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Monday, November 22, 2010

Home For the Holidays

      HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS is a wonderfully spooky and effective 1972 teleslasher that concerns four sisters (Sally Field, Jessica Harper, Jill Haworth, and Eleanor Parker!) returning to their family home to visit their dying father for the holidays. Seems dear Dad has asked them all to come home and kill his new wife (played by the fabulous Julie Harris...), whom he suspects is trying to do the same to him.  Really! Gathered at the Morgan family home on a stormy Christmas Eve, family secrets and skeletons are drug from the closet and true feelings come to the forefront.  On top of all this family drama- which almost ventures into high soap territory here and there- this is an Aaron Spelling production, you know- there happens to be a pitchfork-wielding psychopath in a rain-soaked yellow slicker on a murderous rampage. And if all of that isn't enough, of course a raging storm has knocked the phone lines out and caused the roads to flood.  After the first sister is found murdered, it would seem that somebody wants the four sisters dead. Supreme entertainment.

     Written by Joesph Stefano, a man who just happens to have written a screenplay for a little film named PSYCHO, HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS has all the classic horror movie elements- isolated farmhouse, storms, murderous motives, family drama, cut phone lines, washed out roads, chase scenes through the dark woods- you name it, it's here. It hums along nicely with many twists and turns.

     Sally Field was actually wanted by Sean S. Cunningham for the original FRIDAY THE 13TH, and after watching this, it's easy to see why. The scenes in HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS where Sally is chased through the woods by the killer is something straight out of an 80's slasher. This TV thriller creates a surprisingly early slasher atmosphere, which obviously inspired BLACK CHRISTMAS, which inspired HALLOWEEN... it's neat how that works, isn't it? It runs at about 78 minutes, which results in a pretty tight and suspenseful production. It's also simple and straightforward- which in my opinion can sometimes be the most effective. Like I said, the atmosphere in HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS is one of the main ingredients here, second only to the fine acting ensemble involved.  It's interesting that this production was so low-budget, they couldn't even afford snow for the exterior shots. Instead, they used a simple thunderstorm. Yet somehow it all works and the Christmastime atmosphere is amazing- it truly helps the film.

      Sadly a relic of an era long gone- the great TV horror movies were all but extinct by 1990 or so. This is one of the best, by far. The killer is as scary as any slasher you would have seen in an 80's feature film. The cast is to die for, and it's a classy and suspenseful production all the way. Not to be confused with the same-named but hilarious HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS with Holly Hunter and Robert Downey Jr.

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