Mother Knows Best

Posted on Jul 14, 2012 in All Reviews, Surprisingly Good | 2 comments

Mom (1991)MOM (1991)

I never intended to review this movie, but after just a few minutes of watching it I knew I would have to. I had just gotten out of the hospital and was lying on the couch, a little high on prescribed painkillers, and I had nothing to watch. Normally on a day off I have a pile of DVDs to choose from, but having been home sick for a few days I had run through my arsenal. I found Mom on Netflix’s instant streaming, a treasure trove of forgotten horror gems from the VHS area. Its cover and brief description reminded me of Ed and his Dead Mother, a film that had given me a few good laughs as a teenager.  Despite all of my horror-nerd knowledge of cult flicks I had never so much as heard of Mom — and that's a shame because it really deserves mention, which is why I’m reviewing it now.

The movie starts at a dark bus stop where a guy who looks like Uncle Jessy from Hazzard County is dumping his thirty-something teenage daughter on Christmas Eve. He is apparently tired of her shenanigans. He drives off, leaving her sitting there in her incredible boots, so she can offer a drink to a tall, dark stranger. Obviously she hasn’t seen The Horror Show or even Tango and Cash, otherwise she’d know it isn’t wise to flirt with Brion James.

BrionThat’s right: the late, great Brion “Replicant Leon” James is in this movie, and he does with this young lady exactly what you’d expect him to.

The film starts right off with some good rubber monster effects and then rolls right into warm opening credits that would be more typical of a John Hughes movie than a horror flick. A home for Christmas mood is set and the Mom character, Emily, is introduced to us as she cleans the house and arranges her knickknacks, preparing for company. The delightful actress Jeanne Bates immediately brings the character to life, reminding us of our own mothers and grandmothers. Even if you remember Bates from other bizarre films (she was Mrs. X in Eraserhead, after all), you won’t be able to refuse her maternal charms here as Emily.

On a side note, I always enjoy horror films that take place at Christmas time. They don’t even have to be as good as Gremlins. I even enjoy them when they are total shit-baths like Christmas Evil or Silent Night, Deadly Night IV: The Toymaker (which features Mickey Rooney as a murderous Saint Nick). I just love seeing that sugarcoated, Disney princess of a holiday get a chainsaw shoved right up its ass. This aspect alone got me into Mom to start with, but then the film’s own merits boosted it far above this initial step-up.

With the credits done, the movie starts off with local newsman Clay and his girlfriend coming home to visit his elderly mother, Emily. They exchange gifts, the main one being an announcement that they are going to have a child. Typically of her generation, Emily begins to ask about a wedding, to which Clay and his girlfriend seem uncomfortable with. The characters are established here before the movie, knowing what it is, moves forward with its core premise of Mom as a monster.

Enter Nester, the werewolf-like drifter from the beginning, played by our beloved Brion James. Emily is renting out Clay’s old room and Nester, posing as an non-threatening blind man, becomes her new tenant. Trouble ensues.

Emily becomes a “flesh-eater” like Nester after being infected by him. In a very Dracula/Renfield relationship, Nester begins to nurse Emily back to health with human body parts, the only thing that can satisfy their hunger. Once she is well they begin to hit the town together in true ghoul fashion. There is certainly a sense of comedy to this, given Emily’s advanced age, but there is a solid atmosphere of monster-movie here too, making the film teeter between genres.

Of course, Emily’s newfound friendship with Nester confuses her son and arouses his suspicion. When he follows them into the ghetto one night where they are presumably helping the homeless, Clay stumbles upon his mother’s dirty secret and catches her face first in the eviscerated body of a dead hobo. Mortified, he confronts her and Nester, but Nester blackmails him. Exposing Nester means exposing Emily too. But when Nester gets aggressive with Clay, Emily’s maternal instincts prove stronger than her monsterism, at least for the time being.

The films gets into its core material then, as Clay is now forced to watch over his mother and try to both take care of her and protect the neighborhood from her too. While she seems like her old self at times, she has fevers of bloodlust and licks her lips at any human other than Clay. He locks her up in her bedroom in a vain effort to detox her of her curse, or at the very least to stall things while he tries to figure out a better solution to their plight. But things get tricky when Emily escapes and undercover cops get involved.

