Release Date(s)1974 (December 13, 2016)
Studio(s)Warner Bros./Somerville House (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A+
With a tagline like “If this movie doesn’t make your skin crawl, IT’S ON TOO TIGHT!”, you’ve sold most horror fans on a film without showing them a single frame. Black Christmas, released in 1974, not only delivered, but left behind a legacy that’s perhaps more classy than other horror films of its ilk. Banter continues to this day within the horror community about whether or not it’s truly the “first slasher movie.” Most believe that Halloween holds that title, as it more or less set up a formula that its many imitators would ape relentlessly. But numerous similarities exist between that film and Black Christmas, whether deliberate or otherwise.
The story is straightforward: It’s Christmas Eve at a sorority house for a group of young women. While the festivities are underway, it’s soon apparent that there’s something or someone hiding inside the house, maybe doing more than simply observing them. Part of what makes this premise so successful, besides the anonymity of the killer and the performance of the voice actor portraying him, is the film’s lack of score. There are occasional stinger cues, and Christmas music playing within scenes, but it’s otherwise totally dry, creating a spooky atmosphere. The visuals are also memorable, particularly the young woman in the window, an image that will remain under your skin long after you’ve seen the film.
Scream Factory’s new Blu-ray release of Black Christmas contains two transfers of the film. On Disc One is a new 2K scan of the original negative in its original U.S. theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and on Disc Two is a previous HD master in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio (produced by Critical Mass in 2006). The new scan has an overall softness that’s built into the film’s look and Scream Factory has done everything to preserve its integrity. It’s a marked improvement over the Critical Mass transfer. It exhibits thick grain, which messes with the black levels a bit in places, but fine detail is strong, especially in textures and clothing. Colors are much bolder, with more even skin tones, and both brightness and contrast are at acceptable levels. No digital augmentation has been performed and very little film damage is leftover. What is present is some mild speckling and instability during the opening titles, as well as some weak areas running throughout the print. The Critical Mass transfer on Disc Two features a much lower bit rate, as its lumped in with all of the main extras, so it’s not a very strong encode. That’s okay though, because the original Critical Mass release didn’t feature a high bit rate either. It has some things in common with the new scan, such as mild speckling and overall softness, but nearly everything else is different. There’s much clumpier grain, smoother, waxier textures, less fine detail, merely good colors, uneven skin tones, and deeper, crushed blacks with a considerable loss of shadow detail. It’s just as bright by comparison, but with more boosted contrast. And whereas the new scan has instability issues at the beginning and settles down, this transfer is a little more jittery throughout. There’s no question here that the new scan is the better of the two, by a mile.
For the audio presentation on Disc One, you have three options: English 5.1, 2.0, and mono 2.0 DTS-HD. Each of the tracks has their strengths and weaknesses, but they also exhibit different qualities. All of the tracks have fairly flat but discernible dialogue, but the 5.1 mix has stronger ambient and surround activity, as well as much cleaner Foley effects and more prominent stinger cues. The 2.0 track has deeper bass activity, but quieter effects and stinger cues. The 2.0 mono track is fairly flat, with some excessive hiss and crackle, but is otherwise more quiet than the other two. It’s also more representative of the film’s original theatrical soundtrack. The audio presentation on Disc Two comes only as an English 5.1 Dolby Digital track. It’s not quite as aggressive as the 5.1 mix on the first disc (as well as being more lossy), but it’s still good overall. Subtitles are available in English SDH for both presentations.
[Reviewer’s Note: It’s come to our attention that the 5.1 and 2.0 mono tracks on Disc One may have errors/technical issues – the 5.1 track in particular contains added sound effects not present in the original mix. Rest assured, Shout! Factory has been notified and will likely make an official statement via Facebook and Twitter. Once they do, we’ll address this issue more thoroughly when have all of the facts.]
As for the supplemental material, this release is almost authoritative. On Disc One, there are three audio commentaries: one with producer/director Bob Clark, one with actors John Saxon and Keir Dullea, and another with Billy (as portrayed by actor Nick Mancuso). There’s also an audio interview with Clark that acts as a fourth commentary. The bulk of the extras can be found on Disc Two. There are two new interviews: Film and Furs: Remembering Black Christmas with Art Hindle and Victims and Virgins: Remembering Black Christmas with Lynne Griffin. In addition, there’s the Black Christmas Legacy featurette; the 40th Anniversary Panel at FanExpo 2014 with Saxon, Art Hindle, Lynne Griffin, and Mancuso; the On Screen!: Black Christmas featurette; the 12 Days of Black Christmas featurette; the Black Christmas Revisited featurette; a set of Archival Interviews with Olivia Hussey, Hindle, Margot Kidder, Clark, and Saxon; a Midnight Screening Q&A with Saxon, Clark, and composer Carl Zittrer; two scenes with an alternate dialogue track; two original theatrical trailers in English and French; three TV spots; two radio spots; two alternative title sequences (under the titles Silent Night, Evil Night and Stranger in the House); and a photo gallery. All that’s missing from the 2002 Critical Mass DVD release is a longer version of the interview with Saxon found under the Archival Interviews. That release also contained an open matte version of the film and DVD-ROM material (including a copy of the original script).
Black Christmas may be dated in terms of one very important (spoiler-ish) aspect, but it remains one of the most effective entries in the genre. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release is more than welcome with a beautiful transfer of the film and a massive amount of extras. It’s a must-own and will likely become regular holiday viewing for many horror fans. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons