Black Christmas
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You've got to give Critical Mass credit for trying. In their "Collector's Edition" presentation of Black Christmas, they've upgraded the audio and video from last years DVD release of the innovative stalker classic. This time out, the video gets a letterbox treatment (no aspect ratio information is provided) alleviating the cramped feel in last year's disc. The colors (while still subdued through the use of predominantly yellow, brown, gray, and black tones) are richer, with more striking definition. The audio track definitely improves over the earlier release, with Carl Zittrer's experimental soundtrack and the disturbing phone calls benefiting the most from the digital remastering.

Like almost every other DVD on the market, the special features for Black Christmas seem to be there just so Critical Mass can say they're offering loads of special features. Not much of interest is here, despite the hours of extras available. A documentary, "Black Christmas Revisited," contains the most relevant information, interviewing producers Findlay Quinn and Gerry Arbud, director Bob Clark and composer Carl Zittrer. Most amusingly, co-hosts Art Hinkle (Chris) and Lynne Griffin (Clare) who played a couple in the film, reunite with an unabashed case of serious middle-aged lust. Hinkle can't keep his hands off of Griffin who is astonished, flattered, and greatly pleased by the attention.

The commentaries hit a major snag. Director Bob Clark's commentary initially appears informative, providing clues to demonstrate how the character of Peter (Keir Dullea) acts as a red herring to obfuscate the identity of the killer. However, double-checking Clark's recollection against the actual film calls his memories into question. Two examples will clarify: Clark claims that the police trace the location of Peter's phone call to the piano observatory moments after the mystery caller placed a call to Jess (Olivia Hussey) inside the house. Yet in the film, Peter hangs up before the call can be traced. Clark also recalls that the killer's shadow hovers in the background in a crucial confrontation between Peter and Jess in the front room. I watched the scene ten times using various speeds and I could not find the shadow in any part of the scene. One leaves Clark's commentary feeling that the passage of thirty years must have taken a toll on his memory.

The John Saxon/ Keir Dullea commentaries ignore the conventions of what good commentary is supposed to provide. Saxon, who genuinely seems proud of his work in Black Christmas, begins by waxing philosophical over the attractions of horror films to their audience. By the end of his segment, he runs out of anecdotes and turns to tangentially related or meaningless observations. In the scene where Barb (Margot Kidder) has an asthma attack because she's seen a stranger entering her room, Saxon remarks, "Asthma, eh? I once played an asthmatic." Keir Dullea is even worse. He never tires of reminding us that his total working time on the film ran three days. He is dismissive of his performance and doesn't possess any affection for the film, viewing it as a paid ticket to fly from his home in London to visit his parents in New York. Instead of commenting on the film, other than to lavish praise on Olivia Hussey, he focuses on his experiences working in Canadian film and television and expounds on why he prefers working in theater to making films. He closes his segment by listing his favorite directors to work with. Not surprisingly, considering the nature of his comments, Bob Clark isn't on the list.

The special features also includes an episode of Dark Dreamers, a television show hosted by Stanley Wiater that featured interviews with various horror practitioners from different mediums. This episode, where Wiater interviews John Saxon, borders on the surreal. Wiater's gifts as a skilled interviewer and insightful horror critic don't translate to the small screen. He appears stilted and uninterested. Saxon is jittery and ill at ease. He has a hard time focusing on the topic at hand, preferring to wander off on marginally related tangents. Unfortunately, the interview provides unintentional comic relief rather than any real insight into Saxon's career.

Extras aside, having watched Black Christmas some five or six times over the last year, I'm struck by how well the film holds up over repeated viewings. Intricate themes emerge, such as the double motif where different characters serve as shadows or distorted reflections of others. Bob Clark's sense of composition combined with Reg Morris's cinematography create some truly innovative moments throughout the film. Black Christmas deserves recognition, not only as a strong influence on John Carpenter's Halloween and the entire teen horror genre, but as a creative work that was clearly ahead of its time. Despite the shortcomings of the special features, this "Collector's Edition" presentation of Black Christmas stands as the definitive edition of this classic film.


Black Christmas is now available on DVD from Eclectic DVD Distribution in a Collector's Edition that has been digitally remastered. Special features include a new documentary titled "Black Christmas Revisited"; two audio commentary tracks (by director Bob Clark and by actors John Saxon and Keir Dullea); original English and French trailers; alternative title sequences; a picture and poster gallery; and an interview with John Saxon. Suggested retail price: $29.95. For more information, check out the Eclectic DVD Web site.