Mother’s Day (1980) (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Dec 20, 2023
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Mother’s Day (1980) (4K UHD Review)


Charles Kaufman

Release Date(s)

1980 (November 28, 2023)


Troma Entertainment/Saga Films (Vinegar Syndrome)
  • Film/Program Grade: C-
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: B
  • Extras Grade: A-

Mother's Day (1980) (4K UHD)



While Mother’s Day wasn’t officially a Troma Entertainment release, in some ways it still helped to set the template for what the company would become. When Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz founded the company back in 1974, they initially focused on the sexploitation market. Through the mid-Eighties, they produced and/or distributed films like Squeeze Play!, Waitress!, Stuck on You!, and The First Turn-On! (You may notice a theme in those titles that explains a lot about Troma.) Then along came a little project in 1984 called The Toxic Avenger, and the rest was history. Before that, however, Lloyd’s brother Charles co-wrote and directed Mother’s Day in 1980, offering a similar blend of horror, comedy, outrageousness, and wretched excess. It was really a side project that was distributed by United Film Distribution Company, but it feels like a Troma effort through and through, and it would influence much of their output that followed.

That was probably inevitable, since Mother’s Day turned a tidy profit. It also became a VHS staple during the video store boom in the Eighties, joined on the shelves by likes of Meir Zarchi’s misunderstood I Spit on Your Grave, and earning the wrath of many a parent who may have rented it for their children without doing their due diligence first. Since Mother’s Day couldn’t pass muster with the MPAA, UFD ended up releasing it unrated in the theatres, which helped it land in a home video loophole that resulted in more than one viewer not quite being prepared for what they were about to witness. Not that critics hadn’t tried to warn people, of course. Roger Ebert blasted it on Sneak Previews, and in his zero-star review for The Chicago Sun-Times, he closed by saying that “why anybody of any age would possibly want to see this film remains without an answer.”

Setting aside Ebert’s hypocritical “what the gods get away with, the cows can’t” attitude when it came to horror, his rhetorical question had a pretty obvious answer: sex, violence, and outrageousness sells. (Ebert knew that, of course, since he happily traded in all of those elements with the screenplays that he had written for Russ Meyer.) To be offended by Mother’s Day doesn’t just miss the point; it actually proves the point. Charles and Lloyd Kaufman’s whole raison d’être was offensiveness for offensiveness’ sake, and mission accomplished here. The story, acting, violence, gore, humor, and outrageousness of Mother’s Day are all equally over-the-top. Everything is far too ridiculous to be taken seriously, so naturally critics walked right into the trap and did just that.

Mind you, all of that excess can’t quite be dismissed so blithely, either. Be forewarned that the story for Mother’s Day does trade heavily in rape, degradation, and torture. None of it is treated particularly realistically, but anyone who struggles with separating fantasy from reality may want to give it a wide berth. It’s essentially Deliverance with female leads, male predators, and one sadistic mother overseeing it all. Ultimately, the narrative does turn into something of a rape/revenge drama when the tables are turned toward the end, but this is no Ms. 45. The predators may (or may not) get their just desserts, but Mother’s Day doesn’t really earn the misguided female empowerment that it tries to use as an excuse for everything that happened up to that point.

Kaufman and his co-writer Warren Leight also tried to mix in some hit-or-miss social satire, with vague shots at things like American consumerist culture. Where they get closest to the mark is with some self-referential attacks on the nature of horror viewership. After brothers Ike (Gary Pollard) and Addley (Michael McCleery) capture their victims (Nancy Hendrickson, Deborah Luce, and Tiana Pierce), they force the women to act out violent staged scenarios for their mother (Beatrice Pons), who watches them perform with gleeful satisfaction. It’s here where Ebert’s question regarding why anyone would want to watch this kind of thing had a chance to find its answer, but Kaufman and Leight never really explore that angle. Instead, it’s just another geek show within the geek show. Still, that’s entirely in keeping with the Troma spirit. The whole point was to be as offensive as possible, but not to insult their own viewers in the process. Critics may have been insulted by Mother’s Day, but it was never created for their benefit in the first place. The Kaufmans produced it for one reason only: to make a buck, and in so doing, they tapped into something that would eventually help turn Troma into the stuff of legend.

