- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

For fans of quality chillers, 1974's Black Christmas is hardly off-season; it's good to go any time of the year. It's our

Video pick of the week

"Black Christmas" (newly available from Critical Mass in a new "Collector's Edition" DVD for $24.95), is directed by Bob Clark of "Porky's" fame who would later helm the somewhat cheerier Jean Shepherd yuletide fave "A Christmas Story."

This Canadian campus fearfest supplies several scream-screen firsts. Its holiday-horror setting predated John Carpenter's better-known "Halloween" by four years, while its key telephone hook, with the suspected perp calling from inside the murder site, was later lifted by "When a Stranger Calls." Mr. Clark even tosses in a brief hockey-mask scare shot that anticipated the long-running "Friday the 13th" series' similarly costumed killer Jason Voorhees.

Though not quite in the same league as "Halloween" or Mr. Clark's own 1972 Vietnam-themed "DeathDream," "Black Christmas" holds up as a highly effective fright film generously laced with dry wit. It opens with several sorority sisters, portrayed by such A-level actresses as Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder and future "SCTV" regular Andrea Martin (more recently seen stealing scenes in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"), being plagued by an obscene caller-killer. Suspicion ultimately falls on Miss Hussey's neurotic pianist boyfriend (Keir Dullea). But even after perennial B-movie detective John Saxon seemingly solves the case, Mr. Clark and company spring a clever surprise in the film's later reels.

Critical Mass offers an especially lavish valentine to this underrated thriller, containing two commentary tracks (one by director Clark, another by actors Saxon and Dullea); a new documentary, "Black Christmas Revisited," including current cast and crew interviews; a "Dark Dreamers" TV series episode starring Mr. Saxon; original trailers and TV spots and more. This is one genre pic, like Kathryn Bigelow's "Near Dark" (Anchor Bay Entertainment), that honestly deserves the overdue digital attention.

The 'A' list

More high-profile comedies will be heading to area videostores over the next few weeks. Columbia/TriStar releases the Dana Carvey spy-spoof showcase The Master of Disguise and the swiftly sinking Madonna vehicle Swept Away, real-life spouse Guy Ritchie's remake of Lina Wertmuller's harder-edged 1975 naughty nautical fable of the same name.

Elsewhere, Universal has the Alaskan dog-sled comedy Chilly Dogs, with Skeet Ulrich, Natasha Henstridge and Leslie Nielsen. Miramax Home Entertainment offers Steven Soderbergh's experimental satire "Full Frontal," starring Julia Roberts and David Duchovny. All of the above will be priced for rental and also available on DVD.

HBO Video goes the sell-through route with actress-writer Nia Vardalos' indie blockbuster My Big Fat Greek Wedding ($27.95 DVD/$22.98 VHS), co-starring John Corbett, Michael Constantine and Andrea Martin, as does MGM Home Entertainment with the tele-movie Women vs. Men ($26.98 DVD/$27.98 VHS), with Paul Reiser, Joe Mantegna and Glenn Headly.

Collector's corner

On Feb. 4, MGM Home Entertainment trims DVD stickers (to $14.95 each) on a slew of quality action flicks. Top titles include Kurt Russell as the eye-patched antihero Snake Plissken in John Carpenter's Escape from New York, Leonardo DiCaprio in The Man in the Iron Mask, Sean Connery as 007 in Never Say Never Again, Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman in No Way Out, and Robert De Niro and Jean Reno in John Frankenheimer's Ronin.

Hard-core camp fans, meanwhile, may also want to partake of John Milius' belated Russki-bashing exercise Red Dawn and the aptly named Rowdy Herrington's inspiredly brain-damaged ode to bouncer mythology, Road House. Both star a luckless Patrick Swayze.

Holmes sweet Holmes

For mystery buffs, next week MPI Home Video releases two new feature-length titles from the popular British "Sherlock Holmes" TV series of the 1980s and '90s, starring a highly capable Jeremy Brett as Conan Doyle's Baker Street sleuth: The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Last Vampyre. In February the label follows with another Holmes duo, The Eligible Bachelor and The Sign of the Four. The DVDs are tagged at $14.95 each.

MPI also plans a February release for its latest contribution to the gothic cult-TV archives, Dark Shadows DVD Collection 4 ($59.98), a four-disc celebration of that fan fave series, starring Jonathan Frid, Joan Bennett and Kathryn Leigh Scott.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Does anyone have the 1994 movie Clifford, starring Martin Short and Charles Grodin?

Jerry Mann, via e-mail

Though "Clifford" is no longer in circulation, Video Library (vlibrary.com) has mail-order rental copies available. To buy a tape, you may want to check out online auction sites like eBay.com.

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002 or e-mail us at [email protected] Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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