Last year at this time, I told DM readers about the impending limited Blu-ray release of a slasher film set during the Thanksgiving holiday, Blood Rage (which, incidentally, will soon be reissued in a standard edition). In that post, I also mentioned another Thanksgiving-themed horror picture, Home Sweet Home (1981).
Home Sweet Home stars Jake Steinfeld as homicidal maniac Jay Jones, an escaped mental patient, convicted for killing his parents. Steinfeld will be familiar to many as the fitness guru behind the “Body by Jake” brand of books, TV shows, etc. He even has his own catchphrase: “Don’t quit!”
Like so many other horror movies from the era, Home Sweet Home incorporates elements from John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), the most obvious aspect being the holiday setting. As far as I can tell (and I know our dear readers will correct me if I’m wrong), this is the first horror picture to take place during Thanksgiving. It’s also one of the few slasher films directed by a woman; in this case, one Nettie Peña.
When we first lay eyes on Steinfeld/Jones he’s about to strangle a guy sitting in his station wagon. After he kills the dude, Jones steals the wagon, and we then watch him inject PCP into his tongue—! Moments later, he’s running over an elderly woman. We’re now but four minutes into Home Sweet Home.
You’d think with this beginning you’d be in for a wild ride, but as is often the case with exploitation cinema, what’s initially implied isn’t always the way things go. Instead, the picture settles into a more stable pace, with Jones periodically killing innocent people and laughing maniacally every time he offs someone. Eventually, Jones focuses on terrorizing a group of friends and family who have assembled for Thanksgiving dinner. You might presume he targets them as part of some jealous rage because he has no family of his own (he’s got “Home Sweet Home” tattooed on his hand), but who knows—his motive is never even mentioned in the film.
Aside from Steinfeld, the one to watch in this cast of characters is a young man that lives at the house where the party is taking place. You can’t miss him; for the entire movie, he walks around playing guitar with a portable amplifier strapped to his back, merrily annoying everyone within earshot. And he has the greatest name: “Mistake.” It’s not even apparent that’s his name until the closing credits, as everyone calls him “Stake,” for short. Oh, and he’s wearing whiteface the whole time. I guess he likes KISS?
Home Sweet Home largely alternates between goofy and scary, though the mood isn’t always predictable. One aspect of B-movies I love is the established tone can flip on a dime—anything is possible. The film does not disappoint in that regard. Take the scene in which Jones holds a knife to the throat of one of the female guests and Stake pleads with the madman to “take me instead.” The moment is surprisingly touching, but it’s also unnerving, as we know by now that Jones is probably going to kill them both anyway. As Stake whimpers while awaiting certain death, there is actual sadness for the dumb kid in whiteface. Home Sweet Home also has its share of striking images, which at times appear for seemingly no other reason than to shock the viewer.
Steinfeld is really the weak link in the film. All that delirious laughing and those bug-eyed expressions of his result in most of the unintended humor in the picture. He is an intimidating presence, though, and at times does look genuinely frightening on screen.
I should also mention that Home Sweet Home was labeled a Video Nasty, which is now a kind of “seal of approval” for fans of movie violence and gore.
It appears the Home Sweet Home DVD is out of print in the U.S, but it is on YouTube, which means you can relax and enjoy this holiday slasher—after you spend Thanksgiving dinner arguing with your weird uncle because he voted for Trump.
First, the trailer:
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘It’s not cranberry sauce!’: Thanksgiving-themed ‘80s slasher film is gory good fun