Killing time with the Morgan family at Christmas…
The Morgan sisters return to the family home for Christmas, as their estranged father is worried his new wife is trying to kill him.
Acoso Homicida (Home for the Holidays) (1972) – TV Spot, Todo El Terror Del Mundo and photos © Sony Pictures Television
After the final film credits rolled on The Sound of Music (1965), everyone knows about leading stars Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer’s successful film careers after this musical movie. For Julie Andrews films included SOB (1981) and The Princess Diaries (2001). For Christopher Plummer, there was Starcrash (1978) and Somewhere in Time (1980) to name but two.
Many film buffs, may also know what The Sound of Music‘s film seven child actors and actresses did too. Films and TV for these young actors and actresses included Charmian Carr (Liesl) in Evening Primrose (1966), Heather Menzies-Urich (Louisa) in The Love Boat (1977-87), Nicholas Hammond in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019), Duane Chase (Kurt) in Follow Me, Boys! (1966), Angela Cartwright (Brigitta) in Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979), Debbie Turner (Marta) in North Dallas Forty (1979) and Kym Karath (Gretl) in The Waltons (1972-81)
More knowledge of this film has been gained from the countless number of anniversary and reunion shows. These TV specials celebrating this famous film musical since it’s release in 1965 and probably every five years since. Or as a feel good Christmas show. Through these we’ve learned many off screen stories of this iconic film. However, in this post, I’m writing about the actress who played the most selfless character in this movie, Baroness Elsa von Schraeder, Captain Von Trapp’s fiance.
This character was played by a then blonde actress, the stunningly beautiful Eleanor Parker. Her character in that film musical, became a blonde potential mother for those seven Von Trapp children. After meeting the kids, she gave up her fiance, Captain Von Trapp (Plummer), knowing he didn’t love her. After her girly chat with Maria (Andrews), Elsa gallantly broke off her engagement to the Captain and let him free to hook up with that singing nun. This led to – in no particular order – love, marriage and a duet for them, and I’d like to think a string of toy boys for her.
In the to be reviewed TV Movie, ironically Parker acts alongside another young actress who had played a nun, albeit a flying one. This actress was Sally Field in one of her early roles. This review is on the Christmas TV Movie – and slasher – 1970s TV Movie Home for the Holidays (1972), and a film where Eleanor Parker, is a redhead.
The film tells of the Morgan sisters who have been summoned to the family home for Christmas by their ailing father. The eldest sister Alex (Eleanor Parker) learns from their estranged father Benjamin Morgan (Walter Brannan) that his present wife Elizabeth (Julie Harris) has been poisoning him. (Cue dramatic close ups).
It’s raining heavily with flashes of thunder outside. Alex then travels to pick up her sisters at the airport, on her way she stops to ask the family doctor, Nick (John Fink) for directions. He hasn’t seen the girls since their mother’s suicide many years previously. We learn their stepmother, Elizabeth is disliked by the Morgan sisters as their father had had an affair with her while he was still married to their mother. This affair led to their mother’s suicide.
Naturally, the Morgan girls are concerned as they then learn Elizabeth may have killed her first husband who died in suspicious circumstances. They also discover their father has added them back into his will. But despite their family reconciliation, there is still some mutual ill-feeling, particularly from Joanna with her father. Benjamin Morgan appears frail and at death’s door, and Elizabeth says he is not able to use the stairs.
The now adult sisters have coped with their mother’s suicide differently. Alex has taken on a responsible and maternal role, looking out for her sisters. Freddie (Jessica Walter) has become addicted to barbiturates and is an alcoholic. She still blames her father for her mother’s death. Joanna (Jill Haworth) has tried to find love but has divorced more times than most. The youngest, the apparently naive Christine (Sally Field) is seen as needy by the men at college and she’s never had a proper boyfriend.
On their return to the palatial family home, their father sums them in for a meeting with just the five of them. He has one request, that they kill Elizabeth. (Cue a commercial break (probably)). Christine goes to make a coffee for Freddie and Elizabeth offers to make it for her. Freddie has been drinking heavily and is still preoccupied with their mother’s death, and refuses the coffee.
The remaining girls have an uncomfortable dinner with their stepmother. Elizabeth seems pleasant enough. Joanna, in particular, is quite cutting towards Elizabeth and asks her about those suspicions regarding her first husband. Elizabeth talks more about this unhappy time and she says firmly she won’t be the one to “wake up screaming” again.
A scream is heard from Freddie. She’s in their mother’s old room upstairs, and she’s very hysterical. She’s angry with her father about his many affairs and blaming him for their mother’s suicide. She’s been drinking and has cut her hand with a glass. Joanne decides to leave and return home. She is seen to be the murderer’s first victim, as someone dressed in a yellow waterproof jacket, welly boots and wearing gloves kills her with a pitchfork as she heads to the barn. (These clothes were all spotted earlier in the kitchen).
