The Mother of All Evil: The Two ‘Mother’s Day’ Films

“You have made your mother very proud”—for those familiar with Charles Kaufman’s 1980 film Mother’s Day, that seemingly endearing sentence will never have the same innocent and touching quality anymore. It was the punch line that succeeded graphic scenes of rape and violence committed by Mother’s gruesome twosome, framed in what The New York Times called an “absurdist comedy” while the director himself referred to it as a satire. Kaufman’s version will be released on Blu Ray soon, but that’s not the only thing that gives the film a current twist.

Darren Lynn Bousman (of Saw 2-5 infamy) directed a same-titled remake of the film, or better, a reinterpretation. While there’s no official U.S. wide release date yet, Bousman will attend the Midwestern premiere of the film in Chicago, on Saturday, 7 May at 11.59PM at the Music Box Theater, and the film has been released in countries such as the Netherlands just in time for the commercial holiday. But in this case, most mothers will be happier receiving the standard bouquet of flowers than a trip to the movie theater. For all of you brave people, an intro to both films.

Kaufman’s film focused on the atrocities committed by a duo of stereotypical hillbilly brothers encouraged by their unstable and sadistic mother. The brothers, Ike and Addley, take the mantra ‘always respect your mother’ very seriously, and do not hesitate to rape and torture a trio of holidaying women at their mother’s wish. The three women are old friends from Wolfbreath College, and come to New Jersey’s Deep Barons for a little r&r. But as the trailer voiceover already ominously announces, “little did they know, something was watching them.”

What ensues is a slew of over the top, graphic scenes, but always within a satiric dialogue. It ridicules the state of the metropolis as a place of corruption and violence. As mother—a great role from Rose Ross—says during the drive home after a motivational seminar called E.G.O. (Ernie’s Growth Opportunity), “I take what’s good from the city, and the rest you can keep.” Little do her passengers know that it’s the violence that she mimics, and that they soon will be exposed to this dark underbelly of the city transported into the backwoods. Think The Last House On The Left meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre with more gore, more humor (albeit very dark) and a satiric undertone. The result is a cult classic, that still manages to stir up controversy.

Bousman’s version has Rebecca De Mornay. Her piercing blue eyes and icy voice make her as terrifying as Ross was in 1980, but that’s about all that’s similar. Yes, there’s an evil mother, and yes, the sons start to torture a group of people for no apparent reason. But the entire premise is different: four couples and a mistress are celebrating a birthday in the basement of Beth and Daniel Sohap when a Johnny, Ike and Addley Koffin burst in, looking for their mother. This time the men are not hillbillies in some remote area, but fairly good looking fugitive bank robbers that return to their old home in Kansas City. They demand treatment for shot brother Johnny, and thinks quickly turn violent. Especially Addley turns out to be unable to control his impulses, leading to the first twisted scene involving a hairpiece that switches owners. Mother quickly arrives to keep her boys in check, and brings some wise lessons with her: dishonesty is of the devil, never hit a woman, never trust anyone but your family.

It turns out that Mother is not happy that the family’s former abode has fallen into the hands of someone else, and the couples soon realize that the house will cost them much more than whatever monetary expenses they had to make. Mother demands money so that her family—including daughter Lydia, a good supporting role of True Blood’s Deborah Ann Woll—can escape across the border, but Bousman makes a constant point of emphasizing that family is first: all jewelry is taken, except for a “family heirloom.” She also punishes one of the female friends to prove her point that “marriage is sacred.” The absurdity of Mother’s remarks in the face of her actions is never framed in the satiric dialogue of the original.

This is the major point of difference: there’s no humor, no satire, there’s just relatively senseless torture (never anywhere near as graphic as in the 1980 film though). The film attempts to make some moral remarks regarding human nature, as Ike throws a knife at two friends and forces them to battle till death to prove to Beth that everyone can kill, while Addley has two men fight with their wives’ safety at stake, as the loser’s wife will have to de-virginize Johnny, but fails to form into the critique that was so central to Kaufman’s version. The scene with Johnny is particularly disturbing, as Mother helps the woman undress and watches from close by. The scenes that show interaction between Mother and her sons are particularly successful, and underline Bousman’s central feat: a portrait of a highly dysfunctional family.

This is not to say that the current Mother’s Day is completely unsuccessful. It has a strong cast—especially the actors forming Koffin family manage to convince, De Mornay is excellent—and the story is fast paced enough to keep viewers entertained. However, the fans of Mother’s Day 1980 will be disappointed to find no satire and only some humor in Bousman’s film, two ingredients that were central to Kaufman’s overall success. Ultimately, the film’s main failure is its title, which creates expectations that Bousman’s attempt is unable to fulfill.