Longtime readers of ER are well aware of my love for "holiday horrors" – heck, a screening of the original SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT over Thanksgiving weekend in 1984 is what set co-founder Lou Goncey and me on the wild and crazy path to zine publishing/blogging/podcasting.
And while you can't swing a dead elf without hitting a half-dozen Christmas-themed horror flicks, other holidays – like Thanksgiving – aren't quite as well represented. Oh sure, there's 1987's classic BLOOD RAGE (aka NIGHTMARE AT SHADOW WOODS) in which a Thanksgiving meal touches off a killing spree as an escaped mental patient tries to clear his name, but there's not many more.
The most well known example of on-screen Thanksgiving slaughter is probably 1981's HOME SWEET HOME, long unavailable on domestic video in any legit form and the subject of a lengthy flea market and thrift store hunt by yours truly. Thanks to Cinesludge's very own Evil Monk #2 I was able to get my hands on a copy for Thanksgiving Eve viewing.
For those of you that loathe any kind of set up, HOME SWEET HOME will be right in your wheelhouse as a pre-credit radio bulletin alerts us to the presence of a homicidal maniac – yep, that's BIG BROTHER JAKE star Jake Steinfeld – who has escaped from a home for the criminally insane eight years after bludgeoning his parents to death. As if the sight of the ripped, curly-haired, hulking "Body By Jake" pitchman isn't enough to strike terror in your hearts, well, he might also be on PCP.
After stealing a station wagon and running over an old woman TRUTH OR DARE style, Body By Jake finds himself in the vicinity of the home of Bradley, a failed record executive played by Don Edmonds (yes, the same Don Edmonds who brought us ILSA, SHE WOLF OF THE SS and ILSA, HARMER KEEPER OF THE OIL SHIEKS). With friends and family gathered for a Thanksgiving meal, Bradley and Co. make easy pickings for Body By Jake (billed as The Killer) as he crushes, strangles and bludgeons his way through the guest list.
Unfortunately – like some Thanksgiving recipes I've encountered over the years – HOME SWEET HOME sounds much better on paper than it does in reality. The presentation certainly doesn't help as the transfer is dark-bordering-on-incomprehensible while cars break down, people walk around the woods and Body By Jake cackles like, well, a lunatic on PCP as he thins the herd.
As for the Thanksgiving setting, I'm not even positive the holiday is actually mentioned. There's a turkey on the table and one guest is incensed when the power goes out, thus limiting his access to the big game he has a bet on, but for all the talk of the Thanksgiving theme it could really be any weekend during the fall.
But no review of HOME SWEET HOME would be complete without a nod to Peter De Paula as The Mistake – simultaneously the best and worst thing about the flick. Dressed like a new wave mime (?!), the cruelly nicknamed Mistake bops around the proceedings playing riffs on his portable electric guitar and doing magic tricks to amuse Angel (a young Vinessa Shaw who would go on to a lengthy career in film and TV including Stanley Kubrick's EYES WIDE SHUT). The Mistake – who seems to be Bradley's son from an earlier marriage? – even gets pegged as the killer when bodies start piling up. You can't wait for him to get killed but when he's not on screen you'll be begging for him to relieve the boredom.
And that may be HOME SWEET HOME's most egregious sin. Like a bone-dry Thanksgiving turkey, HOME SWEET HOME takes the high concept of a Thanksgiving murder spree and dumbs it down to the level of your most generic slasher.
Do yourself a favor... if you're truly in the mood for a Turkey Day terror treat yourself to the truly whacked out BLOOD RAGE instead. You'll thank me later. – Dan Taylor
Dan Taylor is the editor of Exploitation Retrospect and the food and drink-themed zine/website The Hungover Gourmet. A contributor to such publications as Weng's Chop and Monster! (both available at Amazon) he is also the co-host of Cinesludge: A Mangled Media Podcast with David Zuzelo.