Anyone who’s spent much time trolling the depths of low-budget exploitation film history is sure to be familiar with the name “Troma.” The company, founded in the early 1970s, is still a force in independent cinema to this day, recently releasing over a hundred films to be viewed for free on Youtube. However, Troma’s heyday was in the 1980s and 1990s, when they released such video-store hits as their flagship franchise-launcher The Toxic Avenger (1984) and Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. (1990). Troma made a name for themselves by smartly marketing low-budget product that quickly turned a profit, and one of their early successes that paved the way for The Toxic Avenger was Charles Kaufman’s Mother’s Day, released in 1980 just as the teen slasher craze was ramping up. Now, following their recent “remake” of the film, Anchor Bay has reissued the original Mother’s Day on DVD and Blu-ray.
Abbey (Nancy Hendrickson), Jackie (Deborah Luce) and Trina (Tiana Pierce) are three college best friends who get together once a year to have a weekend away from it all. For their ten-year anniversary, Jackie decides to take the girls out to a remote lake in a forest called Deep Barons, far from any big city or much of anything else, for that matter. After an opening sequence that introduces us to the girls’ current lives– Abbey takes care of her ranting, bedridden mother in Chicago, Jackie lives in New York and lets her actor boyfriend walk all over her, and Trina lives in Beverly Hills, married to a rich older man– the three meet up, Jackie blindfolds her pals, and they strike out for the Deep Barons. A creepy local warns Jackie and her “lez-been” friends not to go out to Deep Barons, but in typical horror film fashion, they blithely ignore his advice and hit the gravel road.
Unsurprisingly, Deep Barons is not entirely unoccupied. Living in a house somewhere deep in the forest is Mother (Beatrice Pons) and her two adult sons Ike (Frederick Coffin) and Addley (Michael McCleery). Mother seems to have a problem with anyone else coming into the forest, and has trained her sons to attack anyone they come across and bring them back home to torture them for her amusement. Abbey, Jackie and Trina are discovered after a long day of hiking, swimming and reminiscing, and Ike and Addley manage to drag the women to their home. What follows is more I Spit on Your Grave than Friday the 13th, with Ike and Addley torturing and raping Jackie while her friends try to figure out a way to escape the house and get help.
Mother’s Day is an odd film. Writer/director Charles Kaufman (brother of Troma co-found Lloyd Kaufman) spends a lot of time with the film’s heroines, which is helpful in building a relationship between the characters and the audience. Unfortunately, he also spends quite a bit of time with Mother and her boys, who use up a lot of screen time yelling (Mother) and acting like disturbed children (the boys). This is probably meant to make the audience feel good about the situation once the tables are turned and the victimized women stand up to these villains, but it’s largely unnecessary. Their behavior is unpleasant enough that any revenge visited upon them is welcome. Kaufman also sneaks in some surprising subtext about the relationships between mothers and sons, and especially mothers and daughters, but to discuss that in much detail would be to spoil some of the film’s most interesting surprises.
Hitting at about the same time as the wave of early-1980s slasher films and spending a decade on the shelves of video stores everywhere put Mother’s Day in a position of being both an important part of Troma history and an influential film for horror filmmakers who grew up in the 1980s. It’s not quite as outrageous as much of their later work, but Mother’s Day is an interesting look at what Troma was up to before their mop-wielding hero gave the word “Troma” the very specific connotations it retains to this day.
Anchor Bay Entertainment released Mother’s Day on DVD and Blu-ray on 4 September 2012. Special features include an audio commentary, 8mm behind-the-scenes footage, the film’s theatrical trailer and tv spot, and the featurette “Eli Roth on Mother’s Day.”