Home for the Holidays (1972) review

By David Dent

By no means the first ‘slasher’ film – and fans can argue long and hard about what was the first -John Llewellyn Moxey’s 1972 made for TV movie ‘Home for the Holidays’ was the first to take emerging slasher elements – fetishization of weaponry, red herring characters, set piece kills, final girl – and attach them to a Christmas theme, a whole two years before Bob Clark’s ‘Black Christmas’ kick started the sub-genre proper.

“If there was one thing the people of Kenyon liked to talk about it was the Morgan family,” says Dr Ted Lindsay (John Fink) at the start of Moxey’s movie. And no wonder; they’re a rum lot. Let’s start with dad, Benjamin Morgan (Walter Brennan) who, when we first meet him is confined to bed and dying; not, he believes, from natural causes. Benjamin thinks his second wife Elizabeth (Julie Harris) – the first Mrs Morgan took her own life as a result of her husband’s adultery – is trying to poison him, after suspecting she did the same to husband number one via a spiked hot toddy.

Benjamin asks his eldest daughter Alex (Eleanor Parker), who has come back to stay with dad, to summon her three, now estranged sisters to his bedside. There’s young Christine (Sally Field), stroppy Jo (the UK’s own Jill Haworth), who’s three husbands in and bitter as hell, and pills and alcohol dependent Frederica (Jessica Walter), whose addiction seems to be a reaction to her mother’s death. And what does he require of his re-assembled offspring? Why for the sisters to murder Elizabeth of course!

But Elizabeth in turn claims she was falsely imprisoned after the death of her first husband, and vows that if anything happens to Benjamin it won’t be by her hand. But are we to believe her, particularly when the sisters start being murdered? Jo is first to be despatched, skewered by a pitchfork as she attempts to leave by car. And hysterical Fred follows, drowned in her bathtub. Who will be next?

In that it’s a TV movie, ‘Home for the Holidays’ is pretty light on violence, but heavy on the chat and the histrionics, leavened by Joe ‘Psycho’ Stefano’s script, which adds in a few twists and turns along the way and drops in some ripe dialogue (“All men are paranoid: that’s why some of them finally do get murdered,” for example). With the exception of Chris the sisters are pretty awful characters (what do you expect when you look at dad?) and it’s difficult to care about them. But the cast give strong performances; and there’s a rather good end twist as the killer, revealed a few minutes earlier, thinks they’ve gotten away with it.

The murderer’s trademark yellow rain slicker and gloves are stylistic steals from early European giallo movies, and although the movie is set at Christmas, it’s a rainstorm rather than a whiteout which backdrops the action and imprisons the characters in the house, with phones cut off, lines down etc. ‘Home for the Holidays’ has its moments, and it’s fascinating to watch as a proto slasher before the cliches of such movies had established themselves, but it never really escapes its made for TV limitations.

Home for the Holidays is available to watch on YouTube below –

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