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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Mother's Day Charles Kaufman 1980

Make Room for Queenie

A bizarre yet surprisingly well-crafted horror curiosity that certainly ranks as one of the best films to come out of the Troma crap factory, Mother’s Day somehow manages to mix horror, comedy, nostalgia, exploitation, camp, gore, folklore, and drama without ending up a complete disaster. The key? Mother’s Day boasts some of the most textured characterizations I’ve ever seen in a horror movie, funny or no – the amount of time spent on the backstory of our trio of protagonists is incredible. And aside from that, director Charles Kaufman – whether consciously or no – knew well enough to keep the satire and the scares independent of one another, allowing moments of comedy and terror to flourish side-by-side. While it’s certainly not for everyone, Mother’s Day is an admirable effort and certainly a unique entry into the slasher, rape-revenge, and inbred-family subgenres.

Abbey (Nancy Hendrickson), Jackie (Deborah Luce), and Trina (Tiana Pierce), are best friends from college who meet up once a year for a getaway/reunion (they rotate who has to plan the trip, and the destination is kept a surprise from the other two). They refer to themselves as “the Rat Pack” – not because one is a sweet-footed black Jew with a glass eye and another famously starred in The Manchurian Candidate and shtupped Mia Farrow, but because… well, I don't actually know, but I would guess it's because they’re all somewhat rodent-like. But I’m actually getting a bit ahead of myself here, because this isn’t where the movie actually starts. In fact, the movie actually begins with…

Bobby Collins!!

Yes, that’s right – the Bobby Collins, one of the most abrasive and hilarious stand-up comics of the 80’s, perhaps best known for his shtick about picking up a girl at a bar and having to drive home her friend who makes a siren-like wailing noise at the end of each sentence (“NYAA-NYAA-NYAA-NYAA”) that ultimately destroys his car. At any rate, Bobby Collins inexplicably opens Mother’s Day, playing a self-help guru who extols the virtues of community and brotherhood and what-not (ironically, I watched this movie on the same afternoon I accidentally saw part of the elephant comedy Larger than Life, in which a slumming Bill Murray plays the same character). After Bobby’s dry intro, we follow a charming older lady (Beatrice Pons, acting under the pseudonym Rose Ross) as she offers to drive a few rough-and-tumble hippie/drifter types down the road. The behavior of the young couple is somewhat suspicious, and we’re naturally inclined to fear for the well-being of the fragile old biddy, especially when the car breaks down and it looks as though the youths are going to take the opportunity to bump off the bird. It turns out, however, that while the kids had no ill intentions toward the lady, the lady actually had designs on the kids: from out of nowhere, her two retarded sons appear to behead the boy and manhandle the girl, who crawls to Mother for help. Instead of helping her, Mother cruelly and slowly strangles the girl with a cord.

Roll opening credits!

Here, we meet the Rat Pack and learn of their college shenanigans, which included lowering one another out of dorm windows in sleeping bags and humiliating the campus hunks by getting them naked on the football field at night and then turning the stadium lights on them (the sight of Mark “The Dobber” Dobson doing nude push-ups is oddly erotic, to be honest). This year, the gals are venturing out into the woods of New Jersey to do some camping, one of the most patently stupid and horrifying vacations I can think of -- next to Epcot, of course. The ladies, who have grown apart a bit by this time (one is a rich Hollywood wife, one a browbeaten librarian-type, one a struggling New York… something, I don’t know – actress, maybe?), spend a day hiking and reminiscing and laughing (predictably, the rich bitch steps in a pile of manure the size of a birthday cake – despite their not being any livestock in sight), and generally re-connecting after their year apart.

That night the gals tuck into their sleeping bags and have a heart-to-heart about missing one another and about how important their friendship is. Gag me. Just as my eyes are about to roll out of my sockets and my blood sugar is reaching diabetic heights, ZZZZIIIIP!! – suddenly, the backwoods brothers that killed the two drifters in the opening scene jump out of the shadows, zip the gals up in their sleeping bags, and drag them off into the woods. Pretty hot timing – I was just about to start hating our heroes, but luckily, the local psychos show up to save us from an embarrassing saccharine outpouring and kick the movie into second gear.

