Mother's Day (1980)

Though it is distributed by Troma now - in a print that shows some obvious preservation and restoration - Charles Kaufman's Mother's Day was originally released through a company named Saga despite his brother Lloyd having owning what was a growing exploitation film company at the time.  It was released unrated - not because the MPAA was going to give at an X, but rather because getting it rated was outside the budget - and became a cult classic based on the weirdness of the story and the unique pacing.  A movie that is the favorite of director Eli Roth, it was also banned in the UK and West Germany as well as critically eviscerated by the New York Times and the target of the typically prudish Roger Ebert. 

Former college roommates Trina (Tiana Price), Abbey (Nancy Hendrickson) and Jackie (Deborah Luce) get together for their annual reunion and travel to a remote area in the woods of New Jersey to spend a weekend camping and fishing.  The area, known as the Deep Barrens, is known to the locals as a place to avoid, and the women soon find out why.  It is inhabited by a psychotic woman (Beatrice Pons) and her sons Ike (Gary Pollard) and Addley (Michael McCleery).  Their main hobby is picking up young women, torturing and raping them and then killing them for the entertainment of their mother.

After the three girls are captured and taken to the dilapidated home in which the family lives Jackie is chosen as the first victim and put through a routine of humiliation.  Trina and Abbey soon manage to escape and rescue her, but the damage is done.  Enraged, they return to the home to make sure Mother and her boys never kill again.

There are some similarities in this to Meir Zarchi's I Spit on Your Grave, including a shot of the girls skinning dipping that is an homage to the earlier film.  Although there may have been some inspiration in plotting Mother's Day never goes to the brutal lengths of I Spit on Your Grave when portraying what happens to Jackie, but that doesn't mean it's an easy watch.  It serves as the particular "that scene" for this low-budget thriller, but Kaufman doesn't waste time getting to the revenge portion of the film.

What I was afraid was that, from the description of the movie, this was just going to be a movie where the audience was expected to just watch all three girls get tortured and killed, with no plot or no other reason for the movie existing other than to just find ways of humiliating women.  It is not that at all.  It is weirdly paced and the tone jumps all over, from the brutality of the rape scene to an Animal House style flashback showing how the other two got revenge on Jackie's boyfriend.  It is an out-of-nowhere detour, but it does set up how Trina and Abbey come together to put things right. 

The gore scenes are pretty well done.  It does appear that there was not enough budget to do the makeup effects in one scene involving an electric carving knife, but it still works out.  There is a lot of time spent getting to know the family of murderers, including a training montage where Mother sends the boys out to "exercise" in order to become better killers.  Beatrice Pons is obviously having the time of her life while Gary Pollard and Michael McCleery act like the socially stunted individuals they are, providing much of the intended humor.  Despite being presented as goofy and immature individuals it doesn't lessen the joy of seeing them get what's coming.  

Much of the enjoyment also comes from the fact that, despite not being as well known as his brother and deciding to leave the industry all together, Charles Kaufman is technically the better and more creative director than Lloyd.  Lloyd has the carnival barker style of Herschell Gordon Lewis and the ability to sell what he knows is trash, but fun trash.  Charles, on the other hand, seems to be promoting the more artful side of trash filmmaking.  There is no pretention here that Mother's Day is anything but; still, Charles is doing his best to make a movie that's entertaining based on its own merits rather than trying to see how far he can push offending censors and others that wouldn't like his movie anyway.

The only truly bad part of this movie is the ending.  Mother's Day can't really be said to be inspired at all by Friday the 13th, since they were filming at the same time in pretty much the same area of New Jersey.   Friday the 13th's ending, however, was inspired by Carrie, and it works.  The finale of Mother's Day was obviously inspired by the same, but it doesn't work.  It instead negates most of what came before it.  It is left vague but it was completely unnecessary as a final scare and would have been better used as a final comeuppance to Mother.

The rest of the movie is much better than one would think it would be.  It's well-filmed, has a weird sense of humor and knows when it's time to look away from what's happening.  It is also one of the few revenge films of this type where it feels, at least until the cop-out of an ending, that it's delivering what it promises. 

Mother's Day (1980)
Time: 90 minutes
Starring: Tiana Price, Nancy Hendrickson, Deborah Luce, Beatrice Pons, Gary Pollard, Michael McCleery
Director: Charles Kaufman



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