Mother’s Day (1980) Review

The original Mother’s Day came out in 1980 and feels like a relic of the 1970s. It owes a huge debt of gratitude to spiritual predecessors like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Last House On The Left, which paved the way for grim subject matter in cinema. Mother’s Day is a slasher that puts its own unique spin on the genre with the introduction of comedy into the proceedings. The story is from Charles Kaufman and the trash cinema production house, Troma. Fans of that era’s more visceral horror movies will find it an enjoyable diversion.

One unusual thing about Mother’s Day is how the three protagonists, three thirty-something women camping out in the woods of New Jersey, in a location suspiciously similar to the Crystal Lake setting of the Jason movies, are not the typical teenage victims from most slasher films of the 1980s. Jackie, Trina, and Abbey are three friends from their days at Wolfbreath University, who now in their thirties make an annual trip together to let some steam off.

The first thirty minutes of the movie skillfully sets these characters up with distinct personalities as they go on this camping trip that will eventually turn nightmarish. It’s at that point where we are introduced to Mother, creepily played by Rose Ross, and her two inbred sons, Ike and Addley. The rural family’s members are all cannibals as they abduct the women to torture and kill. The plot proceeds from there for the next hour, as we see the women attempt to escape in their clash with the hillbilly family.

Mother’s Day works primarily due to the inversion of stereotypes in early horror for the three women, as they actively attempt to fight back against their captors and gain a measure of vengeance. It’s a violent film filled with murder and rape, but the presence of slapstick humor and comedy lighten the tension from a typical slasher. This is not a movie for everyone, as the intended audience will likely know what’s going to happen before they ever see the movie. For a modern frame of reference, director Eli Roth has repeatedly ripped off Mother’s Day in his horror films. Both Cabin Fever and parts of Hostel 2 are direct homages to Mother’s Day, with eerily similar settings or storylines. Mother’s Day plays off the notion that modern city-dwellers have a distinct distrust of rural people and their communities.

Movie ★★★★☆

Short of the invention of time travel and rescuing the original camera negative from 1980, Mother’s Day will likely never look better than this very nice and film-like transfer. Shot on 35mm film with a gritty aesthetic appropriate for a slasher of its era, this transfer has been derived from a solid-looking internegative or interpositive of the movie with no additional processing. The film has been presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 at 1080p.

The grain has been left completely intact, with whatever detail and resolution remained in the original source. It’s not the sharpest experience, as the camera-work is inconsistent with occasional lapses in focus and lighting. Fine detail varies from excellent facial detail in some close-ups, to poor process shots that include optical mattes. Saying that, this disc looks vastly better than any prior attempt on home video and it’s very doubtful the Blu-ray format could squeeze any more picture quality out of this movie.

What some viewers may find objectionable are the tiny nicks and scratches to the film print. Mother’s Day was only made on a budget of $150,000 and the surviving elements do have a small amount of constant print damage over the 90 minutes. Many of its fans will likely favor the minor film debris, as it better recreates the Grindhouse experience of the 1970s. A few of the darkest scenes look poorly lit and produce several moments of terrible black crush, though it looks more to do with production errors in shooting the movie than anything to do with the transfer.

Mother’s Day runs a length of 90:24 minutes on a BD-25. The AVC video encode does a sound job of preserving whatever detail the master contains, though it barely averages 20 Mbps for the main feature. Grain is surprisingly consistent and never produces the type of macroblocking so common to older films on Blu-ray. One of the strongest points in favor of this transfer is the complete lack of halos or evidence of sharpening. So step back into the 1970s and watch what moviegoers experienced at their local cinema, a slightly dirty film print that revels in the vintage analog experience of 35mm film.

Video ★★★★☆

The soundtrack is a 2.0 Dolby Digital mix at 224 kbps. The audio is serviceable but the lack of a lossless soundtrack is a tad disappointing. There are few real discrete sound effects and the bass content is severely lacking. Mother’s Day was a low-budget production and that is never more apparent than during the thin, reedy musical score that echoes many other slasher films of the 1970s. If you’ve heard any of the early scores for the Friday The 13th franchise, nothing will come as a surprise as most of the same audio cues are used like heavy breathing and sharp violin stabs.

No subtitles have been included on this BD, though the back of the case wrongly indicates both English and Spanish subtitles.

Audio ★☆☆☆☆

For a relatively obscure horror movie from 1980, Starz/Anchor Bay Entertainment has provided this Troma classic with a surfeit of extra features that will please its core fans. The primary special feature is a solid audio commentary by the director and writer, Charles Kaufman, with the film’s art director in a free-flowing conversation. It’s a casual affair, with oodles of information about production details from both participants. This is one commentary Troma’s fans will want to hear without skipping.

Original Theatrical Trailer (2:15 in 1080p) – The vintage trailer for Mother’s Day. Watching it is a blast of nostalgia from the original era of the film, with excellent voice-over work so evocative of the 1970s.

Super 8 Behind the Scenes of the Original Mother’s Day (10:02 in 1080p) – Incredibly rare and previously unseen test footage shot using Super 8 film, primarily concerned with FX and make-up tests.

“Ike, Adley, and Eli:” Eli Roth on the Subversive Political Subtext of Mother’s Day (13:07 in 1080p, though most likely upscaled from SD) – An interesting interview with horror director Eli Roth and his love for Mother’s Day. Apparently it’s one of his favorite movies from childhood and he gushes about its unique qualities. I don’t buy his film-school explanations about the movie’s themes of consumerism, but it’s fun hearing a well-known celebrity talk passionately about a movie.

Mother’s Day At Comic-Con (8:08 in SD) – A brief conversation between Charles Kaufman and Darren Bousman, the director for the recent remake of Mother’s Day. Darren compares and contrasts his take on the concept with the original film.

Extras ★★★★☆

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.