Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media

Mother's Day (1980)
Troma Video | Buy at Amazon | Review by Dan Taylor

Few words have warmed my trash-loving heart through the years like "A Troma Team Release". Seeing those four words emblazoned on the familiar New York City skyline was almost always an indicator that I was in for a unique cinematic experience, even if the actual quality was somewhat debatable. Coming of cinematic age during the last gasp of low-budget exploitation films to grace actual movie theaters, I count myself lucky to have seen the likes of THE TOXIC AVENGER and THE CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH on the big screen, not to mention countless home video viewings of such Troma releases as BLOODSUCKING FREAKS and today's film for your consideration, Charles Kaufman's MOTHER'S DAY.

Oddly enough, while I've watched TOXIE, NUKE 'EM and my beloved FREAKS countless times over the years I couldn't tell you the last time I sat down for a viewing of MOTHER'S DAY. As my Roku fired up Netflix's Instant Viewing library (surely the greatest and potentially worst thing to ever happen to me), I searched for reasons why MOTHER'S DAY, with its potent blend of gore and black humor, wasn't in the same heavy rotation as the other Troma-tizing films of my youth.

It wouldn't take long before the good – and bad – parts of Kaufman's much-maligned cult classick came flooding back.

Opening with a trademark Troma jab at modern (circa 1980) society, "graduates" of the EGO or Ernie Growth Opportunity self-help class congratulate themselves and one another, sent on their merry way thanks to a hefty dose of feel-good gibberish from the course's teacher. A pair of druggy-looking Manson family cast-outs worm their way into the car of a sweet-looking little old lady (Beatrice Pons, here credited as Rose Ross) and it isn't long before Kaufman turns the tale on its head and the two would-be assailants are victimized by Mother and her boys, Ike (Frederick Coffin aka Holden McGuire) and Addley (Michael McCleery aka Billy Ray McQuade).

The vicious, pre-credit introduction of these backwoods maniacs quickly reminded me that for all its jet black humor, pop culture skewering and memorable dialogue – highlighted by the sibling interplay between Ike and Addley – MOTHER'S DAY has a meaner streak to it than BLOODSUCKING FREAKS. While that film's violence, gore and every line reading is played to a camp hilt, there's a grimness to DAY's assaults and beatings that inches it ever so slightly away from being tongue-in-cheek and plays the tale out just a tad bleaker than its contemporaries.

But what's a horror revenge flick without victims? After quickly introducing Trina (Tiana Pierce), Abbey (Nancy Hendrickson) and Jackie (Deborah Luce) as a trio of 70s-era college chums, we find that the intervening years have sent the pals on differing paths. Trina is now a jet-setting Hollywood mover & shaker while Jackie works long hours at her New York City job, only to support the latest in a long line of loser boyfriends. But that's a treat compared to Abbey's life in the Windy City, where she lives in a crummy rathole with an unseen but repellent mother who bellows repeatedly, "I'm a sick woman! I'm a sick woman!".

Given their disparate locales one would never expect the girls to encounter our hillbilly clan from the Garden State, but annual weekend get-togethers have a way of getting people in trouble in these things. It isn't long before the gals are abducted and dragged off by the hulking, punk-loving Ike and Addley, a short, muscle-bound disco buff. After a night of terror at the hands of Ma and her "little savages", the girls plot their escape only to be forced into the role of aggressors when one of them dies. Given what Ike and Addley put her through it appears she might be better off that way.

Plotwise there's little to distinguish MOTHER'S DAY from the countless other revenge-driven horror thrillers that trickled down from THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. After a suitable amount of assault and debasement the victims are finally shocked into acting in a way they'd never imagined as they fight for survival... and a little payback.

And if that was all MOTHER'S DAY was it'd be easy to dismiss it like the controversial I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, a humorless and grim exercise that I'm still scrubbing from my memory after a single viewing 20-plus years ago. Instead, Kaufman packs the flick with jabs at society and its ills and fills every nook and cranny of the family's house of horrors with a veritable pop culture excess of toys, posters, cereal boxes, action figures, magazines and more. Scenes of the boys "training" for their escapades give the viewer a behind-the-scenes look into the world of stalker/slashers (I'm reminded of BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON) and even when their back-and-forth exchanges are about grim topics, the actors playing Ma, Ike and Addley somehow make you chuckle along.

It's hard to imagine how the remake of MOTHER'S DAY – currently filming with Darren Lynn Bousman of SAW II/III/IV and REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA fame at the helm – will play itself out. While I may joke about my proposed remake of BLOODSUCKING FREAKS starring Patrick Stewart, Peter Dinklage, Michael Caine, Britney Spears and Tom Brady, there's something about these Troma films that makes them perfect the way they are, even when – like MOTHER'S DAY – they're slightly imperfect.

 


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