Monday, June 18, 2012

The Mother That Rocks the Cradle

I have a long, complicated relationship with the 1980 exploitation flick Mother’s Day. See, my dear parents are known for, among other things like being great parents, being fairly lax about regulating what I watched as a child. Hence, when my older brothers brought home what seemed like just another holiday-themed slasher from the video store, why WOULDN’T I be allowed to sit down in the basement and watch it?

For years, I just didn’t remember Mother’s Day as being anything other than another peg in the hillbilly horror field. Hence, when my friend asked me to bring a “scary movie” from my VHS collection to her 14th birthday party, there didn’t seem to be any obvious reason NOT to bring Mother’s Day. After all, she asked ME because I knew “scary movies” so wasn’t trusting my instinct enough?

There was a minor problem with grabbing Mother’s Day from the video pile: 

It’s a little rape-y.

Or a lot rape-y, depending on how you rank your rape-y scale. 

Needless to say, I was unofficially banned from choosing the movies for slumber parties for the rest of junior high, a shame since we never even got to watch Slumber Party Massacre

That being said, I hold no grudge against the original Mother’s Day. It’s a terrible film, but one with a fairly snappy satirical edge buried just beneath its oozing layers of sleaze. When I heard it was being remade (in what feels like a decade ago, based on Lionsgate’s odd 2-year holdout of the film), I was happy. Remaking a bad film makes a motherload more sense to me than mangling something as good as The Wicker Man or (breath held) Total Recall.

Quick Plot: It’s a dark night in the maternity ward when a woman disguised as a nurse sneaks out with a newborn, aided by a mysterious man who spills a ton of blood out of a night watchman. And that’s all before the credits start.

Cut to a nice and new suburban housewarming (or birthday, even though the lucky aging guest is never acknowledged) party in Wichita hosted by the Sohapis, a sad but (this being a movie) attractive couple. They’re just kicking back in the basement with an assortment of early thirtysomething friends amid tornado warnings when a trio of baddy bank robbers crash the living room. 

Bandit brothers Ike and Aadley frantically tend their youngest’s gunshot wound, wondering why their house looks so goshdarn different. Turns out, their family home was bought up by the Sohapis (and yes, there’s plenty of comment on that name) after mom Rebecca DeFrickenMornay and sis Lydia lost it. Of course, once a few partygoers come upstairs, the brothers can’t just hobble out with a few bodies in their wake...especially after they make a phone call to mom.

Played by the gracefully aging De Mornay, Mom is quite a piece of work. Polite, classy, and seemingly well-intentioned, all she wants is to keep her children safe and on their way with her to the international border, something that requires $10,000 that *should* have been delivered to her former home. Maybe it was, and maybe frazzled wifey Beth (My Bloody Valentine star Jamie King) or her cheating hubby Daniel have been hoarding it. Mother's Day uses the missing cash as a nice underlying threat. De Mornay might indeed have kept the evening (fairly) bloodless if there wasn't the slightest scent of distrust lingering in her old home.

But come one: is "fairly bloodless" what you're looking for in a remake of Mother's Day? Directed by Saw 2/3/4 and Repo! The Genetic Opera helmer Darren Lynn Bousman, Mother's Day certainly feels like a slicker, higher end straight-to-DVD genre flick. The cast includes plenty of recognizable faces, including  Frozen's Shawn Ashmore, Saw 2/3/4's Lyriq Bent, Step Up 2/Burning Bright's 65 year-old-chain-smoker-voice-in-a 20something body Brianna Evigan, and the stunning but generally awful Children of the Corn & Carrie remake's Kandyse McClure (in fairness, she's much more tolerable here). All are capable enough, though none quite rise to the icy coolness of Ms. De Mornay.

A little more problematic is the portrayal of her brood. The actors aren't necessarily bad, but there's just something lacking in the human monster aspect of the family. They're a scary bunch because of the things they do--pit friends against one another in a knife fight to the death, force pals into hand-to-hand combat to determine whose wife beds their dying virgin brother, etc.--but all are simply too clean and, let's face it, easy on the eyes to fully inhabit the Last House On the Left caliber monsters inside.

