Wednesday, February 10, 2010

When Bad Seeds Blossom

It should surprise no one when I admit my undying love for The Bad Seed. After Night of the Living Dead, it was probably the first black and white film that I saw as a child and immediately declared amazing. Watching it today, The Bad Seed remains a true classic: funny and mean, psychologically complex and campy cool.
Hence, when I discovered that Patty McCormack--Rhoda Penmark herself--had starred in a 1995 horror comedy-ish film about an overprotective mother with homicidal tendencies, I was, duh, excited.

Quick Plot: McCormack plays a character IMDB lists, quite simply, as “Mommy” and though I *think* she had an actual name in the film, I didn’t write anything down and so I’m just going to pretend she’s called Rhoda 2.0. Rhoda 2.0 is a single mother to Jessica Ann (Rachel Lemieux), a pleasant little girl who often wins plaques for being just darling. This year, however, Jessica Ann’s teacher has decided to give the top honor to a needier student, and if we’ve learned anything from 1956, it’s that watching the wrong child earn a medal makes Patty McCormack angry, and trust us: you won’t like her when she’s angry.
That’s a lie of course. We loooooooove Ms. McCormack in any mood, especially when she’s not even trying to cover up the bloodlust in her giant blue eyes.

Naturally, it’s not long before the school's staff has an opening. The dreadfully miscast caretaker (who seems to pronounce every line phonetically) starts to sniff out the Rhoda 2.0 clan and Jessica Ann wonders why so many people seem to die after pissing off her mother. We get a little backstory at how Rhoda 2.0 has gone through her share of suitable husbands, an amusing tidbit that’s sadly not developed nearly enough. The current suitor is (SPOILER ALERT) a secret FBI agent who also happens to truly care about the young Jessica Ann. Toss in Jason Miller--yes, The Exorcist’s Jason Miller--as a surly head detective and B-Movie babe Brinke Stevens as a sweet aunt and you have the makings of a campy horror.

Written and directed by crime novelist Max Allan Collins, Mommy is a bad movie in the way bad movies are made to be made and cherished on a popcorn-fueled Sunday afternoon. As you can see from the extras, Patty McCormack is a fine actor capable of great and diverse work, but she’s also good-natured and dedicated enough embrace the role that made her famous for over forty years. Having mastered the sociopathic honors student onstage and screen, McCormack brings the same maniacal perfectionism to Mommy that earned her an Oscar nomination with The Bad Seed
Does the film do her justice? No, but her energy is almost enough to make it feel as though it did. Collins makes his directorial debut with a budget so low, its price tag nearly pops up in every shot-on-video (in 1995, no less) scene. I’m hoping the sequel--yes, there is one and worry not: it’s high on the queue--goes a little more out with the shameless kitch factor. I kind of dug some of the twistedness of Mommy’s parenting, such as how she convinces Jessica Ann to help smear the name of the late almost Mr. Penmark 2.0. 

High Points
As Jessica Ann, young actress Lemieux holds her own quite well, both in her shared scenes with McCormack and the well-delivered (if barely audible) narration

McCormack’s final line is absolutely fitting as it shows the true nature of a woman more obsessed with herself than she can possibly know
Low Points
I’m not normally one to quibble with budgetary restrictions, but a little more lighting would have, you know, allowed us to see what was actually happening in the movie
Likewise, an aggressive score is the right idea for a film of this kind of nature, but we also would rather hear the (admittedly not great) dialogue than bombastic orchestral music
Lessons Learned
When confessing your secret identity or homicidal plans to the child of a murderous psychopath, it’s probably a good idea to lower your voice

Falling four feet off a ladder will kill you

If you’re employed as a caretaker, stay the hell away from Patty McCormack
A good aunt lets you stay up late to watch Seinfeld
Mommy is a film made for a very specific audience: fans of The Bad Seed. The diehards amongst that hopefully large demographic will be happy with this DVD, a disc that includes a commentary and a warm and charming interview with Ms. McCormack (who also contributed a lot to fine The Bad Seed release). For others, it's not violent or campy enough to really merit much of anything. 


  1. I appreciate the coverage of my little BAD SEED homage. My only complaint is the somewhat smug tone you take -- you praise the last line, which is nice, but just condemn the rest of the dialogue as "not great," without providing examples. If the dialogue in MOMMY hadn't done the trick, we wouldn't have been as successful as we were (Lifetime bought it and ran it as a primetime film, Blockbuster took it chainwide), because it sure wasn't our production values that sold us. I think we had some terrific performances, particularly in Patty, Rachel Lemieux (ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY called her "a major find"), and Michael Cornelison.

    No one before has ever said that they couldn't hear the voiceover, but the lighting complaint is fairly common...and apt. I had to make the decision between shooting on 35mm (or even 16mm) or shooting on Betacam and using the "FilmLook" process afterward, the latter meaning we'd be able to hire a few more name actors (Patty had already signed on). A major way to get into video stores back then was having names/famous credits on the VHS cover -- and we were able to get Jason Miller from the EXORCIST and Majel Barrett from STAR TREK, and so on, all because I settled for Betacam. What I didn't know was that the FilmLook process would darken the footage; our lighting suffered accordingly (and we corrected that in MOMMY'S DAY). But both Lifetime and Blockbuster were fooled and thought we'd shot film. Otherwise they wouldn't have bought it.

