Saturday, May 16, 2009

#61: Mother's Day (Charles Kaufman, 1980)

Charles Kaufman, not to be confused with the screenwriter of Being John Malkovich et al., Charlie Kaufman, is the brother of Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman. If you've seen one Troma film, then you've seen pretty much every Troma film. Perfunctory framing of shots, bland cinematography, some of the ugliest location shooting in the dreariest parts of New York and New Jersey, fart jokes, boob jokes, fat jokes, extreme gore, porn star cameos, obvious genre satire, a preoccupation with toxic waste and nuclear mishaps. I'm glad Troma exists. It warms my heart that Lloyd Kaufman has managed to keep his production company going for so long, and I love what he has to say about Hollywood and big business and his support of independent filmmakers. But only rarely is a Troma film consistently entertaining (The Toxic Avenger, Tromeo & Juliet). I will never get the two hours of my life back I spent watching Surf Nazis Must Die. Surprisingly, Lloyd's brother Charles has a much more competent grasp of the basics of filmmaking, with a less labored approach to comedy, suspense, and horror in Mother's Day. Mother's Day is a solid, creepy horror film with some very funny moments and only a little bit of the torture and rape stuff I hate to watch. (By the way, the guy who directed Saw is remaking this film, with Brett Ratner producing. I'm sure the expensive Hollywood production values will make it look as forgettable as possible, and I'm also sure the torture and rape will be expanded and emphasized while the humor will disappear. I'm especially sure it will be a gigantic piece of shit.)

Mother's Day begins with a hilarious satire of self-help gurus. At a workshop in New York City, a tough-looking motivational speaker with a New Yawk accent and a bald bodyguard stands at a podium (the sign on the podium letting the crowd know that smoking, spitting, and watches are banned), tells the crowd, "Remember, once you go out those doors, don't stop to think about what you feel. Because once you stop to think about what you feel, you doubt what you know. And once you doubt what you know, you're gonna assume you don't know it. Why? Because you don't act on it. Once you know what you know, you act on it." A young couple at the workshop hitch a ride from an old woman. She begins to drive them to her home in rural New Jersey. The couple, pretending to be into the self-help guru so they can murder and rob the old lady and looking like a pair of young punks that Charles Bronson would mow down in a Death Wish movie, get a taste of their own medicine when the old lady's car conveniently dies and her Deliverance-esque grown sons jump out of the woods and attack and kill the pair. The mother tells her boys how proud she is of them. It's a heart-warming moment.
Next, we meet three female roommates at Wolfbreath College, about to graduate. (I was accepted to Wolfbreath College, but my family couldn't afford it. I had to attend the University of Nebraska instead. Oh, to call Wolfbreath my alma mater. What days those would have been.) The three women, who call themselves the Rat Pack, swear to be best friends forever, which is what women in their early twenties normally do, right? Not elementary school girls. Anyway, fast forward 10 years and the women's lives are very different. One is a wealthy socialite in Beverly Hills, one a spinster taking care of her sick mother in a small apartment in Chicago, and another is a career woman in New York supporting a mooching boyfriend who pretends to be an artist. The Beverly Hills sequence is particularly well done, centering on a hilarious pool party that Lloyd Kaufman jokingly claimed influenced the pool sequence in Boogie Nights. However, he may be right. The set-up of both pool parties and the movement of the camera in both scenes is surprisingly similar. Anyway, the Rat Pack still gets together once a year in a different location, the women taking turns selecting a vacation destination while keeping it a secret from the other two. This year, the three unfortunately camp out in the woods near Mother and her backwoods man-children. Fortunately, they get to smoke joints, skinny dip, hang out in their underwear, roast marshmallows, reminisce, and pledge undying friendship forever before the crazed hillbillies kidnap them and take them to their crazy house in the woods.

So far, the movie's been really fun, but it takes an unfortunate turn toward rape and torture for an unpleasant five minutes. I hate this kind of thing, especially since it's totally dominated mainstream American horror films for the past 10 years mostly thanks to that little punk piece of shit Eli Roth. (I have no idea what Quentin Tarantino sees in that guy.) Fortunately, the sequence doesn't last too long, and the movie gets entertaining again. The hiding, chasing, and stalking scenes have been done before in many horror films and thrillers, but Kaufman keeps the suspense level high.
There's a plot twist two-thirds in that closely mirrors Last House on the Left. I find that movie incredibly unpleasant, but somehow the similarly plotted Mother's Day greatly entertained me. And Mother's Day has one of the best horror movie endings I've ever seen. A subplot pays off in a big way. I won't say anymore than that.

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