So yes, a little more sleaze would have been welcome. But isn't that always the case?

High Notes
At just eight minutes shy of two hours, Mother’s Day is certainly longer than most films of its type but never once did I feel the running length. Yes, there are a lot of characters, and while some are more memorable than others, it never feels like the film is wasting time on such a large cast. 

Between kitchen utensil combat and finding new uses for boiling water, Mother’s Day is quite enthusiastic about finding new means for violence. Even a grizzly gunshot is staged a little differently, with half a head just subtly (did I say that?) oozing in the background of a surprise kill

Low Notes
By no definition is the original a better film, but the one thing it had that seems mostly lacking in the remake is the slightest edge of satire. In the 1980 version's case, it came out in the hillbilly son characters, all of whose understandings of females and sex seemed violently culled from television. Bousman's Mother's Day has hints of subtext in how the family lost their home, but it's never fully explored in a way that makes it feel any more relevant than 'what have you done to my house?' 


I’m all for girl power, but having the ending miraculously revive not one, but two female characters so that they can have a Sex And the City-like epilogue (which, admittedly, is then crashed by kidnapping and stuff) feels a little cheap. Bousman DOES address this in the commentary and admits that the ending(s) were easily his least favorite part of the film, so it’s not entirely unfair to chalk it up to studio meddling


Lessons Learned
Don’t bark: wait, and then bite

The best housewarming gift one can give: Ginsu knives

When will people learn? Cut the hand ties first, gag next. The person you free can ungag themselves, and doing so yourself (first!) just wastes precious seconds of escape time

Random Law &Order: SVU Connections Galore
Let me tell you something folks: this film is a GOLD MINE of SVU guest star territory. Just about everyone in the cast stopped by Special Victims at some point, including Mother herself who got to play a parapalegic lawyer who, it turns out, has been faking her paralysis for years to guilt her husband after his affairs. It’s hilarious, but not quite as hilarious as “Families,” an episode that costarred “Ike” actor Patrick John Flueger as a young man whose girlfriend is found dead, discovered to have been pregnant by him, who, funny story, was disapproved of by her family not because he wasn’t a nice guy, but because his father actually had an affair with HER mother 18 years earlier and--get this--it turns out that those crazy lovebirds were actually siblings, thusly prompting one of my favorite soundbites in L&O:SVU history:

“I had SEX with MY SISTER?”

Not quite on the same level as “Can you think of any reason why someone would want to sodomize your husband with a banana?”, but still. You can understand my excitement at the IMDB path of Mother’s Day.

And fun fact: cowriter of the original’s script was Warren Leight, renown playwright and current showrunner of a little program called--whaddya know?--Law & Order: SVU. 

I found Mother's Day to be the definition of a pleasant surprise. It doesn't revolutionize the genre, but it's a GOOD genre film made with skill in front of and behind the camera. Considering how many easy routes Bousman could have taken with the material, I think what he does--create a fairly complex narrative for what is essentially a simple home invasion--is admirable. Why it was shelved for two years is beyond me, but let’s hope its possible DVD success is attributed to it being a good, hard horror movie and not just another lazy remake. Take notes folks! There’s a reason this film works, and it has next to nothing to do with being based on preexisting film material.


  1. This was decent. Not bad, not really good, just decent.

  2. I think I enjoyed it far more than you did, but I'm glad it earned a passing grade from you!

  3. Your mention of it inspires me to ask - Did you ever watch "Burning Bright"? I did and reviewed it for KFP. I thought it was surprisingly good and very tense. Lots of fun!

  4. I did and REALLY liked it! Great premise that was done quite well.

  5. Also, a deep and powerful moral lesson - Never buy a used tiger from Meatloaf. Should you be interested, here is my two cents on it -

  6. It nice to know that this version exceeds the first. I'll definitely check it out. And isn't playing connect the dots with SVU guest stars fun? I do it all the time!

  7. Sometimes it's simply impossible NOT to play connect the SVU dots! Especially when they call to mind some of the more ridiculous episodes.