Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Thirteenth Day of Christmas (1985): Unwrapping Madness

the 13th day of christmas 1985

It’s the thirteenth day of Christmas, and Gilbert (Patrick Allen) and his wife, Evie (Elizabeth Spriggs), are enjoying an evening drinking wine and playing cards with some old friends. The night is going well, that is until Gilbert and Evie’s mentally ill son, Richard (John Wheatley), shows up and puts an uncomfortable damper on the evening. The night grows increasingly intense, however, as Richard’s mental stability slowly crumbles to the point of complete madness.

Through conversation between Gilbert, Evie and their friends, it is learned that Richard has spent some time in a mental institution. It also becomes very clear that Gilbert has little-to-no patience for his son’s condition, and would rather see him sent back to a mental institution than creating chaos for the entire family. This sets up a good conflict for the story in that it’s easy to feel sympathetic for Richard, as his father is angered by his situation while his mother is somewhat fearful of it, therefore Richard likely isn’t getting the support he needs to stay mentality stable.

the thirteenth day of christmas 1985 1

On the other hand, Richard is a Grade A nut job, so it’s difficult not for feel a shred of sympathy for Gilbert and Evie, who have to constantly deal with someone who is so often potentially hostile. Richard’s the kind of person who must always be handled with kid gloves, and any wrong move can cause a chain reaction that results in a psychotic explosion.

The strength of The Thirteenth Day of Christmas comes from the way it portrays the feeling that comes from being around someone who makes you feel uncomfortable. That whacked out person who just keeps talking nonsense to you and becomes increasingly agitated with each minute that progresses. Your response is driven by the fear of making this type of person even more upset, which could cause an eruption that ends in violence, so you simply force a smile and hope for it all to end as soon as possible.

the thirteenth day of christmas 1985 4

Directed by Patrick Lau, The Thirteenth Day of Christmas is one of six entries of Time for Murder, a UK television series that focused on hour long stories of mystery and suspense. Seeing as The Thirteenth Day of Christmas was made for UK television, it features a visual aesthetic similar to that of old episodes of PBS’s Masterpiece Theater, which in and of itself gives the episode a natural atmosphere on a visual level. However, there are times where I felt as if there was something missing; something that hindered the atmosphere and tension. And this is especially true during the episode’s second half.

The one real flaw of The Thirteenth Day of Christmas is that it is missing a key component necessary to building tension, and that’s music; something of which is not at all prevalent until the closing credits. Strangely, I neglected to notice the lack of music until the closing credits rolled, but the second I heard it, I knew that a slow, somber, holiday inspired score could have gone a long way to add to the effect that this one has. It’s unfortunate that something so simple can take away from the great build up of Richard’s descent into madness, but I suppose that shows just how important music is when it comes to movies and television.


  1. But how, where, when did you find this gem?! More importantly, How can I?!

    1. Someone was kind enough to send me a digital copy. It's extremely difficult to find otherwise, and I did a lot of searching! If you'd like I could send you a copy.


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