Starring: Jessica Walter, Sally Field, Eleanor Parker
On a stormy Christmas Eve, married Jo (Jill Haworth), alcoholic Freddie (Jessica Walter) and young Christine (Sally Field) are summoned back to their old country home by their sister Alex (Eleanor Parker) to help settle a disturbing family matter; their father (Walter Brennan) suspects that his current wife Elizabeth (Julie Harris) has been slowly poisoning him as she's rumored around town to have murdered her own husband the same way years ago. Paranoid and desperate to save himself, he orders his daughters to do the unspeakable: murder his wife!
With some of the sisters not being big fans of their patriarch and his condescending tongue, the women mostly scoff off his demands and see his ramblings as nothing more than senility finally getting to the old man. After one uneasy Christmas Eve dinner and an incident with Freddie getting suicidal-drunk, Jo decided to brave the storm and ride out to catch a flight back, only to be pitchforked dead by a figure in a yellow rainslicker and red gloves. It appears that there is indeed a murderer within the family, but could it be Elizabeth as their father suspected all along? Or perhaps another lunatic out to thin down the family?
As a made-for-TV proto-slasher, Home For The Holidays plays less like your standardized bodycounter filled with murdered teens and masked hulks, and more like a cozy Sunday afternoon whodunnit thriller packed with a few familiar horror tropes. Little slasher set-ups like a bonafide chase through the dark, rainy woods and the killer skulking around ala point-of-view shots do occasionally pop up, but majority of the play doesn't abide by the typical slasher trappings completely, thus the twisty surprises in its direction often come genuine and enticing, even if the story bogs down into TV soap territories more often than it needs to. Thankfully, the film doesn't overstay its welcome and gets the intrigue rolling as soon as the women are made aware of their father's plight, squeezing in Gothic sensibilities, Hitchcockian flair (Psycho (1960) screenwriter Joseph Stefano did wrote this) and an impressive performance from its casts to keep this murder plot exciting albeit the minimal, bloodless bodycount.
Hardly a complicated film to sit through, Home For The Holidays (1972) is a simple holiday thriller in the vein of paperback mystery novels, or at least a longer episode of Murder, She Wrote. If you fancy yourself a fun whodunnit that doesn't go all-out exploitative, this is a fair title to indulge in and enjoy during the Winter holidays or whenever it's raining outside.
1 female stabbed in the back with a pitchfork
1 female pulled into a bathtub, drowned
1 male murdered, method unknown