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Black Christmas  [DVD]
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The few remaining residents of a Canadian sorority house are celebrating the onset of Christmas vacation when a thirteen year-old girl is found dead in the park. Soon, it is discovered that one of the sorority sisters is missing, which triggers a terrifying chain of murders within the house...
Director Bob Clark's tense, effective film is a precursor to the slasher films Friday 13th and Halloween that would come a half decade later.
You may never have heard of Black Christmas, a neglected gem from 1974, but you've probably seen one of its many imitators. Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder star as two residents of a sorority house that is emptying out as Christmas approaches. The atmosphere is jolly and carefree, except for an ongoing series of menacing telephone calls, and, oh yes, we've just seen someone climb into the attic with apparent ill intent. Kidder does some scene-stealing as the bad girl, Hussey illustrates one of the downsides to having beautiful long 70s hair and Keir Dullea does a nice turn as the creepy boyfriend. Director Robert Clark knows that the unseen is far scarier than what can be seen and he ratchets up the tension beautifully, making good use of ominous shadows, and putting in nice touches such as replacing the sound of a distraught woman's scream with the piercing ring of yet another ominous phone call. This is a terrific, well-made little movie that is genuinely sleep-with-the-lights-on scary. Don't miss it. --Ali Davis --This text refers to an alternate DVD edition.
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Unlike the camp humour, the gore and the comfort zone that modern horror offers, Black Christmas boasts a sharp edgey storyline that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The characters are realistic and unpredictable unlike your modern stereotypes that often appear in movies such as "Scream" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer" franchises. The horror in this is truly the suspense, the waiting, knowing that something is coming and just not knowing what. What is truly unsettling is the realism of the phonecalls during the movie, the insane mumblings and shriekings, sexually obscene and perverted ramblings...which if you're a woman is enough to leave you on edge even before the movie is barely started.
The usual somewhat predictable type of story that a group of sorority sisters are holed up in their sorority house for the Christmas; they've been recieving various calls for a while from an unknown pervert who makes (what seem to be idle) threats and obscene promises. While the quiet and poised Jess would rather they not pander to the caller, the alcoholic, brazen Barb thinks that it's amusing to respond and even at times provoke their caller. Soon, things start to go horrifyingly wrong as one by one people are disappearing.
What I love about this movie is it has an amazing ending that is quite genius, enough to leave you with a shiver down your spine and so many thoughts arising.
All this goes on with snow, caroling, decorations and Christmas atmosphere like one might expect in a typical small college town. The first death scene is for my money the most effective shot and running scene in the entire film, but there are other equally brilliant shots that Clark uses to shock and create suspense. The main policeman is John Saxon (who is one of my favorite actors), he is pretty good and seems to flourish in roles like this in the seventies. The film has a resembled all-star cast including Olivia Hussey in the lead role, Keir Dullea (2001 A Space Odyssey) portrays her estranged boyfriend, Margot Kidder is funny as the drunk and obnoxious Barb, Andrea Martin plays the caring Phyl and John Saxon (Nightmare on Elm Street) portrays the worried detective. Many films have tried to create the same effect as Black Christmas, but so few have come close at all to reaching the level of this 70's classic - at least in this genre. An impressively shot film with good locations and a very effective ending.
This film is supposed to be one of the first slasher films since it was released way before Halloween and it had the same premise of the killer who is stalking his victims right before he kills them, so if you like 70's horror that has lots of suspense and thrills instead of blood and gore then your going to love it. While the Region 1 disc only offers a short interview with John Saxon, filmographies and the original theatrical trailer, Tartan's Region 2 disc is different and definitely a way better edition. Plenty of fun stuff here: there's an audio commentary from director Clark which is informative. Pride of place goes to a 'revisited' feature, in which various cast and crew share reminisces about the film and have a bit of a laugh. Dan Duffin, the webmaster of a Black Christmas website, has a look around the house featured in the film, providing a voiceover as he prowls around the various rooms. Hardcore fans also get to see the opening sequence with alternative titles such as Silent Night, Evil Night. Then there are trailers, plus radio and TV spots. Definitely worth checking out.
A party is going on inside a sorority house, when we see somebody climb up a wall and into the attic of the house. The sorority girls start to receive incredibly bizarre and creepy phone calls, soon after the girls start getting killed one by one.
Black Christmas is often referred to as being one of the first slasher films, it's certainly one of the best. Bob Clark made one of the defining movies of the horror genre with this film, he later went on to direct one of the first and best teen sex comedies with Porky's. Sadly Clark's career went down hill dramatically after the '80s, his last two movies were The Karate Dog and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2. His directing in this film was superb, from very early on there's a constant sense of dread. The phone call scenes and a scene later with an eye peeping through a crack in the door are particularly effective.
The acting is much better than in most horror movies, horror in the '70s were able to attract pretty decent casts, whereas today "horror movie" almost sounds like a dirty word to A-list actors. A lot of successful actors that started in horror movies, tend to forget they were in them once they reach a certain level of fame. Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder and John Saxon are the standout performers, Marian Waldman and James Edmond Jr also deserve mentions.
We never learn much about the killer (unlike the remake), which makes him all the more creepy. There are several funny moments early on, up until the tone gets much darker. It was made in 1974 in Canada for just $620,000, it went on to make a little over $4,000,000.
The DVD is pretty good, the picture quality for a film of its time and budget is excellent. There's a commentary from the late Bob Clark, which is both amusing and informative. A short documentary showing how the house looks today, it still looks almost the same thirty years later. Black Christmas Revisited with Art Hindle and Lynne Griffin who played Chris and Clare, it shows them back in the house years later, and lots of cast and crew interviews from the people involved.
Black Christmas is one of the greatest, most atmospheric, creepy, well acted horror movies ever made, with some very good extras on the DVD that must surely make it an essential purchase for horror fans. A near faultless horror film and a good disc.
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