Monday, September 10, 2012


MYTHICITY: (1) *poor, (2) *fair*


The VHS illustration for the telefilm HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS makes it look like a 1980s slasher-film, but though there is a scene where a mysterious raincoated figure stabs a victim with a pitchfork, the killer's modus operandi doesn't have quite the same fetishistic emphasis seen in films like THE PROWLER.  Nevertheless, there's a good mysterioso atmosphere to HOLIDAYS, dealing as it does with a countrified version of an "old dark house" mystery.  The family patriarch (Walter Brennan) summons his four grown daughters (Sally Field, Eleanor Parker, Jill Haworth and Jessica Walter) to his country estate one rainy Christmas (rain being easier to manufacture than snow, one suspects).  The patriarch suspects that his young wife (Julie Harris) is out to kill him.  Instead it's the daughters who keep getting knocked off one by one, and Harris' character is the prime suspect, which naturally means she's as innocent as Sally Field, playing the 1970s version of the "Final Girl" here.

I give the killer away here because it's the only potential mythic aspect of this slight but reasonably effective potboiler (directed by long-time genre-specialist John Llewellyn Moxey).  It turns out the culprit is Parker, who was then old enough to have played mother to any of the other three.  Moxey's scripter doesn't manage to give an adequate explanation of her grudge against her sisters, but it apparently has something to do with having had to function as a "mother" to her sisters.  Her grudge might have been more understandable had there been some impropriety between her and her father, but perhaps the filmmakers didn't want to be that adventurous.  Strangely, Brennan's patriarch character simply perishes offscreen, and it's never clear whether or not Parker is responsible for his death.

FINAL EXAM appeared during the height of the original slasher craze.  The killer, stalking his victims on a college campus during Pledge Week, is extremely unprepossessing, but some of his murders pass my litmus test for passing the Threshhold of the Grotesque that can separate a Naturalistic Psycho from an Uncanny Psycho (concept referenced here).  The opening murder, in which a young couple is slaughtered while parking in a car, is the strongest from a "slasher" perspective, but it has to last the gore-hungry viewer for quite a while.  Reviewers of this film tend to complain a lot about the film's slow beginnings. I can't claim that the filmmakers use the gore-free time to develop the various student-characters particularly well-- all of them remain routine stereotypes-- but I found them a good deal more pleasant, naturalistically depicted stereotypes, as opposed to (for instance) those of HAPPY HELL NIGHT (reviewed in the above link).

If the filmmakers succeed at anything here, it's in depicting the chaotic spirits of the students, reined in by the routine of collegiate study but set free to some extent by the customs of Pledge Week.  As seen in the picture above, would-be pledges are subjected to demanding hazing rituals, which normally serve to allow the young people to blow off steam in harmless fashion. The stalker, however, plays the hazing game for keeps-- though to be sure, the title "Final Exam" doesn't apply to much of anything.  Perhaps it should have been titled simply "Finals," since the murderer does bring his victims to their final reward.  Because EXAM does associate its fatalities with the rituals of burgeoning youth, I give it a 'fair" rating for its mythicity.

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