Cinematographer Joe Mangine shot Mother’s Day on 35 mm film using Arriflex 35BL cameras with spherical lenses, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. This version uses a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, cleaned up and graded for High Dynamic Range in HDR10 only. Mother’s Day may not be a pretty film, but this is a surprisingly pretty presentation of it. Most of the wear and tear that was visible in previous versions has been eliminated, with only the most minor of damage remaining. The fine details are a bit limited by the stocks and lenses that were used, but this is as sharp and detailed as Mother’s Day can possibly look, with smooth grain throughout. (There are a few shots where the focus has always been a bit problematic, but that’s inherent to the original production.) The colors have been intensified here, with richer reds, brighter yellows, and more vibrant greens. The flesh tones do veer a little too ruddy at times, but the slightly cartoonish colors scheme does seem to fit the over-the-top nature of the film. Anyone who has only experienced Mother’s Day on VHS will be in for a shock—in more ways than one. It’s a beautiful version of an inherently ugly film.

Audio is offered in English 1.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English SDH subtitles. It’s a pretty straightforward low-budget mono mix, with the score by Phil Gallo and Clem Vicari Jr. sounding a bit flat and thin, but that was probably just the nature of the synthesizers that they were using. Otherwise, everything is clear with minimal noise, distortion, or other artifacts.

Vinegar Syndrome’s 4K Ultra HD release of Mother’s Day is a two-disc set that includes a Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film. The insert is reversible, with new artwork on one side and alternate theatrical poster artwork on the other. There’s also a slipcover available directly from Vinegar Syndrome featuring the new artwork, limited to the first 7000 units. The following extras are included:


  • Audio Commentary with Charles Kaufman and Rex A. Piano


  • Audio Commentary with Charles Kaufman and Rex A. Piano
  • You’re a Sick Woman! (HD – 32:37)
  • My Brother and Me (HD – 26:54)
  • Writing to Mother (HD – 37:30)
  • The Book of Mother’s Day (HD – 32:55)
  • The Last House in the Woods (HD – 21:31)
  • Cutting Mother (HD – 30:17)
  • Celebrating Mother’s Day (HD – 21:52)
  • Charles Kaufman interviewed by Lloyd Kaufman (HD – 7:55)
  • Interview with Tiana Pierce (HD – 6:53)
  • Messin’ Up in Deep Barons: The Locations of Mother’s Day (HD – 19:10)
  • Archival Interview with Charles Kaufman (HD – 2:29)
  • Charles Kaufman and Darren Bousman Talk Mother’s Day (Upscaled SD – 8:05)
  • Eli Roth on Mother’s Day (Upscaled SD – 13:01)
  • 8 mm Behind-the-Scenes (HD – 10:07)
  • Archival Interview with Rex A. Piano (HD – 1:07)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:17)
  • TV Spot (HD – :32)
  • Multiple Radio Spots (HD – 1:30, 3 in all)

The archival commentary track with Kaufman and Piano was originally recorded for the 1999 Troma Team Video DVD release of Mother’s Day. (Kaufman immediately dates it by indirectly referring to the fact that he’s watching a full-frame version of the film, saying that something wouldn’t have been visible at 1.85:1, but he’s wrong about that. It’s still plainly visible even when matted.) They offer plenty of juicy stories about the production, and identify all of the crew members who make cameo appearances in the film. it really was a family production. They’re certainly self-deprecating about the results—at one point, Kaufman praises one of the actors and notes that he managed to have a vibrant career despite the fact that he worked on this film. They do claim that Mother’s Day has a feminist theme because the women become strong and end up defeating the bad guys—as proof, they mention that one male character is killed with a feminine napkin in his mouth. That’s one perspective, anyway.

