Mom (1991): Mama is All Crazee Now

Matty shines a light on a unique little shocker well worth rediscovering.

An interesting if slightly uneven blend of horror, comedy and drama, MOM nevertheless succeeds as a quietly affecting exploration of what it’s like to witness a loved one succumb to a disease that completely alters them, be it dementia, cancer, or addiction. 

The sole directorial offering of Corman acolyte Patrick Rand (editor of Streetwalkin’ (1985), Overexposed (1990), and The Unborn (1991)), Mom — a kind of proto Cronos (1993) by way of An American Werewolf in London (1981) — is anchored by three richly drawn characters: sinister drifter Nestor Duvalier (Brion James); career-minded newsreader Clay Dwyer (Mark Thomas Miller); and the titular matriarch, Clay’s dear ol’ ma Emily (Jeanne Bates). Though James’ highly mannered performance is a bit of a Marmite affair, the emotionally charged dynamic between Miller and Bates packs a punch as Clay navigates love, revulsion, anger, and, eventually, bittersweet acceptance when Emily becomes a flesh-eating fiend after being bitten by the monstrous Nestor. In a wonderfully impressionistic touch, the specifics of what Nestor is and what he turns Emily into are left vague. “Vampire, werewolf, ghoul — it’s all the same,” the creepy vagrant snarls. Instead, Rand’s well-written script is more concerned with the moral dilemma Emily’s beastly transformation poses: whether the duty-bound Clay should help his increasingly out-of-control mother feed on local transients, or whether he should stop her. Simultaneously adorable, terrifying and tragic, Bates is excellent. A contract player for Columbia in the ‘40 but best known for her roles in David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977) and Mulholland Drive (2001), Mom was the first of two back-to-back quirky, Christmas-set shockers the star appeared in prior to her death in 2007. Despite being released later, Bates followed her brilliant work here with a supporting slot in Brian Yuzna’s underappreciated Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (1990).   

While relying on several contrivances to keep the story moving (Emily gains super strength but can’t break down a flimsy bedroom door, for example), Mom benefits from a subtly strange atmosphere and some robustly ghoulish FX by Brian Penikas (Alien Nation (1988), The Frighteners (1996), Jeepers Creepers (2001), and, more recently, Army of the Dead (2021)). Refreshingly understated, the film’s photography (by David Sperling — The Boogeyman (1980), Street Trash (1987)) is stylish yet never showy, and Rand crafts a plethora of unusual and memorable images that are enhanced by Tremors (1990) composer Ernest Troost’s haunting score.

Produced by Cassian Elwes in partnership with Eduard Sarlui and Moshe Diamant’s Epic Productions — a union that also yielded Men at Work (1990) and Leather Jackets (1991)Mom was shot in three-and-a-half weeks in February 1989 on a $500,000 budget. It hit U.K. video via Entertainment in Video at the fag end of 1990 and landed on U.S. tape through RCA Columbia on 13th June ‘91; a pair of distributors Epic had longstanding output deals with.

USA ● 1991 ● Horror ● 95mins

Jeanne Bates, Mark Thomas Miller, Brion James ● Dir. Patrick Rand ● Wri. Patrick Rand, story by Patrick Rand & Kevin Watson

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