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Friday, April 20, 2012

Van of the Dead Blu Ray/DVD Review: Mother's Day 2011

Mother's Day 2011
2012 Anchor Bay Entertainment/Lightower Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Once again we have a pathological experiment of the new-is-old-is-new theory in contemporary horror. While recent overhauls of The Thing, Dawn of the Dead and I Spit On Your Grave have come through with surprisingly memorable results, most of the horror remakes of the past eight to ten years have been more than dubious.

The original, straight-outta-Tromaville Mother's Day from 1980 you either consider a craptacular trash classic or straight-up garbage. Either way, that film boasts a sizable cult audience which keeps its insidious legacy alive and of course, has prompted modern horror filmmakers to give it another shot. And, of course, what that spells is less emphasis on the cartoonish nuttiness shadowing the original film's inherent brutality, instead going right for the jugular as the reinvented Mother's Day 2011 does.

Rebecca DeMornay, who will forever be typecast as an ultra-compulsive nutjob who operates within the constructs of nuclear families (or quasi, in this case), takes the helm in the new Mother's Day. Don't expect her to reprise the looney-tunes bewitched couture of Rose Ross from the original film. There is virtually no camp to Mother's Day 2011. Camp, though, was the reason the 1980 film has any kind of staying power three decades beyond its release.

That film was cheap and sloppy with the disgusting premise of a sadistic mother training her barnyard-bred progeny to hold women hostage and then rape them like scenes in a backwoods stage production of Caligula. Yet the movie was freaking hilarious, the setting was creepy, the dilapidated house was a true terror zone and at the time, Mother's Day 1980 ran for broke with a subliminal sock-in-the-puss attack on consumerism. On top of it, you had two dolt brothers constantly needling at one another over their music preferences, i.e. "Punk sucks..." "Disco's stupid..." It took sibling rivalry to an unexpected, funny place and it took some of the shock value out of the awful things that were going to happen to Nancy Hendrickson and her friends.

Aside from incorporating a psychotic mother and the two core brothers, Addley and Ike from the original film, Mother's Day 2011 is by all means its own beast and the film is a beast, make no pretentions otherwise. It's savage, it's gory, it's detailed and prolonged. It's also just another ugly film in a seemingly interminable series of ugly "realistic" horror films designed to get the rocks off of today's generation of bloody thrill seekers. There is no real comic relief to Mother's Day 2011 and this Addley and Ike (Warren Kole and Patrick Flueger) are far more reprehensible than their 1980 predecessors, Billy Ray McQuade and Holdern McGuire. They almost never squabble. What the hell, man? Wasted opportunity to have "Plain White T's sucks..." "Bieber's stupid..."

Moreover, Addley and Ike (Koffin's the last name here instead of Coffin from the original, you know how this generation rolls with cooler-than-you deliberate misspellings) get two other siblings as part of Rebecca DeMornay's kidnappped-from- birth clan, Johnny and Lydia. Forget the woods here. That slasher-in-the-forest motif's been overcooked (if they remake The Burning at this point, I'm hanging it all up) and producer Brett Ratner wisely changes the setting to midwest suburbia. In fact, Mother's Day 2011 bears almost no resemblance to the 1980 film and that is its biggest merit. Ratner and company take the bare fundamentals from Charles and Lloyd Kaufman's (who do show up in cameos in this film) mutated killer family angle and turns the story on the edge of a knife and a shotgun shell.

The cast of this film doubles the original's, which gives director Darren Lynn Bousman the opportunity to stage one chewy slaughter scene after another. Most of the kills here come with juicy gun blast squibs, and after the film starts grinding its abrasive pistons, everything goes berserk. The thing is, a little more oil to keep the movie calibrated might've been in order because the eruptive massacre becomes such a loose cannon the final sequences derail some of the overall believability presented.

