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Black Christmas

Review by: 
Head Cheeze
Release Date: 
Critical Mass
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Bob Clark
Olivia Hussey
Keir Dullea
Margot Kidder
John Saxon
Bottom Line: 

 One of the most influential horror films of all time, Black Christmas still hasn't found the large audience it deserves. Not only did this film pre-date the "holiday horror" craze by a few years, it also served as the one of the blueprints for the slasher film as we know it. Black Christmas' use of the "killer's eye" point of view techniques, the scary phone call, and it's rather dubious conclusion were all elements that, while not exactly pioneered in the film, were definitely influential in how they would come to be used by virtually every slasher since.
Just before Christmas break at a large college, a group of sorority sisters make plans for their vacation, and one last party before parting ways. Jessica (Hussey), however, has very little reason to celebrate as she struggles with an unwanted pregnancy, complicated by the demands of her temerpental musician boyfriend, Peter (Dullea). Peter not only wants Jessica to keep the baby, but is looking for a commitment that Jessica's not sure she wants to make. In the meantime, Jessica's friends are oblivious to her plight, and just want to have a kick as party. When the house begins to get a rash of obscene phone calls, it first seems like a harmless prank. However, once the caller starts to delve into each girls personal secrets, and one friend goes missing, they become concerned and the police reluctantly get involved. As Jessica seems to become the caller's primary target, she begins to suspect that her angry boyfriend may be behind the calls, but when the police place a wire tap on the phone, we learn who the real caller is, and he's closer than they could have possibly imagined!
Black Christmas is a very simple film with a very simple story, but this is one of those movies in which it's not about why things happen, but how. The prank phone calls are genuinely creepy, the desolate winter atmosphere lends a palpable sense of doom and gloom, and director Bob Clark's alternatingly static and roving cameras drum up quite a bit of suspense even if the events are often predictable, especially in light of the fact that much of this film's core was "borrowed" for the opening of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS. Anyone who's seen that film and admired the tension generated by it's first act may lose a bit of their appreciation for it when they see how it was already done several years before. As a matter of fact, you'll see elements of Black Christmas in just about every slasher film from that decade, even the mighty Halloween.
While Black Christmas is a very effective little thriller, it's rather slow pacing bogs the film down at times, and it's not all that original itself. The use of the phone as an extension of the antagonist can be traced back to dozens of films before it, but most will remember Bava's use of the technique in BLACK SABBATH's "The Telephone" segment as a clear example of it's use in the horror genre. There's also a lot of the typical giallo elements at play here, including a few red herrings, and an underlying morality tale (in this case, Jessica's pregnancy). Of course, loose morals almost always lead to death in the horror film, with the "final girl/guy" usually symbolising purity as a means to survival. Black Christmas, however, seemed to embrace the "impure" Jessica as it's heroin, although the film's denouement seems to hint otherwise.
The original DVD from Critical Mass featured just a smattering of extra material, but the film's fans pressed for more, and Critical Mass delivered in it's second release, the Critical Mass Collector's Edition.
The disc features a nicely remastered audio and video transfer that looks pretty solid, although it seems to get a bit grainy during the film's many dark moments. There are also a few artifacts, but nothing more than one would expect from a low-budget film almost thirty years old. The Collector's Edition features two commentary tracks-one with Clark, and one with stars Saxon and Dullea, as well as an all new documentary titled Black Christmas Revisited and a host of trailers, posters, stills, and ephemera associated with the film. There's also an episode of the Dark Dreamers television series, featuring Saxon, and even a reversible cover sleeve that features the film's original 1974 artwork. This is definitely the definitive edition fans of the film were clamoring for.
Black Christmas is really a treat for slasher fans, especially new viewers who will definitely recognise it's influence merely minutes into the film. While it may not be the most terrifying or quickly paced horror film out there, it's contribution to the genre is simply to important to be ignored, and should be essential viewing for any serious horror fan.

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