Tuesday, December 19, 2006

There's No Place Like It

For a healthy dose of holiday cheer and goodwill, watch something else this Christmas. 1972's HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, a Christmas-set made-for-TV horror movie, is as downbeat as they come, but is definitely worth watching for its Gothic flavor and for its outstanding cast. You'd be hard-pressed to find more acclaimed actors; HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS' cast notched up 22 Emmy nominations during their careers (and six Emmy wins), as well as ten Academy Award nominations (and five Oscars). Needless to say, screenwriter Joseph Stefano (who adapted Robert Bloch's PSYCHO to the big screen for Alfred Hitchcock) provides the predominantly female cast plenty of opportunities to stretch.

Aged patriarch Benjamin Morgan (Walter Brennan) summons his four estranged daughters to his dying bedside on Christmas Eve: grad student Christine (Sally Field, still best known as THE FLYING NUN at this point), neurotic Frederica (Jessica Walter, just off PLAY MISTY FOR ME), party girl Joanna (Jill Haworth) and Alex (Eleanor Parker, 24 years older than Field), the oldest. None has set foot in the Morgan house since their mother's suicide nine years earlier, a death the daughters blamed on Morgan's affair with the woman he's now married to, Elizabeth (Julie Harris), who was accused of murdering her first husband. Now Morgan believes his wife is trying to poison him to death and wants his daughters' help. As the torrential rain falls, the phones go out, the roads wash over and the electricity flutters, the bodies start to tumble... Who is killing the Morgan clan and why?

At a mere 72 minutes, HOME manages to work up quite a bit of bitterness and terror, thanks to a cast of veteran scenery-chewers and Field, who hadn't quite outgrown GIDGET, but proves herself a game screamer and a cutie of a heroine. None of the actors are exactly cast against type, but the tight direction by John Llewellyn Moxey (THE NIGHT STALKER) provides enough room for them to bite down on, making this a decent enough chiller, if not among the finest on 1970's TV.

It's surprising and more than a little disappointing to note how much tamer television has become over the last thirty years. Sure, networks can say dirtier words and show the side of a breast now and again, but terror like this is a thing of the past.

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