So it's that point in the review when I have to give up the subterfuge and be honest: ten minutes after watching Mother's Day, I couldn't remember a single one of the lead characters' names. Now, it's not that I didn't like the characters or enjoy the performances -- in fact, I thought all three did a pretty good job. But for some reason the script just doesn't promote these ladies having titles other than Bitch, Prude, and Fuckup (oddly, none of the other reviews I could find of the film mentioned their names either...). So that's what I'll call them.

So Bitch, Prude, and Fuckup get dragged to the loony family's house and get tied to exercise machinery, of all things. Mother approves of the catch of the day, and the boys (the lanky, oddly attractive Ike and his fireplug of a brother, Addley) take Fuckup downstairs to the front yard, where they proceed to use her as bait in their "agility drills", humiliate her, and rape her. Despite being a fuckup, this is obviously out-of-line -- and considering my loathing for rape-revenge movies (read the touching backstory in my review of Death Weekend), this is the point where I get dangerously close to hugging my knees and rocking myself into a gibberish-spewing daze in the corner. Luckily, the scene (although quite disturbing) is not terribly graphic, and Kaufman makes his point without getting too gratuitous. The boys take Fuckup back into the house to have their way with her throughout the night.

The next morning, the boys begin practice and exercise (it's not too terribly clear what they're practicing for -- it looks like a combination of the Presidential Physical Fitness Test and the Special Olympics). The other two ladies (Bitch and Prude) work their way out of their restraints and Prude lowers Bitch to the ground (in a sleeping bag, natch) as the boys tousle below (the moments when Bitch dangles above Addley's head while the rope cuts deep wounds into Prude's hands are some of the most disturbing of the film). The girls look around for Fuckup, and make the startling discovery that she has been stuffed, barely alive, into a bureau drawer -- like some unholy human mothball. They pull her out and run with her, and the boys lose them to the woods.

About this time, another element is introduced that will become important later: Mother, coming home from town, collapses in the front yard in some sort of terror spell. It appears that something (or someone) by the name of Queenie has apparently appeared in the woods near the house and scared Mother to death. One wonders if it might be a large wild dog, or an escaped plantation slave, or even Joel Schumacher. Whatever Queenie is, it is apparently a force to be reckoned with and seems to be to Mother what the crocodile is to Captain Hook. We'll hear Mother go on about Queenie more in later scenes (where it is revealed that Queenie is her feral, cannibalistic sister), and even enjoy a special visit from the lady at a most inopportune time... but let's not get ahead of ourselves, shall we?

The ladies find a safe spot for Fuckup and set about trying to find a way out. There's a rather dull chase between Bitch and Ike (ooooh... Ike...), and sadly, when Bitch returns to Prude, Fuckup is dead. Bitch and Prude decide then and there to teach these backwoods dickheads a lesson, which for some reason involves using their dead friend as bait and braiding their hair (well, this is vacation...). I won't give away exactly what happens as the gals exact their triumphant revenge upon the hicks, but I will say that it involves a hatchet in the crotch, Drano, and a suffocation with a set of inflatable tits. Yes, I said "tits". The good thing about Mother's Day is that you really do kind of get a kick out of seeing these guys get it, but not so much that you really want them put down for good... by making the gals the aggressors and the loonies the victims, is the film trying to play with our sense of sympathy? Should we be cheering the ladies on in their bloody reckoning? I don't know -- maybe the levity granted by the film's humor undercuts the urgency, or maybe I just don't enjoy seeing someone getting a hatchet in the crotch, but the executions of the boys and their mama are almost wistful.

Not to say that they didn't deserve it, of course, which Bitch makes clear to Prude as they celebrate their victory in the woods near the house. Before you can say "we deserved to win", we have a bizarre dolly shot that reveals... Queenie!! Hiding behind a tree! And girlfriend don't look friendly... in a jaw-dropping final freeze-frame twist, Queenie leaps out of the bushes at the two survivors -- or, should I say, 'former survivors' -- and we roll end credits.

Yep -- everyone bites it. Everyone except Bobby Collins, I guess -- who has likely already moved on to Paramus for another one of his motivational presentations. The moral of the story is apparently "Be good, or bad, or nice, or cruel, or a Bitch, or a redneck, or sleep in a drawer -- it don't really matter, 'cause Queenie's gonna fuck you up no matter WHAT!". And that's an important lesson to learn, in my book. And thanks to its eclectic, genre-straddling ways and legitimately good performances and directions, Mother's Day is the perfect way to learn it.

Rating (out of 5):