The rest of the extras combine new interviews with archival materials. You’re a Sick Woman and My Brother and Me are with actors Nancy Hendrickson and Michael McCleery. Hendrickson talks about how she ended up working on the film after another actor dropped out (her husband was the editor), and she seems a bit bemused by the fact that filmmakers like Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino are fans of it. McCleery relates his early career working on films like The Friends of Eddie Coyle and Harry and Tonto, and offers some interesting perspectives about his experiences on Mother’s Day (including his nervousness about shooting the axe to the crotch gag).

Writing to Mother is with co-writer (and boom operator) Warren Leight, who helped come up with the basic concept—it’s a holiday that he thinks is even scarier than Halloween. He enjoyed the heavy-handed social critique of American culture that he worked into the story. The Book of Mother’s Day is with producer Michael Kravitz, who at one point shows off his original production book for the film with the script broken down according to the schedule that he set. The Last House in the Woods is with production designer Susan Kaufman (once again, it was a family affair) and costume designer Ellen Lutter, both of whom had to beg, borrow, and steal to come up with set dressing and costumes for such a low-budget film. Cutting Mother is with editors Daniel Loewenthal and Richard W. Haines (interviewed separately), who explain how they got involved with Mother’s Day and the challenges of cutting together such a relatively slapdash production. Celebrating Mother’s Day sees the return of Rex A. Piano, whose energetic and uninhibited storytelling was apparently enough that Vinegar Syndrome felt the need to add a separate disclaimer up front that his opinions were entirely his own.

Charles Kaufman interviewed by Lloyd Kaufman is a promo reel that was shot for revival screenings of Mother’s Day, done in the Troma spirit (and edited by their favorite granddaughter). The Interview with Tiana Pierce wasn’t a part of the other interviews, so it’s not clear when it was recorded. Pierce sits down to answer a few brief questions about the film. Messin’ Up in Deep Barons: The Locations of Mother’s Day pairs Piano with Mother’s Day superfan Brandon Hall to revisit the shooting locations for the film. (Once again, Piano gets his own special up-front disclaimer.)

Most of the archival extras were produced for the 2012 Anchor Bay Blu-ray release of Mother’s Day. They include an introduction with Kaufman that goes about as well as could be expected (it’s the return of the electric bread knife). Charles Kaufman and Darren Bousman Talk Mother’s Day was recorded at the 2010 Comic-Con, and it’s really a discussion about Bousman’s 2010 reboot/remake of Mother’s Day. Eli Roth on Mother’s Day is an appreciation by the filmmaker, who calls it one of the smartest and most subversive horror movies of the era. 8 mm Behind-the-Scenes is silent test footage that was shot before the film went into production, with a running commentary by Kaufman. There’s plenty of gore tests, as well as better look at the Queenie makeup that’s briefly glimpsed during the finale of the film. Finally, Archival Interview with Rex A. Piano is an introduction with Piano (no disclaimer this time) that was recorded for the 2015 Blu-ray release from 88 Films in the U.K.

Add in some trailers, TV spots, and radio spots, and that’s a helluva lot of bonus material, but your mileage may vary based on your tolerance for extended interviews. Fortunately, most of these interviews are good ones. It’s a pretty comprehensive collection of previously available extras, too. The only things that are missing are a few brief ones that were available on the Troma Team Video DVD and haven’t been carried forward elsewhere: a bonus scene, a slideshow, a different interview with Kaufman, and a series of short featurettes. (The 88 Films Blu-ray did have a large collection of trailers for other titles, but nothing else directly related to Mother’s Day that’s not offered here.) If you do have that Troma DVD, you’ll probably want to hang onto it, but otherwise this release of Mother’s Day definitely supersedes all others. Even Roger Ebert would be proud of it.

(Okay, no he wouldn’t, but the legacy of Mother’s Day didn’t need his help anyway.)

- Stephen Bjork

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