Like many who more or less discovered 'Mother's Day' by accident while perusing the aisles at their local video store, my initial interest in renting a VHS copy of the movie was sparked by the odd, creepy twist to James McNeill Whistler's iconic painting. The wacky horror comedy was also my introduction to the world of Troma Entertainment — later followed by 'The Toxic Avenger,' which I recall seeing under the disapproving and confused glares of my family. I also remember liking the movie and enjoying the ridiculously bad gore effects, but being largely perplexed by it. There was nothing scary about it. I pretty much started laughing from the moment a sweet old lady gave a pair of hippies a country joyride after a one of those preposterous self-help seminars, and didn't stop.
Revisiting the murderous activities of this backwoods family some years later (last time was over a decade ago on DVD), the movie holds up surprisingly well, so long as you can stomach all the silly, violent mayhem. (It was famously banned in a few countries, like the U.K. and Australia, and harshly derided here in the U.S.) Interestingly, the amount of on-screen violence is really nothing compared to the sort seen since its release. Much of the blood, gore and rape are done off-screen, out of view and suggested by the actions/reactions of other characters. The fact that this was once considered offensive, as oppose today's so-called "torture porn" or any number of action spectaculars, says a great deal more about contemporary moviegoers than the shoddy quality of this Troma classic.
I'm not only referring to desensitization, though it definitely plays a significant role in some of the reasons on-screen violence has grown acceptable over the decades. But I leave that to other experts who have written extensively on the subject. I'm thinking more of audience expectations and the unspoken demand for gruesome shock horror, starting with the supernatural chiller 'Final Destination' and increasing the grisly intensity with 'Saw.' This type of anticipation has somehow worked its way into the minds of many, bleeding over into other genres, to the point of where if that promise is not satisfied, the movie is considered dull by some. Perhaps, it's badly-made because the violence is suggested rather than done in front of the camera. It's a sad subconscious reaction that I think is ruining much of our enjoyment of film. I even found myself getting a little bored with this low-budget feature when Ike (Frederick Coffin) was chasing after Abbey (Nancy Hendrickson) through the forest.
Produced by Troma co-founder Lloyd Kaufman, 'Mother's Day' is a laughably quaint little horror thriller when seen through today's lens. Granted, the same can be said of a number of other motion pictures, but for some reason, this ridiculous yarn about the brutally savage activities of one hillbilly family — Mother (Beatrice Pons), Addley (Michael McCleery) and Ike (Coffin) — has me thinking about all this stuff at the moment. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that the movie is just not as violent and gory as I remember it being, which is actually not a bad thing. I rather like that director Charles Kaufman, brother of Lloyd, has some of the more disgusting parts done off-screen. It released right at the cusp of the golden era of the slasher, especially of the holiday-themed variety, just as the original 'Friday the 13th' film was upping the ante on the level of realistic gore.
'Mother's Day' didn't become a hit in theaters, despite the little bit of critical attention it received, and is rarely mentioned alongside its peers when discussing the genre's peak of popularity. It mostly lives on thanks to a strong, loyal fanbase and a cult following that has warranted several home video releases on a variety of formats. Watching it today, it's actually not all that bad considering the production's budget and limited resources. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's probably one of Troma's best and most mature movies, which sadly isn't saying much and I'm using mature very loosely. Written by Charles Kaufman and Warren Leight, the script shows it has some smarts, particularly in the Trina (Tiana Pierce) character, whose emotional abuse from her own mother finds release here and makes for a satisfying, even somewhat memorable ending.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Anchor Bay and Troma Entertainment bring 'Mother's Day' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD25 disc, housed inside a blue, eco-cutout keepcase. At startup, the disc commences with a trailer for the movie with quick animated intro before switching to standard main menu with static photo and music.
Making its way to Blu-ray, 'Mother's Day' is a rather tough one to judge, because the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is largely outstanding and jaw-dropping. Black levels are rich and penetrating with strong shadow delineation. Vibrant primaries leap off the screen, generating an ironically energetic and animated atmosphere, while secondary hues are warm and luxurious with healthy flesh tones in the entire cast. With a consistent, thin layer of film grain throughout, the 1.85:1 image displays sharp details in the foliage, clothing and the faces of actors. We can see every bit of dirt, junk and trash inside of the hillbilly mother's home, and the sweaty, soiled stains of her sons' outfits is clear as day.
Sadly, several of these great positives are balanced with some minor issues, which could have easily been corrected with a full restoration of the original elements. White specks and a couple scratches are clearly visible, sporadically popping up and becoming somewhat of a mild distraction. While contrast is comfortably bright and well-balanced, it also seems to be running a bit on the hot side, creating some negligible clipping in the highlights. Resolution and clarity takes a noticeable dip in several areas as well.
All things considered, the high-def transfer of this Troma classic is excellent and sure to please fans everywhere.
The low-budget cult favorite also arrives a-hootin' and a-hollerin' with a good but ultimately disappointing Dolby Digital mono soundtrack (in spite of what the back of the cover reads). Granted, the original design probably doesn't have much to offer if upgraded to lossless audio, but it still would be the preferred option over a heavily-compressed legacy track.
As it stands, the audio track seems rather narrow and lifeless with barely perceptible activity in the background. Once in a while, you can catch the ambient sounds from the surrounding forest, but they're very discrete and generally come in at a lower volume than the rest of the mix. And this goes for the music as well, made all the more apparent when Tommy James & the Shondells's hit song comes on. The TV commercials, of course, are perfectly loud and clear, as is the dialogue of the characters, except they also feel flat and canned. There isn't much range in the dynamics and acoustics, creating a soundstage that seems largely shallow and monotonous. Added to that, there's no bass to speak of, making this a fairly dull presentation.
A good chunk of the supplements are new for this latest home video incarnation, shared between the DVD and Blu-ray releases, except for the audio commentary, I believe.
They're kooky, and they're spooky, and all together ooky. They're a family of rednecks maniacs out for some disgustingly violent fun. The pair of goofy siblings only wants to make their momma proud. Three city women wanting to get away from it all embark on a journey through fear, survival, and revenge. The Blu-ray displays their adventure with a stunning picture quality that would greatly benefit from a full restoration, and the audio sadly falls short. Supplements are new for this latest release, making it worth the asking price for fans.