the Critical Mass 5.1 track, as well as stereo and mono fold-down mixes, which they were criticized for, offering a replacement program that replaced the mono track with the original single-channel soundtrack. That track, however, was in dire need of restoration work, which has now come to pass. As restorationist Brett Cameron had no access to the original stems (since they are deemed either lost or missing), he painstakingly cleaned up and adjusted these tracks to more reflect the film’s original soundtrack (a featurette included on Disc Two covers this in more detail).
The mono track is a major improvement over its predecessor as all of the sibilance and distortion has been addressed. Only minor hiss remains. Dialogue is clean and clear, aside from one odd moment at 34:23 when the volume of Barb’s voice drops briefly before steadily rising again. The new 5.1 track widens out the soundtrack considerably, perhaps even too much. The music stings now swell in the surrounding speakers while an infrequent bit of background chatter peppers the rear channels. Panning moments occasionally occur, but the majority of the dialogue sits right up front. At times, there’s an odd, echo-ish quality to the dialogue, as if we’re watching it in a theater. As a surround experience, it attempts to space out the original soundtrack without adding anything new to it, which is a plus. The mono track is obviously flatter, but it’s a more palatable sound experience, for both purists and casual viewers.
Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition of Black Christmas on 4K Ultra HD sits in a black amaray case alongside a 1080p Blu-ray of the film featuring the same restoration and audio options, as well as a Blu-ray of bonus materials. The insert features the original theatrical artwork, as does the slipcover included with this release. The following extras are included on all three discs:
DISC ONE: FILM (UHD)
- Audio Commentary with Bob Clark
- Audio Commentary with John Saxon and Keir Dullea
- Audio Commentary with Billy (Nick Mancuso)
- Audio Interview with Bob Clark
DISC TWO: FILM (BD)
- Audio Commentary with Bob Clark
- Audio Commentary with John Saxon and Keir Dullea
- Audio Commentary with Billy (Nick Mancuso)
- Audio Interview with Bob Clark
- Black Christmas: Restoring the Sound (HD – 8:05)
- Newspaper Ad Gallery (HD – 20 in all – 3:28)
The first audio commentary with director Bob Clark was recorded in 2002. He’s mostly reactionary and comes to the table with good humor, offering many details about the film as it goes along. The track was clearly not recorded in a studio, but it’s nonetheless important to have the director’s thoughts on record since he’s no longer able to provide them. The second audio commentary with actors John Saxon and Keir Dullea was also recorded in 2002, and it was most definitely recorded in a studio. However, they’re recorded separately and neither have much to say. Saxon tends to ramble, though it’s enjoyable to hear him do so, while Keir Dullea lets us know right up front that he doesn’t remember much about the making of the film since he was only on it for three days. Fascinating. The third audio commentary features Nick Mancuso portraying “Billy” who’s watching his own film, which was recorded for the 2015 Anchor Bay Season’s Grievings Edition Blu-ray and DVD release. It’s a cute novelty, but doesn’t provide much information about the film. Last is a telephone interview with Bob Clark for the Movie Talk program, which acts as a brief fourth audio commentary, ending at the 26:28 mark. New to this set is Black Christmas: Restoring the Soundtrack, which features Brett Cameron discussing the process of restoring the original mono and 5.1 audio tracks for this release. Though he admits that some issues couldn’t be fixed since the original elements are lost or no longer exist, he insists that they’re both much better, citing many examples. Also new is a Newspaper Ad Gallery, which contains 20 stills of newspaper clippings from the film’s US and Canadian theatrical releases.
DISC THREE: EXTRAS (BD)
- 2006 Critical Mass Version (HD – 98:05)
- Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle (HD – 26:11)
- Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin (HD – 26:35)
- Black Christmas Legacy (HD – 40:22)
- 40th Anniversary Reunion Panel at Fan Expo Canada 2014 (HD – 18:02)
- On Screen!: Black Christmas (SD – 48:41)
- 12 Days of Black Christmas (SD – 19:48)
- Black Christmas Revisited (SD – 36:25)
- Archival Interviews with Olivia Hussey, Art Hindle, Margot Kidder, Bob Clark, and John Saxon (SD – 101:30)
- Midnight Screening Q&A with Bob Clark, John Saxon, and Carl Zittrer (SD – 20:21)
- Two Scenes with a New Vocal Soundtrack (SD – 3:04)
- English and French Theatrical Trailers (SD – 2 in all – 8:16)
- TV and Radio Spots (HD – 5 in all – 3:09)
- Alternative Title Sequences (SD – 2 in all – 2:47)
- Photo Gallery (HD – 52 in all – 4:33)
Included as an extra is the previous HD master of the film from 2006 that was used for every DVD and Blu-ray release of the film up until Scream Factory’s previous Collector’s Edition. It’s presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and includes an English 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. It’s an ancient master with a low bit rate that hasn’t had any digital restoration techniques performed on it, though based upon the haloing, it’s likely been artificially sharpened at some point. It’s jittery and very soft with chunky levels of grain and detail, but it’s nice to have it included regardless.