The gist this time around has DeMornay's bank robbing sons crash into a house that was once their's, now owned by a young couple grieving the loss of their young son and who are also dealing with infidelity (discovered later in the plot). The third son Johnny has been shot in the side and the boys return to the house they knew, unaware it was foreclosed. A housewarming party for the new owners turns into a gradual pickoff once "Mother" arrives to claim her family and to demand money her sons have forwarded her at the soon-to-be splattered domicile. Unlike the original film, in which Rose Ross keeps her savage brood at arms-length, DeMornay has turned her heathen scum loose upon society for presumed months on end, then summons them back to her side. If DeMornay has any connection to Ross' psychosexual surrogate, it's when she forces one of the characters to give her wounded "son" Johnny is a lap dance.

The film gets nasty in a hurry as Addley and Ike torment the party guests, albeit without the graphic rape segments of the '80 flick. Rape is implied and simulated as sheer head games against their prey and the events devolve so much friend is set upon friend in a dastardly brawl for the Koffins' amusement. While DeMornay sends Ike out with lead character Beth Sohapi (ugh, what a terrible name) to scrape up valuables for them to loot on their way out of the country, the house becomes a veritable hellhole. Threats of mass killing pervade the entire film, particularly in a race against time with a doctor in the house trying to keep Johnny alive--all with murder and torture spraying about him.

That much of Mother's Day 2011 works effectively as a chilling bit of splatter cinema. It would've been enough if this film was the "psychological" terror tale it's been purported to be. In essence, this is a slightly higher budget snuff film. With so many extra characters this time around, however, the viewer has to pay a bit more attention to people who are going to get blasted or mauled. This is nearly a two hour film, which is a bit long and ultimately the plausability over those who survive their misfortunes and those who die becomes a hazy gray area. People you think are goners somehow rematerialize, while Beth and "Mother" have an over-the-top dukeout which isn't quite sellable. I don't want to spoil the ending, but let's just say Beth has been hiding many secrets of her own despite her husband's affair with another character, one of the biggest being the unborn in her belly. You can safely assume what the final scene will be given the set-up of the film. Slick, but too slick.

To her credit, DeMornay plays her hand even shadier than her signature sexy babysitter from the edge role in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. At this point in DeMornay's career, she carries more sage and she brings a Kathleen Turner-esque (think The Virgin Suicides) nihilism to this film and it's hard to turn away from her. Far more attractive and more calculating than Rose Ross, DeMornay carries this film largely on her shoulders. Why else should we bother to watch, because Mother's Day 2011 is otherwise a sanguinary by-product of the times we live in.

Today's humor is dark if there at all, but it's without humor most of the time. I find the "Dobber" flashback scene in the original Mother's Day goofier than just almost anything in horror since the Kaufman brothers had the moxy to break up their horror tale with Tommy James and the Shondells' "I Think We're Alone Now" overtop that grossly-unrelated side story. It did give us sympathy for those girls, though. Editors today would demand this be cut out since it slips off the pace of the story, but Mother's Day 1980 still wrapped within an hour-and-a-half and its ending was so gonzo it left an impact. We were subtly worried who or what this "Queenie" was until she sprang up in the final frame. Of course, we were laughing so hard that Rose Ross was asphyxiated by an inflatable boob pillow and her sons had been dispatched with a television and liquid Drano that the parting shot of the film was a near shock. I still wince at the wire cutting into the hands as the girls lower one another out of the house in sleeping bags in that old film. It looked real and felt real. Still, it was all so outlandish you didn't get as nauseated as you do scalding water poured down ear canals and scalp torching as you're forced to witness this time around.

2011, the bloody business looks even more on the dime (if you consider that an asset), though Queenie isn't real at all; she's just used by DeMornay's "Mother" as an urban legend to keep her outlaw band in check. When your kids are ravenous hedonists, there's nothing to keep them in check other than death. Audiences today don't give a damn who dies, just so long as they do die so there's something to talk about over the messageboards. That, unfortunately, is what it takes to sell horror today. Frankly, I was much more enthralled by Donnie Yen clocking the arrogant British boxer in Ip Man 2 than waiting for the dirty dogs in this film to meet their maker.

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