Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews




picture - Black ChristmasDVD Review

by John Topping

published November 26, 2008


Black Christmas

Special Edition on Blu-ray

released by Koch Entertainment

98 minutes, plus 2 hours of bonus material


If you’re a fan of the cult classic Black Christmas, you need to know up front that I’d never seen it before watching the Special Edition on Blu-ray.  But that certainly was not for lack of interest.  In fact, ever since it appeared in 1974 (where I lived, under the title Silent Night, Evil Night), when I was too young to see R-rated movies, I had been brimming with curiosity.  What non-self-respecting pre-teen movie geek could have resisted the now-iconic image of the first victim, sitting dead in a rocking chair with plastic around her head, her face frozen in a state of perpetual terror and surrounded by ironically cheery Christmas décor?  Thirty-four long, unterrified years have I waited, always missing it in re-release under its more well-known title, Black Christmas.  I was finally ready to meet the challenge of its ad campaign: “If this film doesn’t make your skin crawl, it’s on too tight!”


picture - Black ChristmasIt would appear that my skin is on way too tight.  What, I wondered while watching, could possibly have made this film a cult classic?  It was so stupid, so unscary, such bad dialogue, and so boring.  Part of it, I deduced, must have been the experience of being surrounded by an audience laughing and screaming; surely, for example, the scene of Keir Dullea performing the ridiculous piano recital for his professors must have had people rolling in the aisles.  There are lots of reasons, it turns out, but being unaware of them, and watching the DVD cold, you can make a parlour game out of trying to guess what they are.  Or you might, instead, take the unorthodox approach that normally I would never recommend (and wish that I had been so advised beforehand), which is to watch the DVD extras first; in particular, “The 12 Days of Black Christmas.”  This half-hour-ish featurette is much more interesting than the film itself.  Here we learn, among other things, that the now-conventional point-of-view shot of the killer, who will hereon be referred to as “The Killer!,” was first introduced (and that, in this instance, the POV shots that include The Killer!’s hands are actually the cameraman’s hands).


picture - Black ChristmasAlthough Black Christmas, starring Olivia Hussey as the most-stalked of the very-stalked sorority house, is stunningly tame by today’s standards (except for the freewheeling use of The C Word), it is this film that we have to … er, thank? … for the films in the horror genre that have followed; primarily Halloween (an excellent film, or at least I thought so in the 70s) and the sequels it spawned (not so great); more dreadfully, the Friday the 13th series (dreadful in terms of quality, not in terms of actual horror delivered ((aside from the horror of their unending popularity))); and the films which have lately evolved into the horror sub-genre of “torture porn,” epitomized by the Saw series.  Black Christmas is a harkening back to the days of more innocent psychopathic killers.  The body count is much lower; the gratuitous exposed breasts are non-existent(!); and it has that peculiar early 70s look to it, shot on grainy film stock, and a slower, more casual pace, like Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? or See No Evil.


And, although Black Christmas didn’t invent misogyny, making the chief locale a sorority house certainly put misogyny up on a pedestal.  This house is where The Killer! makes his mysterious phone calls, sometimes obscene (The C Word, remember?), other times really weird, wherein The Killer! takes on multiple voices having wacky conversations in a sort of telephonic performance art.


picture - Black ChristmasMost of the bonus features are for hardcore fans of the film only, but it is a must to watch the full interview with Margot Kidder, who played the sorority sister who gets impaled with the horn of a glass unicorn (no one said The Killer! couldn’t be creative).  She is very earthy and honest and, as herself, is more interesting than any character she has ever portrayed.  And hoo boy, was she ever a party girl.  Although her constant references to drugs and sex back in the day become howlingly funny, through it all she is also extremely endearing.  But for all the interesting bonus features, and even understanding why it is considered a classic, one glaring fact remains:  it’s a terrible film, and there’s no getting around it.


picture - Black ChristmasThis is the first DVD I’ve ever seen on Blu-ray, and all I can say is, if you’ve never seen a Blu-ray movie before, make certain that Black Christmas is not the first one you see.  I detected no noticeable increase in the quality of the picture whatsoever.  My friend who owns the Blu-ray disc player surmised that the reason was because it wasn’t digitally remastered, but seconds later was surprised to read on the DVD box that it has been digitally remastered.  It’s also recommended to see it with a group of people; not because the packaging dares you to see it alone, but because the bigger the audience, the bigger your chances of enjoying it.


And, of course, this edition will make a lovely Christmas gift, IF the receiver is already a longstanding fan.  For the uninitiated, it will come closer to a lump of coal.


johntopping @


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