Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Home Sweet Home (1981)


Director: Nettie Peña
Screenplay: Thomas Bush
Cast: Jake Steinfeld (as Jay Jones); Vinessa Shaw (as Angel Bradley); Peter De Paula (as Mistake Bradley); Don Edmonds (as Harold Bradley); Charles Hoyes (as Wayne); David Mielke (as Scott); Leia Naron (as Gail); Lisa Rodríguez (as Maria); Colette Trygg     (as Jennifer); Sallee Young (as Linda)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #95

There are times in Home Sweet Home which are admittedly amusing. It starts on the right tone for a slasher you can laugh with through the introduction of its killer Jay Jones (Jake Steinfeld), a hulking muscle man in white t-shirt and jeans whose high on PCP and constantly giggling loudly. Immediately he shows himself to be utterly evil when, having already killed someone to steal their car, he runs over an older woman crossing a who admittedly, even for an elderly woman who dropped her shopping bag, could've gotten away if she didn't stand still in the middle of the road waving her arms. It's the sort of thing that would get a viewer excited for the film when said killer ends up in the Californian woodlands where a family with friends have gotten together to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving also has an alien quality to it because, as an Englishman whose never been on American soil, Thanksgiving is a holiday entirely unknown to me yet was constantly referenced to in a lot of American imports in film and television to the British Isles, never actually described in detail as, understandably, an American audience would have grown up with the holiday without any need for context. It can't be glibly compared to when family gets together for Christmas, but it's a holiday that I have no real grasp of expect for how its depicted in cinema. It's certainly a holiday, like every other one, that's ripe for a horror film to exploit - having just seen Jackie Kong's The Being (1983) pervert Easter, a Thanksgiving film especially as a holiday meant to bring families and long distance relatives together is rife for psychodrama and grim ickiness. Particularly as well with Eli Roth's infamous and acclaimed fake trailer Thanksgiving (2007), it's a season that should've had an iconic slasher film for, not just two obscurer entries like this and Blood Rage (1987).

Home Sweet Home is certainly not that iconic film. Immediately after its intro, while with a charming homebrew quality, it starts to drag dreadfully. For the first two-thirds, it's the amateurish foibles of the family being picked off that's of more interest. The Latin girlfriend Maria (Lisa Rodríguez) of one of the friends who's constantly cheerful and happy to be there, not letting a visible language barrier between her and others stopping her from enjoying herself. The father (Ilsa director Don Edmonds) who's crankiness is only match for stinginess in stealing petrol from an abandoned car, or his wife who with a friend manage to get out a speeding ticket with charm and a revealing blouse top. The most well known, and infamous, character however is Mistake (Peter De Paula), the son whose face is always in mime paint, walking around constantly with a guitar with a backpack amp on his shoulders and justifying his name to the rest of the family. On one hand he's incredibly annoying, jumping in on people to scare them or being a pervert, even commenting on his own parents making out in their bedroom being chased by someone else. On the other hand he's the most interesting. Charming his young sister (Vinessa Shaw in her debut as a young toddler) with magic tricks, conjuring eggs out of his mouth at the dinner table, or trying to woo Maria after becoming smitten by her. He is, for better and worse, the reason anyone probably remembers Home Sweet Home to this day.


Unfortunately as the characters start to be picked off the film becomes less and less interesting. A lot of any amusement from the film is the strange quirks like the father grumbling about getting the peas cooked for the dinner or the posters for multiple King Kong films in the guest room, little things that might sound boring and asinine for some readers to consider but more interesting for me considering the movie as a slasher film is pretty mundane. Baring a leap on a person under a car bonnet, like Madman (1981), the giggling man-mountain killer is actually pretty nondescript if it wasn't for his constant laughing. The lack of tension forces one to appreciate the absurd non-events as the family's Thanksgiving is constantly interrupted by the lights of the electricity going off or there being no wine in the house.

It suggests that, perversely, I'd rather how this ridiculous mundane dross in horror films but its exasperated by the fact that most of the time I don't find the stalk and slash scenes in many slasher films that interesting, and considering Home Sweet Home is far from the best in the sub-genre, it's pretty screwed once most of the characters who were actually interesting are gone and the bland, white meat protagonists are left. I admit to jumping one, in all due praise to the film, but it doesn't sustain what is mainly a slog for the final thirty or so minutes. It's still a lot more entertaining for me than Blood Rage - the other Thanksgiving slasher film more proficient technically in a momentous way, but lacking the charm in this one's shambolic nature - but that's a low lying fruit for it to pick. That it's also one of few slashers from the golden era of the sub-genre directed by a woman doesn't redeem the film's actual quality either sadly, Home Sweet Home only really stands out in this area as part of an odd trilogy where Nettie Peña first edited the hardcore porn horror film Dracula Sucks (1978), than directed this, than in 2009 twenty eight years later directed a documentary promoting wind power, which is as unconventional as you'd expect for a career trajectory. 


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