MOTHER’S DAY (1980)
Directed by Charles Kaufman
Written by Charles Kaufman & Warren Leight
Starring Beatrice Pons, Nancy Hendrickson, Deborah Luce, Tiana Pierce, Fredrick Coffin, Michael McCleery
MOTHER’S DAY (2011)
Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman
Written by Scot Milam
Starring Rebecca DeMornay, Jamie King, Frank Grillo, Shawn Ashmore, Patrick John Flueger, Warren Kole, Deborah Ann Woll, & Matt O’Leary
After seeing Darren Lynn Bousman’s MOTHER’S DAY, I was prompted to check out the original for comparison’s sake, not really intending to do a Make / Remake piece about it. But as I sat through Troma’s very first film written and directed by Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman’s brother Charles, I knew I had to, both for appreciation for the first film and to commend Darren Lynn Bousman for doing something few others have done; making a exemplary remake of a pre-existing horror film that both honors and expands on the original. Too many times, it seems the remakers don’t even fully understand the story of the original and resort to casting pretty WB stars and putting them into PG-13 scenarios that promise all sorts of horror but never deliver (see the below FRIDAY THE 13TH Make / Remake for a perfect example). Not only has Bousman delivered an extremely R-rated version with bite, he also has cast some pretty talented actors in this film about the day we honor our maternal makers. Plus he made some adjustments and elaborations along the way that not only updates the film, but makes viewing the original all the more fun to watch.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. MOTHER’S DAY (1980) is by all standards I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE mixed with TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE with heavy portions of FRIDAY THE 13th thrown in. A twisted family hunts a trio of women in the woods brutally raping and beating them and forcing them to fight back by any means necessary. That’s the basic premise of MOTHER’S DAY and though by 1980, this wasn’t necessarily the cliché it is today, it still was pretty derivative of what was popular in horror at the time. Revenge films were all the rage with I SPIT, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, and DEATH WISH coming out a few years prior and while FRIDAY THE 13th had been released in May of that year, MOTHER’S DAY still seems to be heavily influenced by the film (MOTHER’S DAY was released in September); especially in the attention to horrorizing a holiday (a la HALLOWEEN, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, GRADUATION DAY, etc.) and more evident by the shock ending which reeks of the first installment of the FRIDAY films, but is still jarringly effective in its own special way.
Despite all of the obvious influences, MOTHER’S DAY still stands on its own as being a pretty horrific film. The brutal rape scenes alone are cringe-inducing and unrelenting, as is the savage way Mother’s two boys (Ike and Adlay) accost the young campers. There’s a rawness to the performances that sometimes seems like they aren’t acting at all and the terror in the faces of the women in the film suggest that it wasn’t the most pleasurable of acting experiences. All of the cast are put through the wringer physically as the modest budget seemed to force those involved to do their own stunts (I’m assuming this because all of the jumping and falling and abuse was done on camera and pretty close up, indicating that it is in fact the actors doing this). On top of all of the physical horrors going on, Charles Kaufman did an impressive job of integrating a pretty heavy theme throughout—that of the more horrific aspects of motherhood. Even from the beginning, the term “Mother” is associated with unease; from a judgmental answering machine message addressed to one of our victims to an off-camera nagging and berating mother of another. All of the three female campers have mother issues, which carry on through the film and pay off in the end. The fact that these issues are even addressed in MOTHER’S DAY give it much more heft than your typical slasher flick.
Occasionally, the original gets into the territory of camp, which doesn’t hold up too well over the years, but the weightier moments of MOTHER’S DAY make up for its comical shortcomings. Part of me wished I could edit out the hokey flashback where the three girls get some revenge on a jerk jock in high school and some of the goofier interactions between the brothers and the mother where they would swing widely and miss their mark comically. Thankfully, someone came along and did just that.
