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Monday, January 07, 2013

Van of the Dead DVD/Blu Ray Review: Mother's Day 1980



There are some movies so depraved and so gonzo you're compelled to watch.  The films that leave you feeling partially ashamed of yourself are bound to become legend.  Cannibal Holocaust, Make Them Die Slowly, Blood Feast, I Spit On Your Grave (take your pick from either version) even the Hostel films not only push the boundaries of good taste, they push the viewers to the edge of their own wherewithal. 

Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz probably had no idea they were engineering a nasty number in 1980 that would later be considered groundbreaking, particularly when they'd devised a plot so insidious even the original Last House On the Left seemed a mite tame in comparison.  Not by much, mind you, and both films mirror one another (along with the two Spit films) in terms of the rape-revenge motif set inside creepy-assed wooded settings. 

The original Mother's Day, however tongue-in-cheek it may have set itself out to be, still cuts to the nerve where it breaks from farce and sublminal social commentary and turns brute ugly.  One of Troma's original beasties before camp and lampoon became their creed, Mother's Day 1980 (unlike the 2010 remake) dares to make you laugh at and even sympathize a hair with a couple of butt-ugly goons you know are going to make life hell for a trio of former sorority sisters who should've known better than to stage their annual mystery weekend in the woods.  Ironically, this film's location is spotted in direct proximity to where the original Friday the 13th was filmed.  In fact, there's one frame in the opening moments of Mother's Day where the soon-to-be victims are driving down the same exact pastoral Jersey incline you see in Friday.  No way to have known back then, but now it heightens the mythos of both films having been filmed at the same time and in the same locale.

While both films possess a nervous sense of humor before unleashing their inevitable carnage, Mother's Day is more ruthless.  Kaufman and Herz take the time to weave an actual back story to the trio of girls Abbey, Trina and Jackie (Nancy Hendrickson, Tiana Pierce and Deborah Luce, respectively) before turning them loose in the woods as inevitable playthings for a pair of sicko brothers.  Their "toys" are actual appeasements for their screwy mama (the illustrious Rose Ross, who did Broadway and repertoire acting prior to this film), in the way dogs and cats drag the carcasses of rodents, birds and rabbits to their masters for their approval.  Ike and Addley (Holden McGuire and Billy Ray McQuade) are perverts, rapists and murderers, but the double entendre to their repulsive actions is that all of it is done strictly for the gratification of their mother, not necessarily themselves.

Frankly, the only moments of satisfaction Ike and Addley derive for themselves is when they're doing their killer drills (in a frankly hilarious workout sequence whipped up in the Rocky Balboa era), beating the snot out of one another and most importantly, jabbing one another over their music preferences (i.e. their glorious "punk sucks," "disco's stupid" sparring).  They're still kids mentally, given the broken toys, the constant presence of televisions playing all around the house and their Big Bird alarm clock spread all over their dilapidated hellhole that's full of graffiti, mold spores and paint-flaked, hole-infested walls.  Even their windows consist of nothing more than sloppily nailed rows of plyboard.  To them, it's the ultimate clubhouse where they don't have to hide their inclinations from parental figures.  In this situation, they're encourage to cater to their inner ids often to comedic effect, which makes this version of Mother's Day far superior to the recent redux.  The new version celebrates the violence more so than the goofery and that's its biggest fault.

Not that there's anything constituting a soul in having these filthy mongrels stage mock film scenes in which to humiliate and rape their victims in front of their mother (serving as director with a sports whistle ready to flag them for any mistakes), but there's a shaky hilarity to the whole thing that lifts some of the detestation to what's presented.  Yes, the entire matter is disgusting as an audience, we're to feel abhorrence towards Ike and Addley.  Knowing at least one of the girls is going to die (Jackie, as it turns out), we're already cheering them on to dispatch these rat bastards somehow, which is how Mother's Day pays its viewers off.

The final segment is far more brutal than anything Ike and Addley have extolled--and they've performed acts of degredation, closed-fist maiming and decaptiation before they're held accountable.  Their penance is a savage moment of redemption for the girls, certainly inspired by Last House and the original Spit, yet there's an orchestrated cheekiness to the survivors' vengeance.  Drano being forced down the throat of Ike prior to being crowned by a t.v. is masterful manipulation of nihilistic humor, while Addley having his crotch split by an axe and then asphyxiated is a perfect eye-for-an-eye moment.  Let's not forget the perfectly nutty felling of Mother by an inflatable tit. 

How this woman could sanction having such a thing in her house is telling of her own personal whims and perversions, much less her dread of "Queenie," a purported sister lurking out in the woods set upon killing her.  The boys have been trained in the art of violence partly because their mommy is fucking evil, but her primary motive is to have a pair a burly, capable watchdogs at her beckon call.  While Addley questions the actual existence of Queenie, smartly cueing an element of confusion to his bloody upbringing, we learn in the final moments there is such a thing.  Worse, it's our pared-down duo of Abbey and Trina who find out the hard way.  While these types of "shock" endings (remember Jason jumping out of Crystal Lake in Friday, which leads us to beleive both film crews were well in touch with one another) have zero appeal to today's desensitized horror audience, the Queenie leap back in 1980 was scary as hell for its time.

The other moment of squeamishness to Mother's Day (and it's the most horrific moment of the entire film) comes when Abbey is lowering Trina out of Ike and Addley's workout room in a sleeping bag.  The film alludes to the girls having worked this stunt out of their dorm window in their collegiate years, and that's what makes the sight of the cord cutting deep into Abbey's hands as she tries to hold Trina in suspension overtop Addley's head absolutely painful.  The sequence is gory and excruciating and it adds to her well-illustrated feeling of possible failure, given this trick has served the girls so well in the past.  Abbey is responsible for a sickly, pain-in-the-ass mother, thus her trials seem even more unfair than what the historically abused Jackie suffers, yet it's Abbey who rises up and uses her own angst and frustrations as a catharsis.

On the face, Mother's Day appears to have no conscience.  After the nutty opening with Mother attending a life empowerment conference, she offers a ride to a pair of scruffy hippies who seem to be intent on mugging her and jacking her car.  All of it is a ruse to set up a car breakdown and subsequent attack by Ike and Addley.  Try not to laugh when you see the blood splatter all over the collar of the girl prior to her boyfriend's beheading.  The premise is immediately deplorable, but Mother's Day immediately switches gears to gain its audience's affection by showing Abbey, Jackie and Trina going over slides of their old college photos, which sets up the film on a shrewd note.  We already like these girls (or "lesbeens" as an old hick store owner calls them) and we know they're bound for trouble.  At least the girls, self-dubbed "The Rat Pack" are capable of a get-back, and that's why this film is one of the better eighties slasher flicks.

Amongst the special features of this Anchor Bay reissue is behind-the-scenes footage of test effects, plus a glorifying testimonial from next-gen director Eli Roth, who can't find enough superlatives to praise this version.  If you've seen it as many times as he has, you're a right sickie, but it's also understood.  Troma began their trash legacy as trashy as you could get, but there's an intelligence to the 1980 Mother's Day that's even more domineering than Rose Ross' haunting performance.

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