Friday, September 21, 2012

LIE #45: The “Mom” Is a Harsh Mistress

Mom (1991; Patrick Rand) can only be recommended if you are a horror-comedy completist, or working on your graduate thesis on the topic.
Not to say there aren’t moments of almost pure genius, but they are few and far between, and I just don’t know if you should spend your time on this movie.

(I watched Mom about five weeks ago, and I’m mainly going by my memory—mainly because I dread having to go back over the film to find the good parts; the “bad parts” were that bad...)

Screened as part of The Moon Is a Dead World’s “Halloween 15 Movie List” blogathon, and currently available on Nflix InstaVue, this schizoid flick starts well, with cult icon Brion James (RIP) as some sort of ill-defined demon, toying with and then slaughtering a sexy hitchhiker (a pre-Babylon 5/post-The Hidden Claudia Christian).

For me, the flick’s wishy-washiness towards ever locking down what sort of monster it was showing was a great hurdle never properly overcome.
The movie ping-pongs between horror and comedy (and in that specific genre, often between sophomoric sitcom hijinks, and subtle, dark humor), and that sort of quicksand environment is not helped by the audience’s uncertainty with what sort of critter we’re dealing with.  

Mom isn’t a werewolf (so no worries about the moon); or vampire (she can go out in the daylight if she has to), but she’s sort of a demonic combination, with severe flesh-eating zombie tendencies.
It’s hard to understand why the filmmakers never even just simply called out, “My mother is a demon!” and leave it at that.

After James bites Mom and “turns” her,
it was amusing seeing the still-somewhat-kind old lady fatten up and treat her victims (usually skid row bums) “nice” before tearing their throats out; and these segments had a nice, “better episode of The X-Files” vibe about them: the monster is given sympathy and depth.
Meanwhile, Mom’s dialog with either fellow monster James, or her confused and resentful son, is straightforward, and becomes increasingly witty as a macabre problem is discussed earnestly, or with gallows humor as desperation sets in.

But the dialog among the “normals” is atrocious, and utterly derails whatever greater points could have been made: A grown man’s problems cutting the apron strings is a situation far too many of us are familiar with here at the start of the 21st Century—and one that is only going to get worse as the kids who’ve been “helicopter parented” get older.

As such, “momism” been a fertile field for both comedy and horror mixed together in varying amounts, from Carl Reiner’s cult comedy Where’s Poppa? (1970), to the infamous Psycho (1960), not to mention 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate, or Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive.

Specific monsters have such great tropes about them, that there could have been plenty said about maternal relations in contemporary North America. Metaphorically, lycanthropy in mother could be a stand-in for menopause; and vampirism is rich territory to explore where mater is concerned.

The tonal shifts in Mom make me think that two separate scripts were staple-gunned together and rewritten—by someone for whom English is a second language—and I feel Mom is a lost opportunity to use the horror genre to say something genuine.

Mom is very much influenced by John Landis’ problematic An American Werewolf in London, I feel—even down to using the “Landis Font” that has been used in all his films since National Lampoon’s Animal House.

This highly inconsistent tone is very much in evidence in Landis’ 1983 picture, a film I can appreciate for its historical value but don’t honestly like—in the early 1980s “Werewolf Sweepstakes,” Joe Dante’s The Howling may not be as supposedly “groundbreaking” style-wise as Landis’ flick, but it is overall a more consistent and effective film—
and 1981’s Wolfen (directed by Michael Wadleigh, and several others, uncredited), while inconsistent, has a special place in my heart for its far-reaching sociopolitical message(s), groovy visual style, and its proto-X-Files duo of male-female cops, with the grizzled, paranoid Homicide dick—who’s seen everything—teamed with the rational scientist.

An American Werewolf in London didn’t click with me on its initial release (I actually saw it at a Fangoria-sponsored press screening then), nor about two years ago when I viewed it again on DVD.
The film is neither funny enough; nor consistent enough with its supernatural “rules” concerning the werewolf and the undead. If anything, Landis’ monster seems to be more like the Canadian Wendigo, than the Northern European lycanthrope.

That absolute nerdism aside, I didn’t like the “snark” provided by the rock’n’roll soundtrack, and personally, the idea to shoot Rick Baker’s (admittedly excellent) special makeup effects in bright light wasn’t a good one.
Meanwhile, keeping the finished werewolf monster suit so hidden was another disappointment—I felt like the victim of a bait-and-switch.

Landis’ film really feels like a first draft that egotism didn’t let rewrite, and hubris granted by its eventual financial success (guaranteed by the nudity, gore and heavily over-hyped werewolf makeup effects) has covered up.
Even as a kid, I didn’t think this film went far enough—and what a lost opportunity to comment on clueless Yankee students backpacking in foreign lands, right? (And because the title of Landis’ movie harkens to Mark Twain’s satirical fantasy, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, I’m doubly disappointed that commentary about the “cousins” is kept to the level of stolen children’s balloons and Jenny Agutter’s lovely body.)

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