BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) Blu-ray
Director: Bob Clark
101 Films

And all through the house, a killer is stirring on BLACK CHRISTMAS on Blu-ray from 101 Films.

The girls of Pi Kappa Sigma are getting ready to go on vacation for the winter break when they start receiving a series of obscene phone calls. Brash Barb (Margot Kidder, 92 IN THE SHADE) gives back as good as she gets, mousey Phyl (Andrea Martin, CANNIBAL GIRLS) thinks the calls are entertaining, and Jess (Olivia Hussey, TURKEY SHOOT) has her own problems with an unwanted pregnancy by temperamental music student Peter (Keir Dullea, Kubrick's 2001). When good girl Claire Harrison (Lynne Griffin, STRANGE BREW) retires early but fails to meet up with her father (James Edmond, DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS) the next day, we know that she has been suffocated and stashed in the attic but the police – as personified by dullard desk sergeant Nash (Doug McGrath, PALE RIDERS) – do not take the concerns of her father, her sorority sisters, or boyfriend Chris (Art Hindle, THE BROOD) seriously until a neighborhood child also disappears. While a police and volunteer search of the neighborhood and surrounding areas lead by Lt. Fuller (John Saxon, TENEBRAE) goes on outside and housemother Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman, WHEN MICHAEL CALLS) has gone "out of town", the remaining girls are tormented by increasingly disturbing obscene calls, unaware of just how near the real danger is to them.

A riff on the "have you checked the children" babysitter urban legend – treated more faithfully in the opening of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS – with a holiday spin, the Canadian-made BLACK CHRISTMAS was the literally chilly progenitor of the distinctly "American" – the film was helmed by CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS director Bob Clark – brand of body count films that morphed into the slasher cycle of the 1980s. While certainly not the first genre film to utilize various elements like the killer POV, threatening phone calls, and the stalking of beautiful college girls, Clark's film did seem coalesce these and certain stylistic flourishes into what appears to be the first of its kind. More so than the ways it precedes and anticipates the likes of HALLOWEEN south of the border and MY BLOODY VALENTINE there up north, BLACK CHRISTMAS is memorably for its suspense, performances, and characterizations. We miss those who are killed because they are more than just the genre types into which the would be dumbed-down in later years. We also know the twist involving the phone calls – truly disturbing aural set-pieces that hint at a backstory so unimaginable – but it does not fail to ratchet up the suspense once the final girl learns of it, and the surprise ending eschews a jump for disquiet. From the future director of PORKY'S, the film's sense of humor is organic and never distracts from the film's drama for all the memorable bits about fellatio (as a "new exchange"), mating turtles, and Santa's "Ho, ho, ho, shit!"

Released theatrically and then on VHS and laserdisc by Warner Bros., the film's rights eventually reverted and an unmatted edition featuring an interview with Saxon was released in Canada in 2001 by Critical Mass and then ported over by Eclectic (later MVD) for a stateside release. These versions were quickly replaced with a Critical Mass special edition in Canada (but easily found stateside) featuring a non-anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer with dual commentary tracks from Clark and separately recorded Dullea and Saxon along with a Clark interview and a longer Saxon one as well as alternate title sequences and mono and stereo English tracks along with a French dub. When Critical Mass did an anamorphic 1.78:1 upgrade stateside, they dropped the commentaries in favor of a 5.1 remix, two "Uncovered" sound scenes with a new vocal track, a new featurette, interviews with Hussey, Hindle, Kidder, and a Q&A featurette with Saxon, Clark, and Zittrer. This package was carried over to an underwhelming Blu-ray with lossy audio and a low bitrate encode in 2008. In 2015, Anchor Bay's Canadian arm tried to improve on things by combining the older HD master with all of the aforementioned extras as well as a couple new ones including a commentary by "Billy."

Last year, Scream Factory released a two-disc special edition stateside that combined the bulk of the older extras with a handful of new ones as well as a new 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen encode from a new 2K scan of the original negative on the first disc with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 2.0 stereo, and 2.0 mono tracks as well as the older 2006 master on a second disc with 1.78:1 framing and a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Whereas the older transfer had greyish blacks and more noise than grain, the newer one sported deeper blacks, more vibrant colors, and crisper detail (the use of split diopter in a background/foreground set-up is more evident than in earlier transfers). The mono track has proven problematic for early recipients of the disc, with some buzzy background noise and hiss evident in the dialogue, and Scream offered a replacement edition utilizing the mono track from the Critical Mass edition (whether this means they will be replacing the DTS-HD track with the lossy Dolby Digital track or a lossless encode of the source of that track remains to be clarified). 101 Films 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen release utilizes the same new master but it is a shade brighter. While this reviewer preferred the darker Scream transfer, the differences between the US and UK encodes is not a deal breaker for fans who are region B-locked (101's edition is all region for the Blu-ray despite what it says on the back cover while the DVD side is Region 2).

The UK disc includes uncompressed LPCM 5.1 and 2.0 mono options which surely would have compromised the compression of the feature had it not dropped most of the old extras including the three commentary tracks and audio interview, the Hindle/Griffin location visit, the "On Screen!" TV special, "12 Days of BLACK CHRISTMAS" which included discussion of the original script and its inspiration, archival interviews with Hussey, Hindle, Kidder, Clark, and Saxon, the alternate audio mixes of two scenes, and the alternate title sequences. They have, however, ported over Scream's interview with Hindle "Film and Furs" (26:11) in which he recall auditioning for Clark by reading for Dullea's role and getting to play the part in rehearsals with Hussey and "Victims and Virgins" (26:35) in which Griffin recalls the challenges of acting dead with a bag over her face while Clark hurled cat "Claude" at her from off-camera, as well as Anchor Bay's "Black Christmas Legacy" (40:22) – a collection of interviews and archival clips featuring Griffin, Hindle, Mancuso, Kidder, Hussey, composer Carl Zittrer (PROM NIGHT), Clark, journalist Bruce Kirkland, critic Richard Crouse, Fangoria's Chris Alexander, Rue Morgue's Dave Alexander, artist Gary Pullin, and MY BLOODY VALENTINE director George Mihalka discussing the influence of the film on the slasher genre – and the "40th Anniversary Panel at FanExpo 2014" (18:02) Q&A featuring Saxon, Hindle, Griffin, and Mancuso (a Blu-ray exclusive on 101's dual-format edition), as well as the original TV and radio spots (3:09). While it is not as comprehensive as the Scream Factory edition, UK owners of previous US and UK DVD editions with the other extras might consider picking this region free edition up for the HD presentation and the Scream Factory-ported extras. The cover is reversible and a foldout poster of the new art is included inside the case. (Eric Cotenas)