Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mommy's Epitaph (1987): Or When The Cougar Prowls, The Rat Eats Well

Greetings and salutations, friends! Once more the skies blacken, dogs scurry with tucked tails through filthy alleys, the very young and very old cry without cause, and war crows from the Hinterlands gorge themselves on the fleshy eyes of mine enemies. That's right, the Duke of DVD is back once again to hold you face-down in the over-full bucket of cinematic offal, ignoring your futile thrashing until your movements subside, your legs weakly jerking as you finally give over to the awesome. As most of you, my loyal readers, know, I have been on a Mario Bava kick of late. Working away in subterranean dungeons, my brow furrowed in concentration, the cacophony of tortured moans echoing through the blackened halls, I labor with love, crafting these reviews for you so that you may enjoy one small slice of heaven before the weight of the world crushes your pitiful souls.

One cannot live by cake alone, however. Sometimes we must cast off the trappings of film royalty and delve into the chamberpot of the silver screen, picking up and examining choice nuggets, letting their odour fill our senses, perhaps touching the tip of our tongues to their surface to fully discern what makes them great. I speak, of course, of Troma; that shambling corpse of a movie studio that takes the term "shoestring", bends it over a rotting sofa, then rapes it repeatedly and messily. A cleansing of the palette is sometimes needed, and Troma serves this purpose like no other.

What festering abortion awaits us this time? Let us explore, shall we?

Mommy's Epitaph appears to have been filmed over a dull weekend by some hardcore Troma-ites who knew they had something special on their hands, and just went for it. It is the very definition of The Manifesto, and as you will see, brings the goods with gusto and verve. Our movie opens with a family arriving at their new digs. We have Forrest (Jimmy Williams), the doting father, and Martha (Delores Nascar(!)) the cougar in heat. Along with them we have Amy (Natasha Pavlovich) the 16 year old daughter, and the aged grandmother Virginia (Liz Kane). It seems the daughter is fairly unhappy with the family having to move and is worried about making new friends, etc. We cut to the next day as daddy drives her to school.

"Isn't it beautiful honey, our own private Idaho. Complete with plenty of backyard corpse burial room!"

Soon a painter arrives, having been hired by Martha to paint some of the bedrooms. It seems that Martha has an insatiable appetite for the menfolk. She wastes no time in slipping into a skimpy negligee and attempting to seduce the unsuspecting painter guy. Mr. Painter is having none of it, though, and rebuffs her efforts. She immediately gets furious and runs out of the room, returning moments later armed with a large kitchen knife! She repeatedly stabs the painter in the back before he turns around, slumping against the wall. A few more stabs to the chest and he's nearly done for, sliding down the wall with a look of horror on his face, but Martha isn't done, oh no!

"I wanted you to use paint on my walls, not blood, you heathen!"

Now, friends, up until this point in the film, I was fairly bored. Nothing much was happening, and my attention was slipping. The brutal stabbing was waking me up, but I wasn't impressed until, as the painter's body was sliding down the wall, Martha fucking slaps his face, leaving a bloody hand-print! That, my friends, is brilliance! A little coup de grace that punctuates any brutal stabbing. Now I was interested to see where things were going, and the film didn't let me down!

Next up we see poor Forest digging a shallow grave out in the back yard and burying the hapless painter. It seems he has had to cover up for his wife's murderous tendencies before, and has come to peace with the fact that he's married to a psychopath that he still loves and cares about. It also helps matters that Martha polishes his scepter after he showers off from his labors in the backyard. A little knob-gobbling goes a long way towards men accepting the fact that their significant other is a murdering cunt.

"Remember honey, you said that the next time you killed that I'd get to go in through the backdoor..."

