Friday, December 21, 2012

Thirteenth Day of Christmas, The (1985) (TV)

... aka: 13th Day of Christmas, The
... aka: Thirteenth Day of Christmas by Gordon Honeycombe, The
... aka: Time for Murder: The Thirteenth Day of Christmas

Directed by:
Patrick Lau

When it comes to bringing fear instead of cheer to the holiday season, the British deserve to pull up a chair and sit next to Scrooge and the Grinch. The Amicus anthology TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1971) was, I believe, the first film to have a homicidal maniac dressed up as that sacred icon of Christmas himself; Santa Claus. That same concept would be recycled for a handful of American hack-em-up like TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT (1980) and the controversial SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984). The same year, the country's popular and long-running TV series Ghost Story for Christmas began and scared legions of children over the next decade with such spooky offerings as A WARNING TO THE CURIOUS (1972) and THE SIGNALMAN (1976). The show has come and gone as a perennial in the country ever since. Another short-lived series, Dead of Night, spawned the excellent X-mas chiller THE EXORCISM (1972) and they even made their own sleazy and mean-spirited contribution to the early 80s slasher cycle with DON'T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS (1984).

Like many other families, the Smith's have opted to keep their decorations up well after Christmas. It's a pretty common practice and an easy one to understand. Of all the times of year, Christmas is the one day that brings so many positive feelings out in people that many want to cling on to those feelings - and the ambiance they associate with it - for as long as possible. The Smith family can use all the help they can get. As this opens, Gilbert (Patrick Allen) and his wife Evie (Elizabeth Spriggs) have a few dear friends; Gilbert's WWII army buddy Bill (James Bree) and his wife Meg (Rhoda Lewis) over for snacks, wine and a game of Spades. The topic of conversation steers to the Smith's son: Richard (John Wheatley). Richard has suffered from mental problems on and off since he was a young boy. He's been institutionalized numerous times over the years, but to no avail. He only seems to be getting worse. Richard spends most of his time closed up in his bedroom with a pet python and his crazy thoughts. He hears voices in his head (which we also get to hear) and suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.

Gilbert's patience has worn thin and he's become frustrated and embarrassed by Richard's behavior; even shooing him out of the room when he attempts to be social and telling his guests "It's better if you ignore him." Being a doctor himself, Gilbert believes his son suffers from a chemical imbalance and has too much dopamine in his system. He doesn't hide the fact that he wants Richard locked up permanently in a madhouse. His clinical handling of the situation and lack of compassion certainly isn't helping matters, but neither is the mother's complacency. She thinks all Richard really needs is love, compassion and patience. Sure it helps, but she has no clue the dark places her son's mind has been wandering to. By this stage in the game, Richard is completely consumed with delusional conspiracies and even believes that Gilbert isn't actually his father; but an evil duplicate.

After the guests leave for the evening, things turn ugly and violent and several end up dead. Richard's sister Juliet (Joan Moon), whom Richard has incestuous desires for, eventually returns from a night out with her boyfriend and ends up in the thick of it.

This 50-minute film - made for the series Time for Murder - is typical of British TV movie productions of the time. It's small scale, has a small cast, is set entirely at one indoor location, was shot on videotape and is dialogue-heavy. All of the performances are good and the depiction of schizophrenia is pretty accurate and intelligent. The film interestingly tries to straddle the fence when it comes to how families should deal with a loved one suffering from a mental disorder, as if it really doesn't have an answer. Sure, the tragic outcome could have been averted if the son had been institutionalized, but we're also given the distinct impression that his condition has been worsened and exacerbated from lack of understanding and support. I couldn't quite figure out if there was purpose to the son character being colorblind or if this was just a stylistic choice; shots from his point-of-view are done in black-and-white.

If this blog were a newspaper and I was trying to sell you a copy, my headline would be "Snake-Loving Colorblind, David-Bowie-Loving Schizo Slaughters Family on Christmas!!" Then again, you probably wouldn't realize what a downer this is. You may want to wait until after you're done opening your presents to give this a watch.


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