Daren Lynn Bousman has been a name in the industry for a while with his SAW installments and REPO: THE GENETIC OPERA (a cult classic which entertained some while annoying others). With his new remake of MOTHER’S DAY, he not only expands on the theme of the horrors of motherhood from the original, he also frames a completely original film around it. But that’s not entirely accurate. Since I rewatched the original after seeing the remake, I realized that Bousman boiled down the essence of what made the original so creepy and effective and peeled away all of the hokiness that I complained about above. The film still focuses on Ike and Adlay, two criminal brothers (this time played by Patrick John Fleuger and Warren Kole, respectively) and their mother, this time played by Rebecca DeMornay as they accost a group of twenty-somethings and put them through hell until they break and fight back. But unlike the inbred developmentally delayed performances of Fredrick Coffin (Ike) and Michael McCleery (Adlay) in the original, the brothers in the modern version are more sinister and well developed. Both versions are childlike when interacting with their mother, and some of the most bizarre and effective scenes in Bousman’s film are the varied interactions the brothers have with their mother (from childish to almost incestuous at times). These are elaborations on the interactions made between the boys and their mother in the original, though taken to a much darker and dire level. Like the best of the best of horror films, Bousman recognized the awful truths of a meaty subject like motherhood and highlights its most horrific aspects.
The most noticeable difference between the two films on face value is the difference in the lead character of Mother. Beatrice Pons is creepy and effective in her role of Mother in the original, but most of the time teeters on the brink of camp and sometimes falls in face first. Though her manipulative rants about the monstrous Queenie in the woods are delivered in a haunting manner, the tone just feels more believable coming from the still-smokin’ Rebecca DeMornay. At first, DeMornay’s casting sounds off, but seeing her steely performance where she switches from loving mother hen to brutal defensive she-monster protecting her young is astonishing. She perfectly exemplifies the dichotomy of the role of mother as both nurturer and protector.
But apart from the similarities of the three main antagonists of the film, Kaufman and Bousman’s films couldn’t be more different in tone and setting. Instead of having the campers come to Mother’s house, Bousman rips this story from the headlines having the criminal Koffin family (a nod to actor Fredrick Coffin, Ike from the original, no doubt), evicted from their home because of the economy. Unbeknownst to Ike and Adlay who have been off on a bank robbing spree, they are shocked to find their childhood home overrun by yuppies. Ike, Adlay, and their younger brother Jonathan (Mike O’Leary) explode into the lives of Beth and Daniel Sohapi (Jamie King & Frank Grillo) who have the unfortunate luck of picking up the house on the cheap. Like most of the other cast here, King and Grillo give their all in these performances as a couple with problems of their own which I won’t go too much into here because it is intrinsic to the film. Let’s just say that, just as with the trio of women in the original, the main actors in this film have mother issues as well.
The theme of motherhood comes up numerous times Bousman’s film as no one is completely innocent or evil. The director did a fantastic job of serving up a morally ambiguous treat which makes you think twice before rooting for or against anyone. The Koffin family’s rage for losing their home, while taken to the extreme, is understandable. And while you feel for the young folks who are the victims of this home invasion, they have done and do some pretty despicable things to make you hesitate before feeling too bad for them. I love these blurry lines Bousman sets up, making this much more than a slasher film and though there are a few scenarios the Koffin family set up giving the family choices between their own lives over the lives of others, it’s much more than the torture-porn-ific, over-complex scenarios found in SAW. Bousman really takes his time to root under the viewer’s skin before going for the kill. There’s quite a body count in this film, but before setting the bodies up to fall, Bousman lets us understand all of the goods and bads of the cast—something other films of this kind often forget to do.
Before wrapping up, I have to mention some standout performances in Bousman’s film. Deborah Ann Woll (aka smoking hot redhead vampire from TRUE BLOOD) delivers a subtle performance as Lydia Koffin (the younger sister of the family). Bousman’s addition of her into the cast brings out Mother’s twisted rules, expectations, and fears all the more, especially the way Lydia is effected by the myth of Queenie (the creepy presence in the woods from the original) which serves here as a means to scare the children into never leaving home. Other notable performances come from Shawn Ashmore who is fleshing out a pretty damn impressive genre resume in a very little time. Here his performance is powerful and crucial to the narrative.
Bousman’s MOTHER’S DAY does what few remakes do—it elaborates on themes of the original while delving into new territory and at the same time makes you want to revisit the original and experience the themes in a different way. Though both films are heavy in tone, Kaufman’s MOTHER’S DAY delivers on a level much baser, but no less effective than Bousman’s much more sophisticated remake. MOTHER’S DAY is the kind of remake we all want to see; not watered down for the masses, well acted and and well written. Most importantly, MOTHER’S DAY 2011 is respectful of what came before and making enough changes to be something new without being totally unrecognizable; a feat that seems to be harder to accomplish than one would think—unless your name is Darren Lynn Bousman, that is.