During this amazing period in history, filmmakers would actually try to surprise audiences. Now it seems that mainstream audiences demand to have their pre-fabricated expectations fulfilled by cinema without a single twist or misdirection. The bad guys are bad and the good guys are bad, but the good guys have an ironclad just cause. No vagueness, no ambiguity, if someone gets punched, killed, or tortured, they had it coming, and it was for a good reason. Usually because they aren't nice to women, animals or those of ethnic origins.
Ironically theatrical films of the '70s were suddenly unshackled from the draconian censorship of the Hays Code by Jack Valenti's new MPAA ratings board, whose first incarnation went into effect in 1968. Ironic because as we all know, Valenti and his MPAA slowly turned into something even more twisted than Will H. Hays could have ever dreamed up. TV movies, under the censorship of the FCC, unable to show the graphic content of theatrical films, were forced to resort to creative concepts, interesting casting, twisting plots and clever dialogue. Case in point, the Aaron Spelling / Leonard Goldberg produced ABC TV movie HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS. As director Paul Kyriazi told us, this movie came out of left field for some (like his mother) who thought they were sitting down to some wholesome home-spun Christmas movie back in '72.
Dad: "Jo, I lost track of all of the husbands..."
Jo: "So did I, until I realized that you didn't have to marry them to sleep with them."
Dad: "As I remember, you found that out in junior high school."
Oh daaaaaaayyyyummm!! And I thought my family had some issues with lingering resentment over parental disapproval! Better still, Dad demands that his flock of female failures spend the most wonderful time of the year killing his wife, before she kills him! God bless us, everyone.
As it turns out the new stepmom, Elizabeth Hall Morgan (Julie Harris), was not just suspected of poisoning her last husband, but actually tried in a court of law and spent time under special psychiatric care. While the suspicious sisters delicately probe around the issue over the dinner table, Elizabeth tells them of the strange circumstances of her late husbands death and how it drove her mad. Only temporarily, of course, but "if for some evil reason I am ever accused by anyone of killing, the next time, I will not be the one that wakes up screaming." Well ok, then! There's always someone who has to drop that not-so-veiled threat before you even make it to dessert, isn't there?
This sets the stage for a surprisingly atmospheric reworking of THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927), complete with thunder and lightning, torrential rain (it's California, no snow) and an American gothic mansion in which someone in a yellow slicker and red rubber gloves is picking off the family one by one. Just as much as it owes a debt to John Willard's seminal 1922 stage play (by way of many film adaptations), HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS pre-dates much of the '70s Bava-inspired slasher films in the US and was made four years prior to ALICE SWEET ALICE (1976) which made the yellow rainslicker an icon of evil.