Mother's Day (1980)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-05-14 05:00

Written by: Charles Kaufman and Warren Leight
Directed by: Charles Kaufman
Starring: Nancy Hendrickson, Frederick Coffin, Michael McCleery, and Beatrice Pons

Reviewed by: Brett G.

“You‘ll get what you deserve in them Deep Barons, you lez-beans! You won‘t be causin‘ no one no trouble no more!”

In 1980, two sets of independent film crews set off to film their respective pictures on a lake near Blairstown, New Jersey. One of these films was Friday the 13th, which went on to be a box office smash and helped to chart the course for horror over the next few years. The other film is the lesser known Mother’s Day, though there is a familiar name behind that one: executive producer and Troma president Lloyd Kaufman, whose brother, Charles, wrote and directed the film. The low budget slasher would go on to become a cult classic at best over the years and generally forgotten outside of horror circles, a much different fate than that of Sean Cunningham's slasher. It’s interesting that two films that are essentially the same could take such disparate paths, but that’s exactly what happened when both films emerged out of the backwoods of New Jersey.

The film opens with a nice old lady giving a ride to two seemingly shady individuals. When the elderly driver’s car breaks down, you just know it’s bad news for her…or is it? A couple of maniacs come out of the woods and quickly dispatch the two passengers as the sweet old lady looks on and laughs. During and after the credits, we meet our other protagonists: 3 girls who once called themselves “The Rat Pack” in college; it’s been ten years since they’ve graduated, and they’re all about to meet for their yearly gathering. The destination of choice this year is a remote wooded area where the girls are going to camp out. Of course, they aren’t alone in the seemingly empty woods, as the two aforementioned maniacs (who are revealed to be brothers) kidnap the girl and bring them home to mommy dearest for a round of tortuous fun and games.

Anyone who’s ever experienced anything remotely Troma-related knows what to expect from a film like Mother’s Day. The production quality will be low, acting will be laughably poor, and good taste will be few and far between. In this respect, the film delivers on all accounts, and, like many other Troma films, its demented heart is in the right place when it comes to just being a bit nuts. Things actually start out pretty promising with the opening scene that manages to surprise a bit by reversing the audience’s expectations by having the sweet old lady turn out to be a psychopath. Also, unlike Friday the 13th, it doesn’t save its grand decapitation for a rousing climax. Instead, it’s there right off the bat and seems to promise a gore-soaked and insanity-laden ride.

Unfortunately, like so many slashers, it’s unable to follow up on such promise. Mother’s Day loses its way in the middle, as it just can’t find many interesting things to do with its characters, particularly “The Rat Pack.” There’s a fun flashback to their college days, but most of their time feels a bit like filler because you can’t wait to see what’s going to happen to these girls once the demented duo of Ike and Addley get their hands on them. That part is admittedly a more interesting because the performances from the mother and her two sons are fun, and the tortures they enact are kind of demented. It’s probably a bit unfair to say the film is exactly the same as most slashers because it’s not as much of a body count film; instead, it’s more in the vein of revenge films when you get down to it. Still, the general idea is the same: it’s a film where you go see people die glorious deaths. In this case, you just sort of wish there were a bit more carnage strewn throughout to keep things interesting at all times.

Though the film doesn’t exactly attempt to be very suspenseful or atmospheric, it does make good use of its setting. With slashers, so much of its effectiveness is derived from this aspect, and this is one of this film’s stronger points. There’s some nice forest photography and some of the establishing shots of the house effectively reinforce the isolated backwoods. Other charming 80s staples, like a moody synth score and a fun chair-jumper at the end, also make up a bit for the film’s technical shortcomings. It’s obviously not a particularly well-made film, but it also never takes itself seriously, either, which makes it easier to take. The effects crew can at least take pride in the nice gore sequences; the aforementioned decapitation is the crown jewel, but there’s other juicy bits to be found.

So why did this one end up with such a bad fate compared to that other film? Well, Friday the 13th is a better picture (though the two are closer in quality than you might expect, given their reputations), but the answer might actually lie within a joke found in Mother’s Day itself. There’s a part early where a guy at a Beverly Hills party reminds another party-goer about “the three rules in the film business: distribution, distribution, distribution.” Friday the 13th at least got that part right, while Mother’s Day basically languished in obscurity on rental store shelves throughout the 80s and 90s. Had the two roles been switched, who knows--maybe Mrs. Voorhees would have become the more unknown slasher mommy. Distribution continues to be a problem for the film, as the DVD that Troma released a decade ago is long out of print and commands insane prices on the secondary market. Perhaps with the remake on the way from Darren Lynn Bousman (of Saw II and Repo! fame), Troma will find a way to get this one back on the shelves. Until then, however, you’re better off checking this one out if you can find it through a rental service. Sorry mom, but this is one Mother’s Day that only needs to be experienced once. Rent it!

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