As for the film itself, it's a bit of a slow burner at first but is drenched in that wonderfully grim atmosphere you find only in '70s independent horror films; this would play perfectly alongside other titles like Messiah of Evil or The Severed Arm, to name but a few. Even when it ran (virtually uncut, amazingly) as one of the earliest entries of Elvira's Movie Macabre (which made a running gag out of that ringing bell), the film still possessed a strange, spooky power and made its mark on more than a few viewers. Director Theodore Gershuny brought along his then-wife, Mary Woronov, for both this film and their much wilder follow up, Sugar Cookies, for a dark tale about the Butler house, a remote family home cursed by a violent past and a particularly twisted family history. Diane (Woronov), daughter of the local sheriff, narrates the events she experienced alongside one of the remaining Butler descendants, Jeffrey (Patterson), who intends to sell the house off to the local city council against his late grandfather's wishes. The sale is to be handled by attorney John Carter (O'Neal), who arrives in town to sort things out and finds more than he bargained for. Soon an anonymous lunatic is making sinister phone calls to everyone involved and bumping them off at the Butler house, setting the stage for a grand nightmarish flashback no viewer has ever forgotten.
It's really that flashback that cinches this film's status as a significant, neglected gem in the '70s horror cannon. Shot in creepy sepia tone and capturing the feel of a waking nightmare as well as any of its ilk, this extended sequence is notable both for its participants (including underground Warhol legends Candy Darling and Ondine, plus Flaming Creatures director Jack Smith) and its shocking violence, including a broken glass gag that still packs a punch. Adding to the fun is a wonderfully melancholy, effective score by Gershon Kingsley (highlighted by a skewed twist on "Silent Night"), which finally earned a belated soundtrack release in 2007. Interestingly, the liner notes for that release indicate the film itself was substantially reworked numerous times between the completion of shooting in 1970 and its eventual release in 1972, courtesy of Cannon Films (before Golan and Globus famously took it over). As with other Cannon titles of that period like Blood on Satan's Claw up through Schizoid, this one made its way to tape in the early '80s courtesy of Paragon and eventually fell into the public domain, with the negative (or at least prime materials) presumably still shut away in the MGM vaults somewhere. In any case, it's a welcome gift all year round to finally have a respectable presentation of this chilly little number, which is bound to earn even more fans thanks to its status as one of the first and creepiest holiday slashers.