Thursday, January 31, 2019

In short: Home for the Holidays (1972)

A very merry Christmas to the daughters of what is laughingly called the Morgan “family”! After years, their much hated Dad (Walter Brennan), whom they make responsible for the suicide of their mother, has invited his daughters home for the holidays to their huge house in the deep dark woods. Actually, he has called them for help, because he is suspecting his second wife Elizabeth (Julie Harris) – hereafter known to everyone only as “That Woman” – is poisoning him. He wants his dear daughters to protect him by…killing her.

However, despite all of them being plenty stupid, not even Chris the naïf (Sally Field), Freddie the pill-popping alcoholic (Jessica Walter), Jo the party girl (Jill Haworth) and Alex the replacement mom (Eleanor Parker) are quite so stupid as to just start going around killing That Woman only on their father’s word. They are also, as it turns out, way too much into melodramatic whining to find time for this sort of thing. Someone however is a bit more of a go-getter, and soon, the daughters find themselves threatened, murdered and coming to absurd conclusions about who the killer anyone in the audience will have pegged in the first ten minutes or so is, while the film continues to pretend That Woman is totally suspicious. Help would be good, but alas, they also find themselves victims of heavy rainstorms. What a Christmas!

TV director great John Llewellyn Moxey’s Home for the Holidays is generally held in high esteem by connoisseurs of 70s horror and suspense TV movies, and in a couple scenes in the last third of the film, I can see why. To be precise, once Moxey gets the opportunity to stage a couple of suspenseful - gialloesque more than proto slasher-style - stalk sequences with Chris running idiotically through the woods, the film gets much more interesting. If there’s one thing this director has down pat, it’s staging classicist suspense on a TV budget, and this part of the film is indeed a bit of a master class on how to stage a suspenseful chase through the rainy woods.

My problem really isn’t with Moxey’s direction at all, but with Joseph Stefano’s screenplay. Stefano was an interesting writer, involved in a lot of classic SF and horror TV, as well as the screenwriter for Hitchcock’s Psycho; on the other hand, he is also responsible for stuff like Snowbeast. Here, he seems to be trying his hardest to make his cast of female characters the most annoying troupe of talking clichés about “neurotic” bourgeois women possible; after half an hour of rich people whining about how Daddy didn’t love them, killed their mother and really only wanted boys, and all the “That Woman” bullshit, I was rather siding with the killer. It doesn’t help the film’s case that Stefano puts way too much emphasis on the That Woman red herring, adding terminal stupidity to the family’s special traits. Don’t get me wrong, there are some subtle elements to the script too, like the way the daughters of the guy who only wanted boys all go by pretty boy-like short versions of their names, but as a whole, this delivers all the clichés about women of a certain class I loathe to encounter in concentrated form.

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