In Film and Furs, Art Hindle discusses meeting Bob Clark for the first time, what it was like working with him and Olivia Hussey, the other members of the cast, the mood on the set, Canadian filmmaking problems at the time, shooting the hockey scene, his enjoyment of the ending, being supportive of young filmmakers and giving them advice, how good horror films can be if done right, meeting the fans, and the coat that he wore in the film. In Victims and Virgins, Lynne Griffin talks about auditioning for films, killing off the good girl first, being able to hold her breath and keep her eyes open for long periods of time, seeing the film and other films with her mother, the cast, speaking at conventions and for home video releases, stories from the set, the psychological aspects of the film, leaving things open-ended, and the longevity of the film. Black Christmas Legacy is a vintage documentary about the film featuring various interviews with director Bob Clark, actors Lynne Griffin, Nick Mancuso, Margot Kidder, Olivia Hussey, John Saxon, composer Carl Zittrer, journalists Bruce Kirkland, Richard Crouse, writers Paul Corupe, Chris Alexander, Dave Alexander, filmmaker George Mihalka, artist Gary Pullin, and camera operator Bert Dunk. The 40th Anniversary Reunion Panel from 2014 reunites Art Hindle, Lynne Griffin, John Saxon, and Nick Mancuso for a Q&A session, hosted by Paul Corupe.
On Screen! is a 2005 episode of a Canadian TV documentary series, narrated by Iris Quinn, and features journalists Paul Corupe, Caelum Vatnsdal, Critical Mass’ William Alexander, Bob Clark, co-producer Gerry Arbeid, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, Doug McGrath, Art Hindle, John Saxon, Nick Mancuso, casting director Karen Hazzard, art director Karen Bromley, Bert Dunk, Canadian Film Centre’s Greg Klymkiw, film critics Norman Wilner, Jason Anderson, costumer designer Debroah Weldon, filmmakers Peter Lynch, David Weaver, and film programmer Colin Geddes, Black Christmas homeowner Edith Beauty, webmaster Dan Duffin, and painter Monte Phillip Cohen.
12 Days of Black Christmas is a short featurette by Dan Duffin, narrated by John Saxon, and features interviews with Olivia Hussey, Art Hindle, Lynne Griffin, John Saxon, Doug McGrath, Karen Bromley, Bert Dunk, Carl Zittrer, and Margot Kidder. Black Christmas Revisited is hosted by Lynne Griffin and Art Hindle, which is partly a filming locations tour and partly a documentary featuring interviews with Gerry Arbeid, Vision 4’s Victor Solnicki, Bob Clark, Keir Dullea, John Saxon, Carl Zittrer, Bert Dunk, and Karen Bromley. Next is a series of archival interviews with Olivia Hussey, Art Hindle, Margot Kidder, Bob Clark, and John Saxon—many of which were used in the various documentaries. The Midnight Screening Q&A took place at The Nuart in 2004 and features Bob Clark, John Saxon, and Carl Zittrer.
When Somerville House created a 5.1 soundtrack for their DVD release of the film in 2006, they uncovered two scenes with a different vocal track and sound effects, both of which are included here. One is the scene of Billy climbing the trellis outside at the beginning of the film, with the dialogue taking place in the house being more audible. The other is the final pan shot at the end of the film in which Billy can be heard more clearly. Next are the film’s English and French theatrical trailers, a set of 3 TV spots and 2 radio spots, and 2 Alternative Title Sequences with the titles Silent Night, Evil Night and Stranger in the House. The Photo Gallery contains 52 stills of posters, the film’s pressbook, promotional materials, and lobby cards.
As far as supplemental material is concerned, this release (and the one that came before it) are almost authoritative. All that’s missing from the 2002 Critical Mass DVD release is a longer version of the interview with John Saxon found under the Archival Interviews. That release also contained an open matte version of the film and DVD-ROM material that included a copy of the original script.
After years of the slasher films that came in its wake, Black Christmas remains one of the most effective (unintentional) entries into the genre. There was no genre when it was created, which is why it’s referred to now as one of the trendsetting progenitors. Scream Factory’s previous Blu-ray release was great for its time, but they’ve upped the ante considerably with a lovely 4K presentation and a massive amount of extras. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons