Mother’s Day (1980)
by Philip LoPresti
WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SPOLIERS
“The question of why anyone of any age would possibly want to see this movie remains without an answer.” Those words were written by Roger Ebert is his 1980 review of Charles’s Kaufman’s MOTHER’S DAY. A film that 30 plus years later is starting to gain the respect it deserves.
Mother’s Day is a movie that for years slipped under most people’s radar. It is often referred to a slasher film, which is just flat out wrong. Even the “all-knowing” Eli Roth lumps it in with the slasher subgenre while claiming it is his favorite movie of all time (I attribute the recent jump in the number of fans to this fact). But it’s not a slasher. If anything it’s a rape revenge flick. Or in a broader sense: an exploitation film. But what it really is at its core is a sleazy, completely demented tar black comedy that never apologizes for what it is and what it shows us.
Filmed in 1979, (across the pond from where the first FRIDAY THE 13th was shooting at the same time) released in 1980, and directed by cult legend Lloyd Kaufman’s (co-founder of TROMA and creator of the Toxic Avenger) brother Charles Kaufman, Mother’s Day concerns itself with three friends, who after graduating college, keep in touch and get together once a year to relive their college days, with a three day trip, always somewhere different. This time they decide to go camping. Of course, unknown to them, a sadistic family lives within the same woods, comprised of a mother and her two psycho hillbilly sons that will go to any lengths, including rape and torture, to please their momma.
Now, for those of you who haven’t seen the film, you’re probably wondering where the comedy comes in. Especially in a film about rape. The answer is in the twisted brother’s relationship. Another reason why I love this film is the shift that happens with the characters. It sets itself up with the women going out on a trip, and like most horror/exploitation films, you think these are the characters we will be following for most of the movie. But once the girls are kidnapped, and we arrive at the house (where much of the movie takes place) the movie shifts focus onto the brothers and their seriously dysfunctional relationship with their overbearing mother.
The brothers, Ike and Addley, are both in their mid-twenties, at their youngest, but bicker like ten year old siblings. They argue about whether punk or disco is better, about who gets to sleep on the top bunk of their bunkbeds. They endlessly taunt each other while eating cereal among the cluttered mess of their home, chase each other around the yard, giving noogies and beating on one another. And, in one the sickest depictions of sibling rivalry ever committed to celluloid, they argue about who gets to rape the girls first, all because they are hell-bent on making their mother proud. Never in a horror film have we seen such a sadistic family portrayed as just that. A family. Even the mother, whom not only condones rape and murder, but is the one who tells them to do it and watches as it happens, doles out punishments, like any mother does, when she thinks her kids are acting out of line. WHAT THE FUCK? What could be more out of line than what they are already doing? To me, that is comedy. Bleak and nihilistic, but funny in its completely unapologetic attitude as it delivers this batshit insane scenario.
The movie shifts its focus once again in the third act, back to the girls, as we watch them fight for survival. It is here that the film begins to mimic your average horror/exploitation flick. But even so, it still delivers the goods, never letting go of its sleaziness and dark humor. And, ultimately, you could say there are no winners in the end. So maybe it’s not so average.
I first saw Mother’s Day when I was thirteen. I rented it from a local video store (on VHS) and have been a fan ever since. I may not have been able to dissect the exact reasons why I was completely taken by the film at that young age, but even then I knew it was something different. Whether you want to call it a slasher film, an exploitation film, a comedy or just a nasty mean piece of cinema doesn’t matter, because in the end Mother’s Day is truly its own thing and remains to be thirty plus years later.
Philip LoPresti is a poet, author, photographer and horror film aficionado published by Dynatox Ministries and Dunhams Manor Press. He is currently working on a novella entitled A GOD OF FLIES AMONG THEM.