MARCH 4, 2009
When Grindhouse came out, Eli Roth often claimed that the inspiration for his faux trailer Thanksgiving came from the fact that there had never been a Thanksgiving themed slasher movie during the slasher heyday, when every holiday was being used as a backdrop (I don’t recall an Easter one either). Well, Roth was mistaken, as the film Home Sweet Home, released at the tail end of 1981, was indeed centered on a Thanksgiving meal being ruined by a slasher.
But in Roth’s defense, the Thanksgiving angle is pretty goddamn flimsy. If not for the fact that a family is coming together and the main dish is turkey, I don’t really think the holiday has any bearing on the film at all. It’s not like everything is closed and such because of the holiday; the family lives in the middle of nowhere. Plus, the mom and dad leave (separately) to go to a store and gas station, respectively, so the holiday apparently didn’t really affect retail locations either (don’t forget, back in the day - most if not all places DID close on major holidays).
Ultimately, I suspect that is just a byproduct of the film’s rushed/improvised feel. You know how Roger Corman tossed together a Fantastic Four movie in a blind panic because his rights on the property were expiring? I have a feeling that Home Sweet Home was made as quickly as possible by some folks who wanted to do a “Thanksgiving slasher” before anyone else did. Hence the endless scenes of people saying and doing things that no one would actually sit down and write. It’s as if screenwriter Thomas Bush just wrote a script filled with vague scene concepts. “OK, in this scene you talk about the phone being out - GO!”. As a result, you get people repeating things ad nauseum, making the movie feel like a rather bland episode of 24.
Also, I swear the movie was produced by Pep Boys. No less than 20 minutes of the film resolves around cars breaking down or people talking about said cars breaking down. And it’s not even in the traditional “she’s running from the killer and the car doesn’t start” way. No, someone will ask to take a car to go to the store, and the owner will explain that the battery is on the fritz, so someone else lets them take HIS car, which has a faulty fuel gauge. Then there’s a lengthy scene where the family’s patriarch steals gas from an abandoned station wagon, then his battery gives out (again) so he tries to steal the wagon’s battery as well. And of course, the made up dialogue never lets us forget each car’s problems and what the drivers could be doing about it (“well he said the battery is dying, so maybe he went to the gas station to get a new one.”). It’s actually kind of charming in a peculiar way.
The killer is worthy of his own paragraph for sure. You might recognize him as Jake Steinfeld (better known as the Body By Jake guy), and that’s because he wears no mask or costume of any kind, a la Final Exam. But unlike Final Exam’s killer, this guy is memorable in that he laughs almost nonstop, and makes Adam Sandler faces as he kills folks. He even racks up a couple of great kills, including an electrocution by electric guitar, and during the aforementioned “battery theft” scene he actually dives out of the bushes and sort of body slams the hood, crushing the guy tinkering away underneath it.
He’s also one of the film’s two surprisingly recognizable stars. The other is a 4 or 5 year old Vinessa Shaw, playing the requisite little girl of the family. She doesn’t have much to do (her biggest scene requires her to watch a talking mime do magic tricks), but I like to think it was her performance here that convinced Stanley Kubrick to hire her for Eyes Wide Shut. Speaking of the mime - this guy is truly a piece of work. Besides the fact that he talks, he also carries the guitar around with him at all times, playing it as he annoys everyone around him at all times. At one point he busts in on what I THINK are his parents (the family genealogy is never made clear) and refers to it as “his lucky day”. I’m sorry, but if I saw my mom and dad going at it, the last word I’d use to describe it would be “lucky”. And I think he’s a real mime too - his only other credit is playing one in an episode of Wonder Woman. So either that or he suffered the absolute worst typecasting in cinematic history.
One of my notes reads “FY”. ...I? No idea what the hell that one’s about.
I got to thinking as the body count (slowly) piled up - I think the real reason that they never made any “true” Thanksgiving slashers is that it’s kind of depressing to watch a family bite it, as opposed to a group of friends. If you think about other family based horror movies, they usually introduce “the daughter’s boyfriend” or maybe an aunt to provide the kills so that the core unit (two parents, two kids) can survive, but that’s not the case here. Except for the Shaw character (whose relation to the family is, like all the others, incredibly vague), the entire family is wiped out, leaving only the son’s girlfriend alive. That’s a bummer. Luckily, without any sort of understanding of how they relate to one another, it’s not as upsetting as it could be.
So is the movie any good? Oh heavens no. It’s inept on every level (good luck trying to make out anything that is happening during half of the climax - apparently in the mad rush to get this thing in theaters they forgot to rent lights), plotless to the point where you can never tell if you’re 5 minutes or 5 hours away from its conclusion, and painfully slow despite only being 80 minutes long. But there’s just so much quirkiness to enjoy (I haven’t mentioned the peas) that I couldn’t help but be relatively charmed and delighted by the whole affair. I mean, at one point our would-be hero finds a corpse in the driveway, and rather than scream or make a mad dash back to safety, he rather casually says “What is going ON here?”, as if he had just found, I dunno, a ham sandwich under his bed. Even the main menu is a bit “off” - it’s a screenshot of the mime doing a magic trick, with “Play Movie” the only option. Chapter marks are there, but there is no accessible scene selection (which means I shouldn’t complain when studios try to pass off such things as a bonus feature).
If you’re a fan of things like Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2 or Black Xmas, you will definitely dig this movie in the same way. A film with a complete lack of political correctness mixed with an abundance of mean-spirited glee is always welcome in my home. I mean, an old lady gets splattered across a windshield during the opening credits. You KNOW that’s worth a look.
What say you?
And now, Horror Movie A Day and Happy Hour Comics would like to present the 4th in an ongoing series of HMAD-inspired comic strips. I hope you enjoy!! (Click to enlarge)