There's nothing like backwoods hospitality...and this is NOTHING like backwoods hospitality.
The "wrong place, wrong time" sub-genre, in which innocent people meet appalling fates when outside of their familiar environment, has yielded some particularly twisted fruit for decades. PSYCHO, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, DELIVERANCE, THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, SOUTHERN COMFORT, EDEN LAKE, list goes on and on, but the example of this niche that came as an interesting effort at the dawn of the 1980's slasher era was the indelible MOTHER'S DAY.
Every year, a trio of college friends, Abbey (Nancy Hendrickson), Jackie (Deborah Luce), and Trina (Tiana Pierce), get together for a retreat to some location where they can catch up, reminisce, get high, and reaffirm their deep bond, coming away from the experience knowing full well that while other aspects of their lives may come up lacking, they will always have each other's backs. This time around the women decide to camp out for the weekend in some remote, wooded area of New Jersey, only to unwittingly find themselves in the territory of punk-rock-loving Ike (Holden McGuire) and disco advocate Addley (Billy Ray McQuade), a pair of insane brothers who do unspeakable things to interlopers simply because they can, all with the enthusiastic and supportive approval of their aged mother (Rose Ross). Operating in the middle of nowhere, discovery by the authorities is a virtual impossibility, so if Ike and Addley get you, you're done, and inevitable death is the very least of your worries.
Ike (Holden McGuire) & Addley (Billy Ray McQuade): "Punk sucks!" "Disco's stupid!!!"
Shortly after their arrival at a chosen campsite, the women are kidnapped in the middle of the night and hauled to the ramshackle abode of the sociopathic family, where they are to be systematically brutalized for their captors' amusement. With their sensibilities informed by junk culture, the boys set up role-playing scenarios that humiliate their terrified victims before savage beatings and rape, and Jackie, the group's sad sack, is unlucky enough to be picked as the first "participant." While her bound and gagged friends watch helplessly, Jackie is battered and raped by Addley while Ike merrily snaps Polaroids, after which the boys are allowed to keep her in their room overnight, though their mother cautions them about being too tired the next morning. (*shudder*) On the following day while the boys train, the women manage to escape, dragging the unconscious/in shock Jackie along, but Jackie soon dies from her abuse, so her friends steel themselves for a trip back to the home of their tormentors to grant them the gift of vengeance every bit as savage as that which was inflicted upon them. And then some. Oh, and what about the possible presence of the legendary Queenie, the hairy and bestial sister of Mother?
Mother (Rose Ross) proudly surveys her sons' handiwork.
Opening a mere four months after the genre-defining FRIDAY THE 13th (1980), MOTHER'S DAY was likely already in progress when its more influential contemporary hit the nation's screens, but it would not be impossible for it to have been rushed out in an effort to capitalize. The only real set is the mad family's house, a residence that looks just a little bit more put-together than an actual run-down derelict in the middle of the local woods, and the gore — effective though it certainly is — would not have required more than a few hours of pre-filming preparation, so for all I know MOTHER'S DAY could have been shot over a period of about a week. Anyway, it appeared seemingly overnight in the wake of FRIDAY THE 13th and wielded considerably more mystery to us under-age would-be attendees because instead of a straight MPAA rating it bore one of those warnings that amounted to a self-imposed "X." Not even the slaughterhouse thrills of FRIDAY THE 13th went that far, so MOTHER'S DAY must have been really nasty! Sadly, none of us kids stood a hope in hell of seeing it during first-run, so we had to wait until it hit VHS years after the fact, but it turned out to be worth the wait.
By the time I and my peers finally got to see MOTHER'S DAY, we'd experienced most of the cookie cutter slasher flicks that helped define the zeitgeist of our generation, so we expected just another splattery ninety minutes of farming tool-fodder trotted out to sate our gorehound appetites. After close to a decade of the likes of the turgid HUMONGOUS, a succession of ever-worsening FRIDAY THE 13th sequels, and the unintentional hilarity of NAIL GUN MASSACRE, we had learned not to expect such luxuries as plot or characterization, so MOTHER'S DAY came as something of a surprise. Yeah, the trio of protagonists could pass for escapees from any number of post-collegiate reunion/nostalgia flicks and the villains were like an even more nightmarish version of characters straight out of a vintage E.C. horror comic (only writ more explicit thanks to a pop-cultural distance of nearly thirty years), but they all had identifiable character that made them interesting and worth spending the film's running time with. Ike and Addley fascinate me because of what we see of their family dynamic when they're not out murdering and raping.
A nutritious breakfast with Addley and Ike.
They're like any other rough-and-tumble brothers; childish, ever-bickering and blame-casting,
engaging in an amusing perpetual debate over the relative merits of punk as opposed to disco, with only their physical age and grown-up bestial lusts belying their seeming pre-adolescence, and only their equally-warped mother wielding control over their borderline-feral wildness. They are true cases of arrested development, a state ensured by their controlling and needy mom, and their state is not at all helped by what appears to be a certain degree of mental retardation or the results of heavy-duty in-breeding. In short, they are man-child animals of the worst, most dangerous order; vile, all-too-human forest-dwelling bogeymen who know every inch of their backwoods home, and it is their non-supernatural humanity at its most base and lawless that makes them prime nightmare fuel. Their mother is certainly no slouch in the creepiness department, but her doting offspring make her look like a paragon of compassion and gentility.
MOTHER'S DAY is nasty, mean-spirited, and downright reprehensible in many ways, but I'll be damned if I don't find its every frame to be compelling stuff. It's my favorite of the many "city slickers vs. rednecks" movies and I recommend it to those who can handle its unsavory charms. All others are advised to stay out of the woods.
Poster from the original theatrical release.