The next day at school, Amy meets Wayne, a studly, bouffant-haired gump who excels at sports and general douchebaggery. It doesn't take a super genius to recognize he's cougar bait in waiting. Meanwhile, Forrest goes to see a local psychiatrist by the name of Shirley. He's going for his wife's sake, he tells her, and spouts out what will be the first of several awesome lines of dialogue in the movie: "You gotta help my wife, doc. See, she's got this thing for nightgowns..." The doc says she'll try to help but that she needs to see Martha to do so. Later that night, Amy is getting ready for bed when suddenly a filthy, bloodied man runs into her room and mumbles incoherently at her before running off. Screaming for help, Amy freaks as both her grandma and dad try to console her, saying she must have imagined it. That's when they notice the bloody hand-print on her shoulder!

"How in the blue fuck did you get your period on your shoulder?!"

It seems Mr. Painter wasn't quite as dead as we all previously thought, despite being stabbed multiple times in the back and chest (not to mention slapped and buried!). Forrest goes out to check the grave (which the painter took the time to fill back in after his exit). While kneeling over to check, the painter hacks him in the back with a pick axe! Poor Forrest, que lastima!

"Picky picky."

Out for more revenge, our heroic painter heads back into the house. Searching from room to room, he is confronted by Martha. Here we have some more awesome lines of dialogue, it plays out like this:

Martha: "I knew you couldn't stay away! I figured you would suffocate in the grave. God, you stink! Did the dog piss on you?"

Painter: "You BITCH!"

"Ugh, this is worse than those double-stuffed burritos I had last night!"

Then she pulls out a double barrel and blows out his stomach, launching him out the 2nd story window! Martha coolly walks over to the window and sneers down at his (for real this time) corpse. The three women of the house sit around the kitchen table to decide what to do. Amy wants a funeral for her dearly departed father, but Martha tells them all that this is out of the question, because the authorities would be notified. They instead opt for an in-house funeral, complete with black dresses and lots of candles. Dear old dad is laid out in his best suit on a bed. They cry, and Amy screams at her mother that she hates her.

Even brutal murders can be solved by a little family breakfast-time.

Cut to the next morning at breakfast and inexplicably everyone is all smiles. Martha offers to drive Amy to school, which she graciously accepts. Later that day, while Amy is off laughing and flirting like a whore with Wayne at school, Grandma and Martha are sitting out on the back porch of their house having cocktails. Out of nowhere, the good Doctor Shirley shows up. Pretending she's a neighbor welcoming the family to the 'hood, she quickly ingratiates herself with Martha and they become fast friends. We see them walking around the mall shopping, and then enjoying a light lunch. The doc starts gently prying into Martha's psyche, asking pointed questions about Amy and such. When the subject turns to how Amy is growing up and noticing men, Martha flies into a rage.

"So, I hear your mom likes to slobber on men's crotches..."

Things calm down, however, with the most awesome cameo ever. The callow-faced, mulleted visage of Warren (R.W. Munchkin(!!!!)) graces the screen, bidding the doctor hello. It seems he's a patient of the doc's and basically rats her out in front of Martha as being a doctor, which obviously rouses Martha's suspicions. Later the next day, Martha figures out that Dr. Shirley isn't a neighbor at all. Busted!

"Don't mind me, I'll just stand here being awesome."

Meanwhile, Amy and Wayne are planning to elope (taking Amy's grandma with them!). While they are planning naughty things, Shirley goes over to see Martha. Wandering through the dark house calling for her, Shirley is startled by the dog. As she's bending down to pet it, Martha comes out and hits her over the head with a crowbar!

Shirley plans to employ the Tijuana Diet in order to lose weight.

We cut to the basement, where a shirtless (though still wearing a bra) Dr. Shirley is tied up to the rafters, hanging. While she pleads to Martha to let her go, Martha presents a rat. That's right, a rat! It's very much a real live rat as she dangles it over the struggling Shirley. She lets it's front paws grasp and, um, paw at Shirley's exposed flesh before finally presenting us all with her awesome idea: putting the rat in a tin bucket, and then strapping the bucket onto Shirley's bare stomach. Now, this unto itself might be fairly unpleasant, but she goes the extra mile by using a fucking blowtorch to heat up the bucket, causing the heat-crazed rat to tunnel its way out through the path of least resistance! Shirley screams like the damned, which she now is unfortunately. The tunneling rat does its work, and we get a nice effect shot of it leaving a hole somewhere on Shirley's now-dead body.