    There was a double-feature DVD of both MOMMY's a few years ago with more bonus features that was part of Troma's BLACK BOX, which gathered other of my indie films. Troma was supposed to release the double feature separately, but they never did, and I hope to get the rights back. I would like to re-master MOMMY from the original Beta tapes and create a 1:85 image without "FilmLook" ruining things.

    I hope you will look at MOMMY'S DAY. We didn't just re-do the first film -- it's a sequel that goes its own way, and I would say it is indeed more overtly campy and violent than the first one.

  2. Ive been wanting to see this one for years but just havent gotten around to it. I enjoyed The Bad Seed, so I will be sure to check Mommy out whenever i can grab a copy!

  3. Mr. Collins: Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I truly hope to not come across as 'smug,' as the Internet is full of lowly little bloggers like me who love movies more than they can sometimes express. I genuinely enjoyed Mommy and believe anybody with affection for The Bad Seed will too. I can't really explain my comment about the dialogue in specifics now as it was a note I took a few weeks back (I sometimes write a rough draft review and clean it up when I get the chance to get it online). I will completely agree on the work from Ms. Lemieux. She gave a fine performance that really took the film to another level.

    I'm definitely looking forward to trying out Mommy's Day! I'm quite curious to see Mommy pushed to campier levels. It's only natural! I also hope you succeed in getting a restored print of Mommy out there soon. Are you working on more film projects?

    Carl: It's on Netflix, so grab and enjoy!

  4. Emily, my latest film is one I wrote (actually co-wrote, but based on my source material) but did not direct, the recent THE LAST LULLABY. It stars Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander. It's done extremely well on the festival circuit and a DVD is available from the director at www.the

    We have been trying to get the ROAD TO PERDITION sequel, ROAD TO PURGATORY, mounted for several years, but it's obviously a big-budget affair and we have been chasing funding with the usual ups and downs.

    My other indie work includes the very low-budget and first multi-angle DVD, REAL TIME: SIEGE AT LUCAS STREET MARKET, largely shot on convenience store cameras; two documentaries (MIKE HAMMER'S MICKEY SPILLANE, available only in THE BLACK BOX) and CAVEMAN: V.T. HAMLIN & ALLEY OOP (on DVD from VCI); and a feature version of the one-man show, ELIOT NESS: AN UNTOUCHABLE LIFE (also from VCI). CAVEMAN and NESS have been shown on some PBS stations.

    The double-feature MOMMY disc in THE BLACK BOX has a new commentary and a vintage making of and all kinds of stuff. It allowed me, in the commentary, to discuss the similarities between my Hollywood success with ROAD TO PERDITION and my indie cult success with MOMMY...and explore the manner in which the two films are similar, including their core stories (killer parent and child you witnessed murder by that parent).

    My point about dialogue (and I write very good dialogue, thank you) is not that you didn't like it, but that you didn't prove your point with examples. You are far less guilty of that, though, than most reviewers, both net and mainstream, who just make pronouncements and do not bother to back up their opinions.

  5. Point completely taken. It's easy to throw comments at a film but means very little without anything to back them up. It's something I'll keep in mind.

    Lots of luck to you in getting Road to Purgatory to the screen! I see the current IMDB listing is "in production," so I hope that is indeed the case and it gets underway. Like I said, Mommy's Day is coming my way soon. I'm also very intrigued to check out some of your other titles. Real Time sounds quite interesting.

    Thank you again for taking the time to respond here. I may have had certain issues with Mommy, but I genuinely do admire its spirit and execution and hope that my review introduced it to a few more readers. I keep a blog simply because I love to write about genre film, so any feedback from someone who actually made one I enjoyed is like gourmet gravy on some boxed mashed potatoes.

  6. It's been fun to exchange these thoughts, Emily.

    We are not in production on ROAD TO PURGATORY. It's been a frustrating, CATCH-22 type process. But I remain hopeful.

    I have bookmarked your blog and will watch for your take on MOMMY'S DAY.

  7. It's been my pleasure!

    I don't know much about Hollywood machinations, but I always assumed the entire industry was founded on very concept of Catch-22! I truly hope the film comes together soon though, so all the luck in the world to that.

    I'm hoping to get to Mommy's Day in the coming weeks. I'll be sure to name my post "Mommy's Day" so that you can spot it.

    Lastly, I tried to send you an email proposing an interview for another site I write for, I'm not sure if I had the right address, so I'll just recap here:

    Rogue Cinema is a monthly webzine devoted to independent films. We typically review both classic and yet-to-be-distributed films and also post interviews with filmmakers, actors, and anyone else involved in the independent film industry. Would you be interested in an emailed interview? I'm sure you have an strong point of view from your experience both with and without studio backing.

    Take your time in thinking about it and email me (deadlydollshouse at with your thoughts. I'd love to hear your thoughts on your work and career, but fully understand if you wish to decline.