I'm pretty sure I've never seen Troma's Mother's Day before yesterday. Hazy memories flash grainy, degraded (and degrading!) imagery, but if I saw it, it wasn't in its entirety and certainly wasn't recently. Still, I know the film and its legacy. I've interviewed the director's brother and partner Lloyd Kaufman on a number of occasions; I'm well aware of splat-pack leader Eli Roth's admiration; and since I covered Darren Lynn Bousman's version of Mother's Day (he's right, it is not a remake) ad infinitum, I thought I already knew it all.
But given the opportunity to see it for myself, and nicely restored on Blu-ray, plus with filmmaker commentary… I was glad to do so even though I knew going in I'm not predisposed to like it. I did like it, though.
Mother's Day deserves its place in horror cinema history. It's not your typical Troma (it's actually kind of high-brow, in context!) and if you're willing to pay attention, it's stuffed with nuance and subtext. (And if you're not willing to pay attention, listen to the commentary: director Charles Kaufman will point out all the touches, plus he's got quite a few funny behind the scenes anecdotes).
Subtlety is there. But there's also plenty of broad, over-the-top and clunky stuff. Mother's Day is by no means an art film and it hits a lot of nutty notes, but before all the killing and craziness begins — think: The Last House on the Left, Wrong Turn, House of 1000 Corpses, etc. — there's a real movie here. The first moments which introduce the protag trio of young women who wind up fighting for their lives against a trio of inbred hillbillies are poignant, a bit goofy, certainly dated in a charming sort of way, and well thought-out. Scholars say audience allegiance flip-flops throughout the film, with sympathy sometimes going to the misogynistic Mother and her two homicidal sons, but I never felt that way. They aren't hateable characters, but nor are they relatable.
The story's pretty standard: three college friends go camping in the woods, get abducted by a murderous backwoods family, cat and mouse ensues, prey becomes predator and vice versa, tete-a-tete and coup de grace, so on and so forth. If you've seen a lot of slashers, especially those dating back to the early 80s, you'll know exactly what to expect. But that's OK. It's a classic and it's definitely got its place in the canon. I wasn't expecting much from the low-budge legend, so I was pleasantly surprised.
For existing fans who've been on the fence about revisiting or perhaps adding Mother's Day to the library, I recommend this Blu-ray disk. The transfer is fantastic, and the sound is so great you could hear a hayseed drop. My only issue with the audio was the unusual choice to mute the film's sound during the entire audio commentary track. Usually, you can kind of hear the dialogue and ambient music and sounds, etc., while the filmmakers are talking, and it also sounds more natural when there are pauses in the yak-track… here, it's just dead silence.
Other extras on the disc include a funny intro by Lloyd Kaufman, and a talk from Eli Roth (he's got some amusing personal experiences to share about his quest to see the film as a kid back in the VHS days, as well as some erudite observations on the legacy of Mother's Day and how it personally affected him as a screenwriter and a filmmaker).
Having said all that, I won't be adding Mother's Day to my shelf but I am glad I finally saw it and now know what all the fuss is about.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson