Mom (1991) Review by RevTerry

From what I understand, I'm fairly lucky. My mother and I get along relatively well, and not everyone has a decent relationship with their biological birthing vessel. Aside from organically and painfully growing me, my mom was instrumental in my love of cinema and music, which is like 90% of my personality. As a result, when I run into people chronically unschooled in the classics, I secretly blame their parenting. She also edits her adult son's trashy movie reviews for errors weekly so you can thank her for all the fancy comma work (read: functional text). Don't get me wrong-- we have our beef, but She didn't listen to shit like the Osmonds when I was a kid and never made anyone go to a church (that I know of), so I think she's pretty cool. More importantly, she still loves me despite being well informed of my sordid past behavior and historically inept style choices (baggy shorts, ball chain necklace, all that shit). She has even seen me cry naked (multiple times) and still accepts my calls. You are just not going to find that kind of loyalty elsewhere in the world. Mothers are powerful things for obvious reasons.  That's why everyone from Big Tymers to Dean Martin has a song describing their maternal relationship. It's the same love that keeps the Bates Motel open and makes Jason crawl out of the lake. Whether bad or good, a mother is a significant factor in what you become and the things you do. If you exist at all, there was a point when you were just a parasite gestating inside one. They represent an origin for all and a lifeline for many of us. So it would be somewhat fucked up if, in her golden years, Madre started eating people, like in Mom (1991)
A dented pick up truck pulls into a remote bus station on a dark night. In a fit, the grizzled driver gets out and forces the passenger, a young pregnant female, to exit the vehicle. There's some arguing, but after unloading her luggage, he speeds off leaving the girl behind. The mother-to-be makes a seat from her suitcase, strikes up a cigarette and goes about making one-sided conversation with the only other person around, a menacing stranger (Brion James) semi-covered by shadows. The interaction is quick, however, because after removing his nighttime sunglasses and saying something mean, the man tackles the girl to the ground. Transforming into something with sharp teeth and googly eyes, the invasive new acquaintance bites down on the woman's pregnant belly. The film jumps to the residence of senior citizen Emily Dwyer (Jeanne Bates), in the middle of watching her reporter son Clay (Mark Thomas Miller) on the local news. Looking for someone to rent out her son's old room, she is soon contacted by an eccentric by the name of Nester Duvalier (the baby eater from before) and being a trusting individual, she takes him in without so much as a deposit. The new roomies form a sort of bond, and after some initial miscommunications, begin dining with each other nightly. Clay isn't as thrilled about his mom's new homie and begins to grow suspicious after finding her chowing down on the homeless behind a dumpster. At some point there is a kitchen fire, more people get snacked on, and we all learn a lesson about family values.
Patchy and erratic, the story plays like a timid supernatural soap opera armed with some unique takes on various genre tropes. Its draped in almost sincere horror, but the core is something closer to a sappy TV drama, infused with quiet situational humor. The writing jumps around a lot and seemingly leaves enough developing plot points with every shift for several other films. Starting with amusing cliche horror that could just as efficiently proceed a frugal An American Werewolf in London (1981) rip off, the plot instead diverts toward a strange mix of slapstick humor and personal drama. Along the lines of an 80s sitcom pilot, it nonchalantly moves on from a more drastic conflict into a theme that could be wrapped around various entertaining family predicaments. It's always uneven, but the constant sway from horror, comedy and dry strife somehow blend into a functional slice-of-life format that holds up through a majority of the film. While keeping a mostly understated front, there is a surreal tone that lives under the surface, as if a more colorful script existed at some point before being sown into a tweed suit jacket. There is a lot the movie doesn't tell you, but for the most part, the ambiguity works in its favor. The type of creature in question is never explicitly named, and the in-universe rules to its existence are never explained. None of the supernatural matters are answered, less as a flaw and more the side effect of being a small emotional story set in a larger world. The lore gives only hints of details outside of its immediate and relatively short-sighted scope. Its ending is uncharacteristically brutal, but just as fitting, as the film never goes quite the way you might think it should.  Without warning, it sheds all its comedy and just goes for a somewhat effective, untelegraphed gut-punch. I'm not sure if it nails the desired effect, but it makes an interesting fucked up ride either way.
 
