Monday, November 9, 2015

#1,911. Mother's Day (1980)

Directed By: Charles Kaufman

Starring: Tiana Pierce, Nancy Hendrickson, Deborah Luce

Tag line: "If you go down to the woods today"

Trivia: The house used in the film was an actual house in the woods of Newton, New Jersey. No one had lived there for 15 years prior to filming. The previous owner of the home was murdered there

Like many low-budget horror movies of the ‘70s and ‘80s, Mother’s Day is blessed with an “anything goes” mentality. With no studio big-wigs looking over his shoulder, telling him what their market research said about audience trends, director Charles Kaufman was able to make the film he wanted to make, and his no holds barred approach resulted in a truly inspired bit of anarchy.

Every year for the past decade, college friends Abbey (Nancy Hendrickson), Trina (Tiana Pierce), and Jackie (Deborah Luce) have been vacationing together. This year, Jackie chose their destination: the New Jersey Pine Barrens, where they’ll spend a week camping and getting closer to nature. Their good time is cut short, however, when the three are abducted by Ike (Holden McGuire) and Addley (Billy Ray McQuade), a couple of backwoods brothers who live in a nearby house with their mother (Rose Ross). After dragging their hostages home and tying them up, Ike and Addley force one of them to take part in a bizarre sex-themed game, all as dear old mom watches, cheering them on. The girls do eventually manage to free themselves, but with one of them badly injured, the remaining two decide their best course of action is to stand and fight, leading to a showdown that catches mother and her boys completely off-guard.

The chaos starts early in Mother’s Day; in its opening scene, Mother, who’s been attending a self-help seminar, offers to give Terry (Marsella Davidson) and Ted (Kevin Lowe), a seemingly nice young couple, a lift in her car. Before long, we realize that Terry and Ted aren’t as “nice” as they appeared (their body language suggest they intend to rob the old girl, or worse). But like most scenes in Mother’s Day, this one doesn’t end the way you think it will, providing the audience with its first of many surprises.

In addition to the lunacy, Mother’s Day features some strong characters, starting with the trio of college chums whose yearly trip takes a disastrous turn. Before they head out into the woods together, we’re introduced to each one individually, giving us some insight into how their lives have been since graduation. We’re even treated to a flashback of their college days, when Abbey and Trina helped Jackie get revenge on her two-timing boyfriend (played by Peter Fox). Then, something interesting happens: after the girls are kidnapped and dragged back to Mother’s house, Kaufman changes things up by focusing on Ike and Addley, who, though they’ve committed some grisly acts, suddenly seem more like jealous siblings vying for their Mother’s attention than they do hardened criminals (in one extra-strange montage, Mother sits by and watches as her two boys go through a vigorous workout routine, which lasts most of the day).

Yet despite the fact we get to know (and even sorta care about) Ike and Addley, the honeymoon doesn’t last long. The moment the film switches its focus back to the three women, all of our sympathy for the two boys flies immediately out the window, and we root like hell for the ladies to kick their asses. That’s because, along with everything else, the women in Mother’s Day are a force to be reckoned with.

All this, combined with its violence (which, if not 100% realistic, is gory enough to get your attention), some very tense sequences (chief among them a scene where Ike tracks one of the girls through the woods at night), and an ending that will shock the hell out of you, leads to a highly effective, uber-entertaining ‘80s slasher.

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