Cult Christmas Throwback: Home for the Holidays

Ah, the joys of coming home for the holidays. Visiting with your close family; enjoying the familiar sites and sounds of your hometown; basking in the smell of Christmas cookies wafting from the oven; and wondering if perhaps your abusive asshole father is being slowly poisoned by your stepmom while your sisters are murdered one by one. What a festive time!

Home for the Holidays is a 1972 TV movie that originally aired on ABC. It has a surprising number of familiar faces, including Jessica Walter playing a pill-popping addict and Sally Field as the primary sister protagonist Chris. Its plotting is fairly brooding for a holiday movie: the sisters all come home for Christmas after they receive a note from their father suspecting his new wife is slowly poisoning him due to a similar scenario in her past. Once all the sisters are there, they begin to be picked off one by one by a rainslicker- and galoshes-wearing killer.

home for the holidays screencap

It sounds a bit like a giallo, but the murder mystery plays out a lot more mundane. Think Agatha Christie, but less cozy and more extremely soapy. The idea is interesting but the execution leaves something to be desired; there’s never really a question that the film’s suspected murderess – the stepmother (Julie Harris) – is a red herring, and Home for the Holidays does nothing to dispel this expectation for the entirety of the film. It’s unfortunate that the script doesn’t try to drive a different suspect, because it would add a bit more suspense to the proceedings. With its central focus on the stepmother, the viewer knows that it’s not her, and there are a limited number of others it could be.

The holiday elements are also pretty lacking. There’s a bleakness to the Gothic-esque manse that the sisters live in, and a Christmas tree is the main focal point for festooned surroundings. Other than that, this TV movie has little cheer to differentiate it from any other moody mystery.

home for the holidays screencap

There’s a reason why Home for the Holidays has never been a big recommendation on Christmas horror lists. It’s too listless for its own good, with a plot that goes exactly how the viewer expects from the very beginning. Its main claim to fame is the brief appearance of Jessica Walter, Field’s early role, and a very marginal holiday setting.

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