Color, 1980, 90 mins. 24 secs.
Directed by Charles Kaufman
Starring Rose Ross, Nancy Hendrickson, Deborah Luce, Tiana Pierce, Holden McGuire, Billy Ray McQuade
Vinegar Syndrome (UHD & Blu-ray) (US R0 4K/HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Anchor Bay (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), 88 Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Troma (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
Barbed social satire or misogynist trash? Decades years later, Mother's Day really doesn't feel much like either anymore. Countless other Troma films ranging from The Toxic Avenger to Terror Firmer have established the quasi-studio's desire to become an equal opportunity offender, and if seen as sort of a shaky precursor to the films of Peter Jackson and Stuart Gordon, Mother's Day serves as an above-average example of how to serve up extreme exploitation with a little more wit than usual.
In the unforgettable pre-credit sequence, a female hitchhiker catches a ride out in the woods and winds up the victim of Ike (McGuire) and Addley (McQuade), two leering yokels who kidnap, rape, and murder at the behest of their grotesque, domineering mother (Ross). Brought up on a diet of junk food and television, they have become the embodiment of pop culture at its most destructive. Meanwhile, a trio of female college friends - Abbey (Hendrickson), Jackie (Luce), and Trina (Pierce) - meet up in the woods for a reunion. They spend the evening camping out, smoking pot, and reminiscing about the payback they dished out to the campus ladies' man; unfortunately, their idyll is disrupted when one of the girls is dragged off in her sleeping back by the brothers, who take her back to their isolated cabin for another round of ultraviolence. After much woodland pursuit, the other two girls wind up in the clutches of mother and her boys as well, but things do go quite as planned this time.
Mother's Day opened the same year as the much more serious and successful Friday the 13th, another backwoods slasher yarn, but that's really all they have in common. In this case, the violence is exaggerated to a cartoonish degree, from the syrup-spouting head severing in the beginning to the hyperbolic table-turning final act in which Drano, a television set, an inflatable toy, and a hatchet come into play with gory consequences. From a technical standpoint, the film really isn't very good; the pace drags, the acting is uneven at best, and any attempts at characterization are negligible at best. However, many scenes are genuinely funny, including one featuring the world's ultimate New Yawk slacker boyfriend, and like it or not, this is one experience you never forget.
Surprisingly scarce on VHS in the '80s and one of the last releases during Troma's short-lived foray into laserdiscs, Mother's Day took a very long time to reach DVD. That disc basically contains the same extras as the LD, with refilmed intros by a typically scattershot Lloyd Kaufman to omit use of the word "laserdisc." The transfer is noticeably improved and the open matte presentation looks okay, while the mono audio sounds the same as it always has. Of course, this is the full unrated version. The disc includes a running feature length commentary by Charles Kaufman with interjections from assistant art director Rex A. Piano, which could best be described as loose and breezy. Like his brother (and the rest of the Kaufman family members who have populated the Troma payroll), he definitely has a gift for gab and manages to kill off 90 minutes without much effort. He also does a good job of pointing out the pop culture references scattered through the film including the opening parody of the self-help borderline "est" movement around that time. The disc also includes the usual Troma filler for extras, including a grab bag of trailers (but no trailer for Mother's Day, alas), the usual trivia test and studio profiles, and a featurette on "growing up with Lloyd." Pretty much what you'd expect, of course. In 2012, Anchor Bay (branded with Troma, apparently a joint effort given the former company's involvement in the 2010 remake) upgraded the film to Blu-ray with a shockingly strong presentation, slightly marred by some element damage and a lossy Dolby Digital mono track but still light years ahead of anything before it. Extras include a commentary with Charles Kaufman and assistant art director Rex A. Piano, a reel of Super 8 behind-the-scenes footage (10m2s), the trailer, an Eli Roth appreciation (13m7s), and Charles Kaufman and Darren Bousman chatting about the film at the 2010 Comic-Con (8m8s).
In 2023, Vinegar Syndrome upgraded the film to 4K UHD as part of a two-disc set also containing a remastered, expanded special edition Blu-ray. The prior HD edition already looked great, but this one improves on it with the UHD in particular offering more vibrant color schemes with the many outdoor scenes looking especially strong thanks to more gradations in all the foliage thanks to HDR. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track sounds as strong as always, with optional English SDH subtitles provided; the commentary is ported over as well on both discs. The Blu-ray ports over the Kaufman/Bousman Q&A, the Eli Roth featurette, and the 8mm production footage with Kaufman commentary. In "You're a Sick Woman!" (32m37s), Hendrickson looks back at her work in New York theater, her sweet nature compared to the violence she had to pretend to inflict in the final act, and her personal aversion to most slasher movies. In "My Brother and Me" (26m54s), actor Michael McCleery (a.k.a. McQuade) remembers answering a casting ad for the film, first meeting the director, adopting his screen name here for SAG reasons, and having vivid memories of his fellow actors especially "piece of work" Ross. In "Writing to Mother" (37m30s), co-writer ("and boom operator") William Leight covers his journalism background that turned out to be useless, his gun for hire writing gigs, his first connection with Kaufman, and the inherent fear in the real titular holiday that made it a natural horror movie subject. "The Book of Mother's Day" (32m55s) features producer Michael Kravitz talking about the budget wrangling, his thoughts on the balance of humor and horror in the script, and the location scouting and special effects strategizing. In "The Last House in the Woods" (21m31s), production designer Susan Kaufman and costume designer Ellen Lutter hang out together and reminisce about working for free on small productions, running in circles with Lloyd Kaufman and John G. Avildsen, the nepotism that Susan used to maneuver to get hired, and the excitement of working on a horror movie. In "Cutting Mother" (30m17s), editor Daniel Loewenthal and assistant editor Richard W. Haines are interviewed about working for small-time New York distributors, coming to this film after working on adult films, and learning the editing ropes on a very intense schedule. Piano returns in "Celebrating Mother's Day" (21m52s), featuring a rare content disclaimer at the beginning, and he's a very lively interview subject covering the lack of experience of most people on the set, the questions you had to ask to get by, and the evolution of responsibilities as long as someone showed interest. The Simon and Garfunkel story is really funny, too, and he even talks about a pitch for a Shocker-style follow-up that never came to be. Then out of the vaults you get a Charles and Lloyd interview (7m55s), an outdoor interview with actress Tiana Pierce (6m53s) about her first major movie and a fun run-in with the cast from the first Friday the 13th, while "Messin' Up in Deep Barons" (19m10s) features Piano and superfan Brandon Hall touring several of the locations from the film starting at the Blairstown diner and moving through many anecdotes about how they got to check out some of the other spots, sometimes not under the most forthcoming of circumstances. Finally you get an archival interview with Piano (1m7s), an archival Charles Kaufman intro (2m29s) from the earlier Blu-ray, the trailer, a TV spot, and three radio spots.
VINEGAR SYNDROME (UHD)
ANCHOR BAY (Blu-ray)
Updated review on November 24, 2023