Before Michael Myers immortalized a holiday horror movie phenomenon with 1978’s Halloween, director Bob Clark’s Black Christmas dared to do the same four years earlier by bringing terror to the most festive of annual holidays. It was a film (perhaps ahead of its time) that would be the ground zero point of a trend of ‘anti-Christmas’ films and also a trail-blazing slasher entry in the horror genre itself. Unfortunately Black Christmas was far from an instant success, but over time it grew into a cult classic phenomenon (sparking a 2006 remake) that is enjoyed year round for thriller fans. Even filmmaker Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction) himself cites it as one of his all-time favorite Christmas movies.
On November 24, 2015, Black Christmas returns to Blu-ray and DVD in a new ‘Season’s Grievings’ edition from Anchor Bay Canada for old viewers to view again and newcomers to indulge in for the first time. Filmed entirely in the Toronto region in Canada, Christmas is set in a sorority house on a university campus that finds its young female inhabitants terrorized by the phone calls and the presence of an unbalanced killer named ‘Billy’, who hides himself in their attic during the Christmas season and then strikes with murderous rage when given the opportunity.
Generating the feel on-screen of pure Canadian-made aesthetic, Black Christmas is a creepy, frightening and highly well-executed horror-thriller film that has amazingly stood the test of time. It was initially released in the beginnings of the golden-age of cinema horror and its tone and dread fit right in with some of the best horror films to be churned out of that period (i.e. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist). It contains inventive film-making, camera perspectives, heavy subject-matter and layers of humor both crude and clever.
The collective cast (which includes Romeo & Juliet’s Olivia Hussey, Superman’s Margot Kidder and A Nightmare On Elm Street’s John Saxon) do a great job of weighing the film with some credible levity and character. In a Hitchcockian move, it also smartly doesn’t show ‘Billy’ too much and only in brief glimpses (sometimes from his own anger-fueled perspective), reinforcing the idea that something is more frightening when unseen and imagination carries more power; a technique that served Steven Spielberg well for Jaws the following year.
Black Christmas is pretty-well a perfect psychological horror/thriller until it reaches its logic-flawed ending which has been debated about for years. The ambiguous nature of it on one hand is effective and understandable for the genre, but the circumstances surrounding it in the script make it a bit of a stretch for an well-equipped and intelligent audience to accept. It’s the one glaring storytelling blemish in an otherwise solid script-writing affair.
The new ‘Season’s Grievings’ edition on DVD presents the film in a standard definition format with an Anamorphic Widescreen ratio of 1.78:1. Film enthusiasts may flock to this release over the HD Blu-ray version due to the image quality because it reflects how Black Christmas may have been experienced on video three decades ago. The picture is dark, grainy and certainly noticeable in age (equivalent, if slightly better than a VHS copy) but it’s tough to knock that kind of presentation for the movie because it works so well in that format. The audio mode backing it is a very effect Dolby Digital 5.1 that creepily uses the channels proficiently considering the film’s age.
The ‘Season’s Grievings’ edition boasts over two hours of new bonus content, the gold star option being a new documentary entitled ‘The Black Christmas Legacy’, produced by My Bloody Valentine director George Mihalka (who chimes in on camera as well) and The Collapsed writer- director Justin McConnell. It features a collection of present-day interviews with members of the cast, Canadian film critics, artwork creators and other filmmakers discussing the film’s impact, the production and its lasting endurance over the years.
A new audio commentary is attached with actor Nick Mancuso (who portrayed Billy), but listeners may find this option a bit of a time-waster depending on your point of view. Mancuso is normally very outspoken and eccentric individual but he tries to delivery the commentary in ‘Billy’ character, resulting in a silly and nonsensical effort. An actual Nick Mancuso audio commentary would have been more of a gas for fans, considering the actor’s views on the business and Billy as a character in film.
There’s a fun and enlightening featurette that takes place at the Toronto FanExpo in 2014, reuniting a few cast members (including Mancuso) for a live panel to discuss their time involved in the movie as well as some promotional poster galleries, a mini-magazine and a copy of the original script with hand-written notes on DVD-ROM.
Taken as a whole, the edition is a high-value option for fans and newbies learning about the film. Not all of the bonus content is a home run, but combined with the movie the ‘Season’s Grievings’ edition is a great release and the timing for the holiday season couldn’t be better to watch it all. Ultimately, a dark horror/thriller might not be everyone’s first choice when selecting a Christmas-themed movie to watch, but Black Christmas in its own guilty way certainly provides an entertainment value for the season.