31 Days to Scare ~ Home for the Holidays (1972)

 

The Facts:

Synopsis: When their aging father is convinced his second wife is out to kill him, his four adult daughters gather over the holidays to help make things right, only to find themselves terrorized by a pitchfork-wielding maniac.

Stars: Sally Field, Jessica Walter, Jill Haworth, Julie Harris, Eleanor Parker, Walter Brennan

Director: John Llewellyn Moxey

Rated: NR

Running Length: 73 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Watch it here

Review: Moving into October we’re about to hit the big three holidays of the year (Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas) and today’s selection in 31 Days to Scare manages to touch on all three of them. First broadcast on ABC as a TV Movie of the Week on November 28, 1972, Home for the Holidays is a neat little thriller that doesn’t overstay its welcome and produces more than its fair share of chills along the way.

Produced by Aaron Spelling and written by Psycho scribe Joseph Stefano, Home for the Holidays revolves around four daughters returning home for Christmas at the behest of their father (Walter Brennan). Brennan is convinced his new wife (Julie Harris) is slowly poisoning him and asks his girls to help get rid of their stepmother before she gets rid of him. Before they can do much, though, a figure in a yellow raincoat starts picking them off one by one.

This is a surprisingly effective film, even viewed from a contemporary lens. True, for a horror film there’s not much in the way of blood or gore, but that’s what elevates this from being too run-of-the-mill. The focus is on the tension and mystery, not on encouraging bloodlust. The solution to the killer’s identity might be easy to discern but enough red herrings and misdirection are introduced that you may find yourself doubting your instinct.

What a cast! Three time Oscar winner Brennan is a hoot as a wily old codger plagued by paranoia…or is it all an act? Either way, with his pain in the butt ramblings you’ll sort of understand why someone may want to do him in. Harris (an Oscar nominee herself) keeps her cards close to her chest, never giving away what she may be hiding while Jill Hayworth (the original Sally Bowles in Broadway’s Cabaret) and Jessica Walter (fresh from her psycho stint in 1971’s Play Misty for Me) add some pep as two of the more troubled sisters. Best remembered as the Baroness from The Sound of Music, three time Oscar nominee Eleanor Parker is the eldest sister struggling to keep her family from imploding and two time Oscar winner Sally Field (Lincoln) dials up her terror as her siblings disappear and she slowly realizes she may be next.

You may catch this one and find it overly quaint and low impact but I’ve always had a real fondness for its small scale production values and dramatic act breaks. It is so short that it won’t take up too much of your time and might just be the hidden gem you’re looking for if you like to be good and spooked.

Ready to watch? Check it out here