Elizabeth makes some milk and honey for Freddie. Freddie refuses this drink and Freddie is later found dead. She’s drowned in the bath by this unknown killer. We see this person’s gloved hands as they drag her under the bath water. Christine is visited by the handsome Doctor, Nick and there’s a wee bit of mutual attraction. After he leaves, Christine finds Freddie’s dead body in the bath.
The two remaining sisters, Christine and Alex think Freddie’s untimely death may have been an accident or possible suicide. The roads are impassable because of the rain, and the Morgan’s phone not working. Christine then runs across the fields and through woods, to use a neighbour’s telephone to report Freddie’s death. She’s followed by someone wearing a yellow waterproof jacket, who screams to her to return… (to be continued, in the usual ways)..
This ABC TV Movie was written by Joseph Stefano, who is well known for those chilling, murderous movies. Bloch famously adapted Robert Bloch’s Psycho (1960) for Hitchcock. This murder mystery TV Movie has everyone as a possible suspect, once the murders begin as it appears everyone has a possible motive.
Aaron Spelling produced this film and his use of camera close ups and dramatic dialogue were reminiscent of many of those TV Soaps and TV Series he worked on. These shows including Charlie’s Angels, Dynasty and Fantasy Island. The setting of this remote family home feels quite threatening and claustrophobic. The film uses thunder and rain, adding to the eerie ambience and the chilling plot. The movie uses thunder for illuminating those close ups. These added to the non-stop suspense-filled moments and the twist-filled storylines. The Morgan women and their father become isolated in the house, leads to family tensions.
The inside of the house adds to the tension and fear for all is felt as the storm brings down the phone line as outside the roads become impassable. These implying the remaining characters can’t leave this house and its grounds and the characters are essentially trapped with the murderer. The story had originally had planned to use snow instead of rain, to fit in with this Christmas theme but the small budget didn’t allow for this. I believe this rain adds to the bleak storyline more effectively.
This film is one of the most perplexing TV movie whodunnits I’ve seen for a long time. All the actresses are convincing in their roles and play them to the hilt. Julie Harris as their stepmother is seen as an ambiguous character. You believe she is evil with possible motives to kill. This due to her first husband’s suspicious death and Benjamin’s fears of being poisoned. Then in contrast to this, she seems to harbour no ill-feeling making the girls drinks, dinner and caring for them. She makes the girls welcome. Yet moments later you believe she may be evil after seeing her character a close up, at a window pane with a crash of thunder.
Benjamin, their father, may also have had a motive in the killings of Joanna and Freddie. He initially appearing bedridden, and it’s reinforced he can’t use the stairs. But is this a lie? He and Joanna clashed as soon as they saw each other again. Freddie still blames him for her mother’s death. He’s also seen peeking out of his bedroom door. The doctor may also have had ulterior motives as he made a pass at Christine, and possibly knew about the Morgan’s inheritance.
The remaining actresses played their different personalities credibly and dramatically. Haworth’s Joanna appeared to want to leave as soon as she arrived. Her character appears to dislike her stepmother intensely and still angry with her father. Walter gave her all in a wonderfully over the top and passionate performance as the hysterical and unpredictable Freddie. Field seemed more sweet and innocent, but did the youngest sister have a hidden anger towards her family or was she keen to inherit everything?.
However, Parker as Alex seemed the glue of the family, looking out for and protective towards her father and her concerns for her younger sisters. She advises Joanna not to leave in the storm and voiced her fears about Freddie’s mental health. She accused Elizabeth of leaving the room full of memories of their mother unlocked, this led to Freddie’s drinking and near histrionics. Parker’s character comes into her own, later in this movie and her role adds much more to the suspense, thrills and the storyline. But I’d insist you watch this film, to find out what happened next in this film and return to a field alive with the sound of screaming.
Weeper Rating: 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂🙂/10
The Eleanor Parker Blogathon 2020 No 23
This film was added to Maddy Loves Her Classic Films Eleanor Parker Blogathon. Other reviews with this cast include Sally Field in Surrender, Smokey and the Bandit, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure and Soapdish. Eleanor Parker in the Sound of Music HERE and HERE, Hotel, Murder She Wrote, The Love Boat, Circle of Fear and The Man from UNCLE. Julie Harris stars in Voyage of the Damned and Knots Landing. Jessica Walter stars in Archer, Murder She Wrote, Magnum, Hotel and The Love Boat. John Fink starred in The Bionic Woman, McMillan & Wife and Columbo.