MOTHER'S DAY (1980)Directed by Charles Kaufman
It can be mighty tough to ignore all the "received wisdom" and critical baggage that comes with watching a film. Oh boy, can it ever. I hadn't seen Mother's Day in years. As I was gearing up to spend 90 minutes with it, I saw two reviews in my mind. One review said that this movie is a strong satire on American consumerism and the like. The other gave it a “ZERO” rating and said this film was true garbage with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I, unfortunately, couldn't remember very much about it. All I hoped for was that the stuff I'd read, and floated around in my mind, wouldn't overshadow my viewing.
I think the film has a whole bunch of satire in it. But, I believe it is a layer in the film, like the background of the Family in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It's what adds to the overall fabric of the film rather than being what the film is about.
To me, this is what the movie is about...
Three women, who called themselves The Rat Pack in college, get together once a year and go on a weekend excursion. One of them chooses the location and surprises the other two. This year, they wind up deep in the woods somewhere in New Jersey for a weekend of camping and fun. They reminisce and chat and catch up. Then, on the second night, two backwoods brothers burst in and abduct them. The women are dragged to the house that the boys share with their domineering mother. Mom keeps her hold over her boys through the threat of attack from her crazy sister Queenie, who lives out in the woods and wants to kill Mother. The life of this family is based around what they've taken from TV, music, magazines and movies. They live in squalor surrounded by John Travolta posters, Trix cereal and lots of TVs. One of the women is beaten and raped following a short series of strange games. The other two escape and, when their friend dies, they vow revenge and head back to the crazy house, armed and ready to fight.
To me, Mother's Day seems to be about these three women, who are at very different points in their lives, and how they accidentally wander right into Hell. The film is really about them rather than a family that traps and kills anyone who gets to close to them. There is definitely satire here but it's the catalyst for why the crazies do what they do, rather than the gears that drive the whole thing. I realized this when I found myself caring about the women.
This movie is much more complex then I remember, especially towards the empathy it generates towards the three leading ladies. I didn't want to see them hurt. (If it had been a true 100% satire, caring about the characters would not be important) The film has its own very special brand of "Time-Release Empathy". I guessed that the woman who led them to the middle of nowhere would be the first to go. But, the film was better than that. When the women are kidnapped, she is the one that I found I cared about more than the others. She's a shy woman who never got a break and is consistently taken advantage of by men. When she is defiled, even the director doesn't want to look. It's sad and infuriating at the same time, as we watch her friends helpless to set her free.
The other two become characters worth caring about as the movie proceeds along. The snooty one who lives in Beverly Hills is bland until they are kidnapped. Then, she becomes tough and brave. The third gal is sweet and mousy, under the thrall of a domineering mother. But, once her friend dies, she becomes resourceful and strong. (revenge against the memory of her own mother drives some of it but still...)
As I said, all of this surprised me. I thought I would be bored until the crazy family showed up but I wasn't. The film works. And, when the family does show up, I saw a different dynamic in there. The Queenie angle is something I'd always thought was a vague set-up for a freeze frame ending that I wasn't so thrilled on. And, yes, I think I will ruin the ending.
Queenie is alive. She leaps through the air at the two remaining women in a freeze frame before the credits roll. (I think the women can take her, by the way.) It was only right at this moment that I realized what this meant. If Queenie is alive, then Mom isn't lying. She is terrified of her crazy sister killing her and it's true. The dynamic of the family begins as a crazy mom lording over her crazy sons (that's what the clever opening seems to imply). Standard horror stuff. Mom in charge. The sons do every nutty thing she asks.
But, when we first here about Queenie, it changes. The boys stay with Mom to protect her from the sister. However, Queenie seems to be a lie. It feels like Mom is just keeping control over her sons through this vague tie. The sons don't seem to mind so no one in the family is getting hurt.
But, it turns out they do mind. When one of them is off chasing the escaped girls, the other is revealing their feelings to Mom. They believe Queenie is dead and that Mom is manipulating them. They want to go off into the world. Mom is very insistent, though. And, in the end, the boys stay because she's their Mom. She successfully controls them and they will never leave.
But, (forgive all the buts, please) Queenie is alive. Mom was right. She is terrified of dying. So, all of her manipulations are to protect her life. All of this makes the ending more than "Huh?" because, with Queenie alive, Mom is no longer a crazy broad allowing her sons to do whatever they want just for fun. She's a scared, crazy old broad who lets her sons do whatever they want so they won't leave her alone.
Half of these thoughts came to me as I was writing this and I think it makes sense. Regardless, I'm attempting to find a new way of looking at this film. I'm trying to banish the "old reviews" from my mind. I've just noticed that I didn't really give a regular critique of this very interesting movie. Join me at the Final Thoughts. Would you, please?
AUDIO AND VIDEO
I watched the VHS. The picture was perfect. The audio was fine. The framing was a little off. There is a shot where the brothers watch the women through some bushes. The women are in the center. The brothers are on the edge of the frame. They seem to be making faces at each other but, thanks to the framing, it looks like they're making noses at each other.
On the VHS, zero. On the DVD, some.
This is a rather brutal film laced with moments of satire (not Troma-style, although once or twice it draws close) that is very satisfying in the end. Worthy of repeat viewings. "ZERO" rating, my Aunt Helen.