Suburban Grindhouse Memories – Double Feature of MOTHER’S DAY (1980) and NIGHTMARE (1981)
SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES:
“If You Survive the Day, Will You Survive the Night?”
By Nick Cato
Sometime in 1983 (despite racking my brain, I can’t recall if it was March or October), a double feature hit the NY/NJ area that turned out to be one of the most brutal experiences I’ve ever had in a movie theater. Someone had decided to re-release 1980’s MOTHER’S DAY and 1981’s NIGHTMARE (a.k.a. NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN) on the same bill, and this young gorehound couldn’t have been happier as I had missed each one upon their initial release. I couldn’t find the actual newspaper ad, so I attempted to recreate one (see above), only a tag line placed above the twin posters said “If You Survive the Day, Will You Survive the Night?” And by the time the second feature ended, I saw that a few people almost didn’t!
MOTHER’S DAY ran a wicked late night TV ad campaign when released in 1980; horror fans thirsted at its promises of Drano and electric knife attacks (YouTube it if you don’t believe me) and in my case, my parents had said “Who the hell do they make these movies for?” I silently said “ME!!!” Needless to say, I was psyched when I entered the (now defunct) Fox Twin Cinema and the first feature began to unreel.
If you haven’t seen it, MOTHER’S DAY is not exactly a pleasant film, despite its few instances of dark humor and the three entertaining antagonists (two murdering/rapist sons and their slightly unbalanced mother). The plot is pure exploitation: Three girlfriends go for a weekend get-away camping trip and become victims to the crazed clan. After the two sons (named Ike and Addley) kidnap the girls by making their sleeping bags escape-proof , they dump them in the back yard of their isolated two-story home and proceed to rape them under the moonlight…as their spooky-looking, elderly Mother cheers them on and takes pictures. The audience, which was made up of mostly high school-aged patrons, remained silent throughout this uncomfortable sequence. To this day I list this as one of the top ten most disturbing scenes of all time, mainly due to the mother’s gleeful facial expressions during such a horrific attack.
The film does build some fine tension; after being raped and severely beaten (one of the girls is even killed), the two survivors plan their revenge, and this is where MOTHER’S DAY becomes more than a standard rape/revenge film: it turns into a slasher/revenge hybrid and features the aforementioned scenes of Drano being poured down one brother’s throat, a TV being smashed over another brother’s head, a plugged-in electric carving knife put to good use, plus an antenna shoved into one brother’s throat, and more mayhem than you can shake an amputated arm at. AND…just when our ladies think they’re safe (SPOILER ALERT!), a mutated sibling of the brothers named Queenie hops over some hedges to extract her own revenge in a genuine shock ending.
There’s a lot of goofs in this one (even during the infamous opening decapitation scene, where blood splashes across a woman’s face even before her boyfriend’s head is hacked into!), but its flaws still don’t hurt its overall intensity factor. MOTHER’S DAY is one of the most brutal R-rated horror films I’ve ever seen, evidenced by the audiences’ complete silence throughout the film.
Next up was 1981’s NIGHTMARE (known more commonly as NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN), a film I remembered seeing TV commercials for, but never paying it much mind. By the time it was over, I had become a head-over-heels fan, and have written extensively about it over the years on top of showing it to countless people on both VHS and DVD. And the odd thing is, NIGHTMARE is a standard, by-the-numbers, “psycho released too early from a mental institution” film, complete with bad acting and a couple of tedious stretches. But for some reason, it WORKS in ways few other slasher films do.
George Tatum is released from an institution after being placed on experimental medication (which is barely explained in the film). He travels from somewhere north of New York down to Florida to murder his family, wasting innocent bystanders along the way. Unlike most films of its kind, NIGHTMARE’s graphic gore sequences are actually scary and hard to watch, especially the infamous double-homicide finale where George flashes back to the time when, as a child, he murdered his dad and his mistress with an axe…a scene that’s shown in quick hints throughout the film, making it nearly impossible to handle once it’s finally shown in full. It was the first time I actually SWEATED watching a horror film, and afterwards, I saw about six people standing outside the theatre, leaning against the wall, actually collecting themselves over the insane images they had just seen. How many FRIDAY THE 13th or HALLOWEEN sequels ever did that to someone?
This grueling double feature was unique from all of my other grindhouse experiences due to the fact both films kept the crowd in submission: both were serious doses of hardcore horror that—at the time—no one was expecting, other than those who had seen them a couple years earlier. My friends and I agreed we felt like someone had punched us in the face for the past three hours, and with a very few exceptions, we had not gone through a single or double feature quite this barbaric since.
Both of these films hold up well today, although they may not be as intense to hardcore horror fans in light of some of the ultra-graphic splatter films that have come after them. But it’s not just the gore FX that made MOTHER’S DAY and NIGHTMARE so gruesome and horrific: each film was a rebellious work of no-holds-barred anarchy that’s seldom seen in the theater today, in any genre. They’re films today’s multiplex crowds just won’t get to behold.
(MOTHER’S DAY will be released on blu-ray in a deluxe edition in September, 2012, and NIGHTMARE finally came to DVD the summer of 2011 and quickly sold out. Today it can be found on the second hand market for as high as $99.00).
© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato