I’d originally planned to write about Krampus for this year’s “25 Days of Shitmas” solely based on the fact that it hadn’t been claimed yet. Alas, I’d already written about the film last year for my own site (cough*Camera Viscera*cough), so I was immediately stuck on what new things to say about it. Thankfully, I just so happened to stumble upon the little-talked about made-for-TV Christmastime proto-slasher, Home for the Holidays (1972) – and suddenly I had something new to write about.
The movie sees three estranged sisters – Freddie (Jessica Walter), Chris (Sally Field), and Jo (Jill Haworth) – being summoned by a fourth sister, Alex (Eleanor Parker), to come home for the holidays. When the sisters arrive, they’re shocked to find out the reason Alex insisted upon their coming together is because their father, Ben (Walter Brennan), is dying. Complicating things further, Alex confides in her sisters that their father believes his new wife, Liz (Julie Harris), is the cause; Ben thinks Liz has been poisoning him. The thing is, it’s not such a crazy accusation: Liz was convicted of murdering her first husband.
Shocked and distraught, the sisters process this heavy information in their own personal ways: Chris, the youngest, is optimistic and naive; Freddie, with her addictive personality, self-medicates with alcohol and pills; and Jo, the steel-hearted realist, decides to hop on the next flight home – she never cared for her father, and she’s not about to start now.
The family briefly settles themselves to have dinner together, but fingers are soon being pointed and allegations thrown around. Liz understands the sisters think she’s a black widow, but she protests her innocence. She explains how they’ve even had a doctor over to the house, and he’s found no signs of poisoning. Meanwhile, a storm rages outside, flooding the streets, all but stranding the family inside the house indefinitely.
As if the threat of being trapped indoors with a potential murderess isn’t bad enough, a mysterious pitchfork-wielding maniac in a yellow rain slicker soon appears and starts stalking the sisters around the house and property. Is it Liz, trying to cover her tracks? Is it Ben, fulfilling some warped agenda? Perhaps it’s one of the sisters, or maybe it’s the young doctor from town. Only in the end is the killer – and their true motivations – revealed.
I gotta say – I really, really liked this movie!
The cast is amazing; the way the actresses interact with each other is not only believable but creates a real sense of tension. The dynamic between the sisters – the innocent one, the reckless one, the stern one, and the motherly one – is incredible, each playing a role in how the story unfolds. Jessica Walter stands out to me particularly, as this came out only one year after Play Misty for Me, and her characters could not be more different. She’s a chameleon.
In addition to a stellar cast, the movie also has a solid crew. It was written by Joseph Stefano, who wrote the screenplay for Psycho, and directed by John Moxey who made a slew of made-for-TV horror movies in the ’70s, such as The House that Would Not Die, A Taste of Evil, and The Night Stalker, just to name a few. They’re the exact pair you’d want to deliver a tense, whodunnit slasher flick.
Lastly, I have to point out the music. Many times these made-for-TV movies (especially the ones from the ’70s) have a very lush, symphonic score. And while that can occasionally work, more often than not I find it gives the movie a generic feel, as if it was just stock music pulled from some random file and slapped over the final film without any thought. Not so with Home for the Holidays. Composer George Tipton, probably best known for his work on Badlands (as well as composing Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin'”) creates an almost Harry Manfredini-esque type sound at times, adding to the suspense factor.
At only 73 minutes, the movie glides along at a dizzying clip. When the viewer isn’t holding their breath, they’re trying to figure out who the hooded killer is before it’s too late. People often attribute Bob Clark’s Black Christmas with kickstarting the modern slasher movement, but Home for the Holidays – which was released two years prior to Black Christmas – might deserve that honor, instead.
- Joey Gallimore