The new horror flick from Darren Bousman (Saw 2, Repo! The Genetic Opera) is (“officially,” I suppose) a remake of the sleazy 1980 rape / revenge thriller from the very early days of Troma. Directed by Charles Kaufman, the original Mother’s Day deals with three young women who are savagely beaten and raped by a scummy backwoods clan, only to rise up and wreak some truly brutal revenge in Act III. That’s literally all there is.
The fledgling Troma outfit probably figured that a dark comedy version of I Spit On Your Grave or Last House on the Left would be a good way to make a name for itself on the waning grindhouse circuit and the brand-new video market ... and it worked pretty well. Most horror freaks (of a certain age) certainly know of Mother’s Day -- even if they don’t consider it a very worthwhile flick. So with the horror climate what it is these days (with everyone and their grandmother doing a remake, I mean) it comes as little surprise to note that, yep, even a sleazy non-classic like Mother’s Day is being dusted off for the remake treatment.
What is surprising, however, is how Bousman and his team have made a remake that’s actually a RE-make; heck, the new version doesn’t even have any rape in it, and that’s certainly not what the few fans of the original film are expecting from the reboot. What the new Mother’s Day feels like, in actuality, is a stark and gritty home invasion / hostage thriller not all that dissimilar to films like Desperate Hours, The Strangers, and Hostage. Although quite a bit nastier than those movies.
During a rushed series of introductions we meet eight grown-ups who are enjoying a low-key party together. (That the protagonists are actual adults and not a gaggle of brain-dead teenagers is only one of the film’s more pleasant surprises.) The partiers’ evening is interrupted in shocking fashion when a group of twisted criminals (two feral guys, one grievously wounded guy, and a doe-eyed, subservient gal) break into the house and begin demanding all sorts of crazy things.
The crooks, you see, are fugitives from the law, and this is the house they used to own -- which explains the invasion. But the villains don’t have any real goal in mind ... until Mama shows up. As played with wicked, dark delight by the still-lovely Rebecca DeMornay, Mama is quietly intimidating, casually cruel, and undoubtedly in complete charge of her fractured family. Tensions ramp up early and often as the hostages struggle to placate their attackers -- but you can’t really reason with crazy. Especially not in horror films.
What’s coolest about Mother’s Day is similar to what all great actors claim after playing a villain: “The villain must never KNOW he’s the villain.” And while the poor victims in Mother’s Day (and the audience) will have no trouble identifying the bad guys, the villains themselves operate on a perfectly “sane” level; in their mind, they’re the victims in this equation. It’s a simple theme to infuse in a hostage thriller of this sort, but Bousman and his “evil” actors do a fine job of selling the twisted ambiguity.
Despite a few slow spots here and there (which do hurt a little bit, since much of the film is both fast-paced and enjoyably intense) and a few character decisions that are best described as “insane,” Mother’s Day is a horror flick that’s admirably disturbing in a few sections -- and impressively restrained in others. Bousman and screenwriter Scott Milam clearly had goals to use the original film as only the most basic of starting points (indeed, the original pops up only in the title, the character names, and a few visual gags towards the end) and then make their own amalgam of basic but intense hostage thriller and unpredictably nasty horror film -- and the result is a remake that not only eclipses its source material in only a few minutes before settling down to become its own sort of exploitation flick ... it’s also a rather intensely engaging one, if it’s me you’re asking.
Note: Mother’s Day will be released in March, courtesy of a new distributor known as Gigapix. More details here at FEARnet as soon as we get ‘em!