There is a shit ton of movies in the monstrous family member subgenre, most with extremely descriptive titles. Mom was released amidst a slew of supernatural parents including a sexy alien stepmom played by Kim Basinger (My Stepmother Is an Alien 1988) and a ghost dad that hasn't aged very well at all (Ghost Dad 1990). Although the movie’s basic concept is similar, its tone takes a darker, more severe route than the family-friendly counterparts like My Mom's a Werewolf (1989).  Those expecting a slimy, practical gore-laden slapstick number, like Rabid Grannies (1988), might be disappointed as well since the film is more restrained than its cover implies. If anything, it is closest to being a grumpy, maternal based counterpart for oddball fantasy flicks like Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills (1997) and My Demon Lover (1987). The plot takes cues from classic monster flicks, consciously subverting some tropes and laying hard into others. The better part of the focus is on the frantic Clay Dwyer as he attempts to deal with his mother's affliction and complain his way through incredible, disgusting or generally fucked up situations. Similar themes would be explored to an exaggerated degree over the next two years with Dead Alive (1992) and Ed and His Dead Mother (1993). A little ahead of the game, Mom never reaches out toward their edge, playing its ridiculous and murderous events through somewhat tasteful confines. There are a few promising themes that get left unrealized in the mix, but what it does end up sticking with works for it on its own terms.
In contrast to its story, the film's production is mostly uniform if not a little uninspired. The editing kind of holds the whole thing together keeping a similar pace through the uneven plot and avoiding a crawl. Erring on the generic side, the camera work is competent but sticks to safe well-worked angles. There is only a handful of locations, specifically Mom’s house, and a few dark alleys to eat people in. Monster effects are noticeably conservative, and in the bulk of the film, involve only sharp teeth and contact lenses. At its most developed, the design on the beast resembles a premature Howling werewolf crossed with the Beetlejuice snake, with both Nester and Emily Dwyer having distinct features respectively. It holds up well, partly because it keeps it brief. Blood and gore are limited as well but are able to keep their intended impact throughout. Despite its usual place and appearance on the shelves of the VHS rental store, its explicit content is closer mainstream horror from the same era. The only real blemish that can't be folded into the style of the film is the soundtrack. I can't tell if the music is terrible or just incorrectly placed, but it never gets the job done and leaves key moments without support.
Mom was written and directed by film editor Patrick Rand. Rand was mostly working for Roger Corman at the time and fit the production between his duties on evil-baby flick The Unborn (1991) and the erotic thriller In the Heat of Passion (1992). Outside of the film, Rand works exclusively as an editor with about fifteen credits to his name including Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989), Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994) and, most recently, something called Baby Einstein: Discovering Shapes (2007). The script was Co-written by Kevin Watson, whose notable works include a small role in the 1996 Fred Williamson/Larry Cohen collaboration Original Gangstas (1996) and an uncredited appearance as “Plumber” in the 2000s Pink Panther movie. As of a March 2018 update, he is slated to make his own directorial debut with an independent superhero flick titled Bronze Barons. Replicant and under-appreciated genre regular Brion James plays the sinister tenant and catalyst Nester. A perfect match for the comic book foil, James is one of the highlights of the film; unfortunately, his character is stomped out early on in the tale. The films titular “mom,” Emily Dwyer is played by late veteran Jeanne Bates whose extensive career had already spanned fifty years by 1991. Bates’ legacy includes over one hundred and forty titles counting multiple David Lynch films, the original Twilight Zone and a Die Hard. She puts personality into what could be a cushy old lady character and seems to have fun with the people-eating. Stella Stevens and Art Evans make cameos along with a grip of other semi-recognizable regulars from the 80s/90s. As the main character and next to cinemas unsung heroes, Mark Thomas Miller’s acting comes across as a low point, although it is nothing too damaging. At worst, his grinding tone and whiny nature work for the type of tension the character Clay Dwyer carries by design.
Mom (1991) is an unstirred cup of dry VHS family turmoil, quirky dark comedy, and classic wolf(wo)man tropes. If a little underwhelming at times, it's always just strange enough to keep my attention. It has its own unexpected way of doing things, for better or worse, and takes some worthwhile stabs at tropes from multiple genres. I dig it, and it seems to benefit from return visits. Depending on your situation, it might even be one to watch with your own mother since it's considerably tame and ends in a bummer like a Lifetime movie (not that all moms like Lifetime movies [mine doesn't], or that only mom's watch them either...). I don't know what I would do if my mother turned into a vagrant devouring creature of some kind. I would like to hope I would be more supportive than bitch-ass Clay. I'm pretty sure she would help me out if I started eating hobos. Plus, where else would I find an unpaid editing staff that was both as loving and brutally, soul-crushingly critical?
1h 35min | 1991
Director: Patrick Rand
Writers: Patrick Rand, Kevin Watson

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Review by:
RevTerry

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