You know you’re in for an interesting ride when a musclebound maniac strangles a man offering him a beer in the opening minute of the film, all the while cackling like a cartoon character. Toss in a radio report that an escaped lunatic is on the loose and then show him doing PCP? Well, you have yourself a unique start to your film. The movie in question being the 1981 slasher, Home Sweet Home.
Contrary to what Eli Roth thought when he crafted his stellar faux trailer for Grindhouse a decade back, there already were ‘80s slasher movies set on Thanksgiving. Two of them, to be exact. One is 1987’s Blood Rage, which Nate Guerra wrote up here a few days back. The other, of course, is Home Sweet Home. Directed by filmmaker Nettie Pena (Dracula Sucks), the film has also been known under the titles Bloodparty and Slasher in the House.
Bloodparty might be the more striking of the three, but the producers were clearly angling for the “holiday slasher” angle by choosing Home Sweet Home. I can’t blame them, although to be honest, the movie has little to do with Thanksgiving. The holiday gives the victims a reason to be gathered together in a remote location, but it doesn’t factor much into the proceedings beyond that. Since the same can also be said of Blood Rage, Roth’s fake trailer remains the lone slasher “movie” to fully capitalize on the holiday it inhabits.
Unlike Blood Rage, which Arrow Video lovingly and painstakingly restored a few years back, Home Sweet Home is not a good film. While it has been somewhat lost to time due to never even seeing a proper DVD release, it is no hidden gem. This is a bad movie. Lucky for me and anyone else who takes the time to track it down, it’s a WEIRD bad movie.
The weirdness of this not-so-festive slasher tale extends both in front of and behind the camera. For starters, it’s one of the few slashers out there directed by a woman. It’s also the acting debut of Vinessa Shaw, who appears as a child here, but would go on to have prominent roles in memorable films such as Eyes Wide Shut, 40 Days and 40 Nights, and Alexandre Aja’s remake of The Hills Have Eyes.
The biggest slice o’ weirdness behind the scenes is its killer. Much like Final Exam, we are treated here to an unmasked killer whose face is prominently showcased throughout the feature. Our murdering musclebound madman is played by none other than Jake Steinfeld. Comedy fans will know him from his appearances in classics such as The Money Pit and Coming to America, but many will likely recognize him as the exercise guru behind Body by Jake (and the ‘90s sitcom Big Brother Jake). There’s really nothing quite like seeing the usually-happy Lou Ferrigno-esque face of Mr. Body By Jake as he gets hopped up on PCP and murders the hell out of almost 10 people. Add in that aforementioned high-pitched cackle and it’s something you’re unlikely to forgot.
Speaking of that group of people, they’re also super weird. This family seems to heavily dislike one another for the most part, which I guess isn’t too strange, but it adds an odd dynamic to the situation. Hell, the patriarch flat-out calls his son “Mistake” repeatedly, never using another name for him. Is that his name? One would hope not, but then again the guy does run around in mime make-up while constantly annoying everyone with his guitar. Did this earn him the name Mistake or did the name Mistake come first and this is how he has chosen to embrace it? We’ll never know.
As cheap and shoddy as this offering is, it at least has a decent body count (by Jake). Nine people meet their messy end here. They range from a poor little old lady who gets run down in slow motion to some poor soul who gets smashed to death when the psychopath body slams (by Jake) the hood of his car as he is underneath it working on the battery. What a way to go!
Whenever I see someone say “this decade of horror sucks. Things were better in [insert older decade here]”, I often remind the speaker that every decade of horror has its fair share of duds. It’s only with distance that we forget most of them and focus more on the gems. Home Sweet Home is a perfect example of one of those forgotten bad eggs.
This isn’t a film worth seeking out unless you are doing a slasher craze deep dive. Even with its quirks and occasional absurd kills, there’s not much to recommend here. Still, given its footnote in history as one of cinema’s few Thanksgiving slashers and some of its other odd pieces of trivia, it’s one worth our remembrance. If you’re curious, you can find it both on YouTube and for sale as a bootleg DVD on Amazon (sourced from a VHS transfer, naturally). If you take the dive, be sure to watch it with some friends and make a fun night of it. It’ll be far more palatable that way.