TIMES HAVE changed since Charles Kaufman’s Mother’s Day, a bottom-shelf slasher comedy, was first spewed out by the Troma imprint. When movies were big and brash and fantastical, nobody asked questions when The Hitcher kept a-hitchin’, Duel kept on trucking and the Deadites in The Evil Dead just wouldn’t stay that way. Contemporary audiences, however, demand realism of their horror films, a vogue that has seen ancient franchises (Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Halloween) recommissioned as handheld digital vérité.
The same alchemy comes unstuck with high-concept titles. Nobody wanted to see Freddy’s porn dungeon in last year’s Nightmare on Elm Street remake because supernatural bogeymen have no business popping up in a visual age of reason.
The clash of styles is evident from the get-go in this slapdash remake. The 1980 original was an absurd satire in the vein of The Baby or The Stepford Wives; Darren Lynn Bousman, the director of Saw II, III and IV, is arch enough to cast Rebecca De Mornay in the titular role of the demented matriarch. but otherwise keeps things Jigsaw-lite.
The everything-but-thebanjos psychobilly sons of Kaufman’s original are now a dysfunctional family of bank robbers. They no longer, at mama’s bidding, do unspeakable things to nubile young campers to the strains of I Think We’re Alone Now. Instead, in keeping with every other horror movie of the age, the Koffin (yes, really) gang plump for home invasion.
Finding a dinner party and new occupants where the old hideout used to be, the boys panic and call in mommie dearest. Meanwhile, their reluctant hosts and various suburban grotesques are locked in the cellar, where tensions surface even before the interlopers start picking them off.
Mother’s Day needed to be camp and heightened and inventive in its brutality, or at least coolly nihilistic like The Strangers. But it’s just a lot of fast cuts, a saleable title and confirmation of Rebecca De Mornay’s whereabouts. The victims are commendably horrid. The denouement is suitably medieval. But the Koffin family were a lot more fun without the realism and Dr Phil speak.