Monday, May 3

Some quick thoughts on Mother's Day (1980)

Three young women on a yearly get-together trip camping run afoul of two mountain punks and their deranged mother (Beatrice Pons) in the wilderness. After a strange night of backwoods cabaret and brutalization, the women escape and retreat to the woods to plot their revenge upon the bumpkins.

Charlie Kaufman's Mother's Day is a great example of crafting earnest exploitative trash out of necessity from an extremely low budget. Listening to Kaufman's insightful DVD commentary, everything from the outdoor woodland setting to the casting of just six principles was done due to monetary concerns. This works to the advantage of this grotty little pioneering horror comedy that uses the wildly popular rape/revenge theme of its 42nd Street period. The first half hour is spent with the three soon-to-be victims as they join up for their annual trip and reminiscence about their friendship since high school. By the time they're dragged via sleeping bags to the ramshackle homestead in the middle of a forested nowhere, you genuinely hate anticipating what happens next in the palms of the cracked momma's boys and their equally cracked mother.

This moment of dread is actually more potent than the impact of the rape of one of the women. I'm not going to be like Ben Mankiewicz of Turner Classic Movies (read Annie Riordan's hilarious rebuttal to his idiotic Elm Street '10 review here) and say such unsettlingly "taboo" themes should stay out of the horror genre. Though in Mother's Day the depiction of rape seems out-of-place with the rest of the surrounding Alex Cox-vibed schlock. Instead of showing the abhorrent ugliness of the act like in Craven's Last House on the Left or Meir Zarchi's insanely difficult to watch I Spit on Your Grave, Kaufman seemingly throws it in once as a sign of the times or a then-trend that must be adhered to given the type of work. The subsequent, very feminist-tinged revenge by the night's surviving women is appropriately harsh with the resourceful team employing items like Drain-O and tampons against the dimwitted kin.

While everyone provides good performances that could could have easily been uncaringly cast off, Mother's Day belongs to the titular "Mother" played by Beatrice Pons (credited as "Rose Ross"). Older women in horror are nothing new, from the perfect Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? to Norman Bates's mommy dearest, but few display the level of delicious sadism as Pons here. In the opening sequence, Mother asphyxiates a poor girl to death with a final kiss and smile as her two overgrown boys look on giggling. Later, several scenes infer to her sons really not knowing any better yet being entrapped themselves by their mother's deep psychosis. Still, make no mistake, Mother's Day's first mission is crowd-pleasing goofiness with its satire being more intrinsic to the material than intentionally pointed. Also, it seems incredible that the rights to Tommy James & the Shondells's "I Think We're Alone Now" as well as the numerous brand name prop junk from Maxwell House to Sesame Street cluttering the house appear to have stayed with this film without some corporate jack-off raising a stink.

Japan Shock's Dutch DVD (pictured above) is in NTSC and region free so it will play in U.S. players. The 1.33:1 full screen interlaced transfer taken from a video master might be cropped or unmatted, it's hard to tell, as some shots look painfully cramped. This DVD retains the audio commentary, director interview, Troma Edge TV segment, and photo gallery from the out of print and expensive domestic Troma Team DVD release.


Morgan said...

"Punk sucks."
"Disco's stupid."

I thought Mother's Day was going to be really disturbing like I Spit On Your Grave when I was getting ready to watch it for the first time, but I found it absolutely funny.

Buscemi said...

I never really cared for this movie and I have no interest in the forthcoming remake.

Anonymous said...

Watched this recently. I liked it. Silly and disturbing. you dare tread upon the staircase?

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