"You're invited to a fun-filled December evening at the Morgan family ranch. The roads have been washed out, so you can't leave. You can't call for help; the phone is dead. And a very special guest is about to put in a surprise visit - but it isn't Santa Claus! It's pitchfork wielding psychopath who's HOME FOR THE HOLIDAY!
Academy Award-winner Sally Field stars as Christine Morgan, one of four sisters summoned home by ailing Ben Morgan due to his suspicions that his current wife Elizabeth is slowly poisoning him to death. Though the sisters disagree on the validity of their Father's rantings, it soon becomes clear that someone wants to silence the girls as well! But who could it be? Eldest daughter Alex, the protective "Mother hen" of the sisters? Frederica, the alcoholic beauty obsessed with her mother's suicide? Jo, the selfish, promiscuous divorcee who can't wait to leave? Sweet and innocent Christine, the dependent baby of the family? Or is it really Elizabeth, a convicted former murderess?
Or perhaps someone else ... ?"
There's nothing like Christmas to bring all those family frustrations and disagreements that have been seething just beneath the surface to the fore, and in this superior early 70's TV movie they bubble right over.
In HOME FOR THE HOILDAYS Alex (Eleanor Parker), a beautiful, but anxious middle-aged woman, has sent out a letter to her younger sisters that draws them from the four corners of the States back to the Morgan family home in time for Christmas. She has told them that their Father (Walter Brennan) has confided in her that he believes that his new wife Elizabeth (Julie Harris, who was so good in the original THE HAUNTING (1963)) is trying to poison him (he married her years ago, after his first wife died, initially believing her innocent of the gossip of the townsfolk that she had poisoned her first husband). The returning three daughters: misanthropic, much-married party girl Jo (British actress Jill Haworth, who was a genre regular in the 60's and early 70's, appearing in such proto-slashers as TOWER OF EVIL (also 1972)); poor, pill-popping, alcoholic Freddie (Jessica Walter), who never got over the death of their mentally unbalanced Mother; and the youngest of the group, the naive and sweet-natured Christine (Sally Field). Gathered on a stormy Christmas Eve, true feelings come to the fore: Jo hisses, "I swore I'd never set foot in this house again, even to have the pleasure of seeing that coffin closed!", nodding to her Father sleeping in the room next door.
When the sisters finally see him they find their Father hasn't changed, putting them down before pleading them for help. Saying that they had to keep their voices down, "That woman has ears that can hear sunshine!", he guffaws, he tells them - much to their surprise - that he wants them to kill his wife! Away from him they discuss this and come to the conclusion that he wasn't really serious, and despite thinking he may be delusional they still don't embrace his wife in the spirit of the season, which makes for an embarrassingly stilted dinner. Freddie is drunk upstairs (after attempting to slash her wrists in front of a portrait of her Mother) and Elizabeth, after being goaded by Jo about the rumours about her first husband's demise, admits to spending time in an asylum and says, "The next time I'm accused of murder I won't be the one to wake up screaming ...".
Jo decides she can't take any more and decides to fly the family nest. Before she goes she confides to Alex, "The first time you showed me that letter I couldn't help feel we'd been tricked into coming here ...". She arranges to borrow Alex's car and makes out into the stormy night. However, as she fumbles with the keys, a hooded figure in a yellow rain slicker, with red gloves clutching a pitchfork, closes in on her ...
Like all proto-slashers the fun comes from not knowing where it's heading; it doesn't obey the rules, just because all the slasher cliches had yet to become, well, cliches. Written by the screenwriter of Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1963), Joseph Stefano, HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS mixes up the horror/thriller themes of the 50's and 60's and before (old dark house; sibling rivalry; American gothic; grand inheritances and murderous motives) and what was to become the slasher standards of the 80's. Certainly, it's easy to see why Sean Cunningham was eyeing Sally Fields as potential heroine material for FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980), the scene where she is stalked through the woods by the pitchfork wielding psycho is pure Camp Crystal Lake. There's also more than a hint of the giallo, which isn't too surprising considering many contemporary Italian slashers were playing the drive-ins at the time; especially with the killer's (in this case red) gloves, which all the cast seem to put on at one time or another throughout the movie (herrings abound!).
Perhaps the film sails too close to soap opera histrionics at times, but this was an Aaron Spelling production, after-all. However, the performances are roundly so good that this doesn't matter, plus the story just keeps twisting and turning (there's a sting in the tail in case you didn't guess).
The budget didn't stretch to snow (it just rains relentlessly), which is a shame, but the film still has all the Christmas trimmings and definitely benefits from that jarring juxtaposition of seasonal goodwill and homicide that BLACK CHRISTMAS (1975) did even better a few years later.
female:2 / male:1
1) Female stabbed in the back with a pitchfork
2) Female drowned in bath tub
3) Male killed (method unseen)