MomNot being formulaic or typical, the viewer enjoys not really knowing where the film is going to land next. There isn’t excessive gore, but it does contain some blood and great rubbery ghouls. The situation only gets worse for Clay, who begins to unravel as his mother gets more animalistic with each day and the body count continues to rise. The film is at its most clever when it makes the audience question who the real monster is. Emily displays great self-control around children and Clay, making us think she can handle more than Clay gives her credit for. She is doing her best to deal with a bad situation whereas Clay is falling apart and taking everyone down with him. But when Emily starts to beg her son to bring home victims like Uncle Frank in Hellraiser, you start kicking yourself for questioning Clay. Emily is a monster after all. Eventually her monsterism takes over, but even then her maternal instincts remain, making the unique finale as sad as it is horrific. As the credits roll you realize that, at base, this film is about the dark, final days of a family.

This is apparently the only movie directed by Patrick Rand, who does a good job here. Most of his credits on IMDB are as an editor, including on such 80’s fanfare as Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Charles Bronson’s final big screen lead effort Death Wish V. Perhaps it is his editing skill which makes the pace of Mom so effective. It never drags. The viewer is entertained throughout. With solid acting performances by the entire cast and a good script that inexplicably makes you care about the characters in a cheap horror film, Mom works on every level it can and even manages to rise above its own genre confines. While not a masterpiece, it is a strong film that can be enjoyed by both horror nerds and general movie audiences.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Perhaps I am over-thinking it, but the movie can really be seen as a dark metaphor for how alien it feels when a grown child is forced to become caretaker for an aged or sickly parent. It is always a strange and frightening time, especially for the parent who has their control taken away, if not their humanity itself. This is most apparent in scenes where Emily is sent to her room, locked in, and then begs to be let out, crying in the pain her hunger for human flesh causes.

At the beginning of the movie, Emily is healthy and independent. But soon she is imprisoned by her own son and is struggling with what essentially is an ailment.  Her son scolds and condescends her. He means well, but his frustration gets the better of him, as it does with any adult child who is suddenly thrust into the role of caretaker. It is particularly noteworthy that Clay and his girlfriend are just about to start a family of their own, but now he is held back by his former family; his one remaining parent. In this aspect, the film delves into some very real, very human horrors of facing our own deterioration as well as that of our loved ones.

  • RATING: 3.5 out of 5 for transcending expectations and having cult star power.
  • CHICK OF THE LITTER: Emily. She’s too old to be typically "hot," but she is adorable, hilarious and steals every scene she is in. Jeanne Bates was an unsung gifted actress. The runner up would be the laughable Beverly and her “hills”, an aging prostitute that gives the movie its one moment of smut.

BARTENDER'S NOTES

Werewolf BeerDespite Nester saying “Werewolf, vampire, ghoul… it’s all the same”, Mom still feels most of all like a werewolf movie.  So this bartender is going to plop down a bottle of Werewolf beer for you to go with this fright flick. A fruity 8.2% ABV from Lithuania, where ancient evil Nester may very well have come from, this beer provides a little bitter hops in its thick, orange haze. Sure, it’s just a cheap little beer with a werewolf woman on the forefront, but its much better than you expect it to be, just like Mom.

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2 Comments

  1. I was raised by wolves and my folks used this movie like other used Dr. Spock’s books or “what to expect when your expecting”
    I miss you Mom, oh the times we had eating people:(
    keep up the good work !

  2. my favorite review thus far!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Gettin’ Gory with Corey « Tavern of TERROR - [...] already suggested Werewolf beer for Mom, so I’m going to name another underground horror-themed brew. Catawba Valley makes a …
  2. HIGH VOLTAGE HORROR (part 1) « Tavern of TERROR - [...] other than Lance Henriksen (Pumpkinhead, Near Dark) as police detective Lucas, and Brion James (Mom, The Fifth Element) as …

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