The original Mother’s Day is one of my favorite horror movies of the 1980s. Written and directed by Charles Kaufman (the brother of Troma’s Lloyd), it was a social satire of the “Boob Tube Generation”. In it, a psycho family of a mother and her two filthy murderous sons lure people to their home in the middle of the New Jersey woods to torture, rape, and kill. The half-wit sons were raised not on love and compassion, but by TV shows like Star Trek, Kojak, and CHiPS. What set this film apart from Last House on the Left for me was that the crazed killers seemed more human, and I found it fascinating that they woke up to the same Big Bird alarm clock I used to have (even though they are 30), ate the same Trix cereal I used to eat (albeit from a slop bucket), and bickered like siblings normally do (about Disco vs. Punk Rock). The abundant pop culture references made it perfectly clear that these monsters weren’t just a faceless family of killers, as in Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. If it weren’t for the fact that they murdered people for fun, they weren’t so different from me. Add to the fact that they did not know any better, as their mother raised them to think that they were a normal, civilized family. By the end of the movie, I felt a bit sorry for them when they got their gory comeuppance, despite the unspeakable acts they’d committed. The film also had a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor hidden beneath its schlocky exterior, as well as a surprise shock ending which made sure that this was one movie which would stay with me in the years to come.
When I heard that there was a remake in the works, I immediately thought the worst. How could anything live up to the greatness of the original? Then I heard it was being directed by Darren Lynn Bousman; the man who gave us Saw II-IV, Repo! The Genetic Opera, and The Devil’s Carnival. My interest was piqued. When I’d heard that Rebecca De Mornay was being cast as Mother, my heart sank again, as she was one of my biggest teenage crushes. How could someone so beautiful be cast as one of the most repulsive characters in movie history? I had to find out.
Bousman has done something for this film that not a lot of remakes/reboots/re-imaginings today can claim: he has managed to make a film which is a totally different story, yet gives many references to the original, for us fans. Whereas the 1980 film is a campy send-up on the dangers of too much TV and overbearing mothers, this one is a more serious, Tarantino-style home-invasion lesson of human nature. What’s more, the family now has the last name of Koffin (perhaps as homage to the late Frederick Coffin, who played Ike in the original movie).
The film opens with a brutal and gory killing in the maternity ward of a hospital, to which we cut to the speeding car of Ike and Addley Koffin (Patrick Flueger and Warren Kole, respectively), having botched a bank robbery which resulted in younger brother Johnny (Matt O’Leary) taking a shotgun blast to the stomach. They desperately try and get to their safe-place, the home of their dearly beloved mom. They don’t know that Mother (De Mornay) was foreclosed upon a few months ago, and that the house was sold to Daniel and Beth Sohapi (Frank Grillo and Jaime King), who are in the middle of celebrating Daniel’s birthday with seven friends while a tornado warning is in effect. The party turns into a nightmare as the Sohapis and guests are held hostage by the psychopathic family. When Mother arrives with daughter Lydia (Deborah Ann Woll) to sort everything out, things go from bad to worse when secrets are revealed and people start to die.
Even though the film was 112 minutes, it never seemed to drag. Every scene was tense, giving you the feeling that anyone could be killed at any given second. Rumor has it that a 20 minute scene was deleted, even though it was Bousman’s favorite in the film, just to keep the pacing. No longer unwashed rednecks, the Koffins are realistic, yet still terrifying. As for the acting, Kole was wonderful as loose cannon Addley, as you never knew when he was going to snap. Flueger was brilliant as Ike, and almost likeable, until you learn how twisted he really is. De Mornay steals the film as the maniacal matriarch, and she pulls this off with amazing aplomb. What makes her the most frightening of the bunch is that underneath the calm and sincere demeanor hides a calculating and sadistic mastermind.
Scott Milam’s screenplay also deserves a lot of credit, as the characters behave and talk like real people, unlike the usual horror movie paint-by-numbers teenagers who do stupid things, and are only there to be killed. In fact, without giving anything away, when one of the Koffin clan is getting revenge exacted upon them, it sounds like the character says “I’m sorry” before succumbing to death.
A lot of the cast are Bousman regulars, from his Saw and Repo films. In fact, Alexa Vega has a very memorable choice-making cameo which will make you think about that gum-snapping teenager on her cell phone behind you at the movie theater last week. Also, don’t blink, or you’ll miss an appearance by Lloyd and Charles Kaufman.
The film is also not without very good gore; the rubber practical effects were realistically cringe-inducing, and did not detract from what was happening onscreen.
There were many references to the original movie, including tales of “Queenie” and the infamous Drano/Television scene, but this film isn’t without its flaws, as well. For instance, I felt that the character of Lydia was totally wasted, and that there was potential for doing so much more. I also thought that the “shock” ending was a bit of a let-down, and one seen a mile away. Still, all-in-all, this is one of the best remakes ever made, and one that should not be missed.
Mother's Day is available now on DVD and Blu-Ray
I give this one 4 out of 5 stars.