"Despite all my rage, I'm still just a rat in a, um, cadaver."

Martha heads upstairs and finds Amy packing a suitcase as grandma watches. Furious, she locks Amy in her room. Wayne stops by trying to find Amy, but is rejected by Martha. Meanwhile, Granny knows she needs to get Martha out of the house, even for a little bit, in order to free Amy, so she pours out all of Martha's precious booze. Finding the cupboard bare, Martha heads out in the family truckster to find more. Grandma tries to free Amy but it ain't doin' so she goes to call 911. Before she can speak to anyone, however, Martha returns, not with booze, but with.... wait for it.... an electric knife turkey slicer! She goes to town on poor Granny, hacking and slashing until Grandma is a cooked goose.

Speaking of cooked goose, Wayne returns to rescue Amy. He tries to get some friendly talk going with Martha, playing along as it were. Martha of course tries to seduce him. Seeing that she's not getting anywhere, she leaves the room, finds a bucket, fills it with kerosene, comes back to where Wayne is, and dumps it over his head! She then proceeds to toss lighted matches at him as he dances around the room trying to avoid her. Finally, he sees an opening and lays Martha out with an uppercut to the jaw! He heads upstairs and kicks Amy's door down. They quickly flee the house and get out to the car.

Upon opening the driver's side door, however, Wayne and Amy are shocked to see Martha, who has apparently woken up from being punched out and has hidden in the backseat, just waiting on the couple. She smirks as she tosses a lit match at the unlucky Wayne, who goes up in flames faster than the Vicar's mummified albino walrus he kept around in his study until an errant spark from his fireplace immolated it. Amy screams, Martha laughs as Wayne burns to death.

"I signed up to attend Burning Man, not this!!"

We then see an increasingly tipsy Martha directing Amy to dig yet another grave in the backyard, this one meant for Wayne of course. While her back is turned, however, Amy strikes! She swings the shovel right at Martha's neck.... and it freeze-frames on us. At this point I thought the credits would roll, but oh no! The director has one more card up his sleeve.

We cut to Amy getting into the family car, bags packed. She buckles up and the camera pans around to show that her mother's corpse is sitting in the passenger seat, leaking blood everywhere. Amy has clearly been driven insane as she turns to her mother and has an imaginary conversation about where to next. Setting her sights on Salt Lake City (watch out Utah!), she drives away. Fin.

"Buckle up, ma! Oh, wait... never mind."

So what started out as a boring exercise in being boring turned out to have quite a bit to enjoy about it. Make no mistake, this is a Troma film. At one point a principal character trips over a power cord, looks back at the camera in fright, and then continues the scene. In another, the boom mike is clearly visible hovering over the actor's heads. However, the effects were done well, in particular the rat scene. The stabbings looked real enough, as did the shotgun blast to the stomach that ended the poor painter's day (and life). The acting was somewhat wooden for the most part, but I thought Delores Nascar (that's right, NASCAR) did fairly well, and Natasha Petrovich did well too. Speaking of her, two years after filming Mommy's Epitaph she would compete (and lose) in the Miss America pageant as Miss California. Unfortunately, she doesn't get her boobages out to play, but we can't have everything, now can we?

All in all, it was a budget effort, but a solid one that entertained me once the fireworks started. If it happens to cross your path (not likely, I know), then I suggest you sit back into your overstuffed chair, purse your lips thoughtfully, clutch your snifter of brandy in your claw-like hand, and chuckle with mirth as the Troma goodness washes over you. Mommy's Epitaph earns a solid 2 Thumbs Up from your beloved Duke. Any time you have a film wherein a stabbing victim earns an open-handed slap to the face post-stabbing, well, then, friends... you have something special.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for such an entertaining review!

J. Astro said...

Wow, I sat through this on a whim one night while digging through that 'Toxie's Blood Bank' set, and I gotta admit, I -never- thought I'd see such an appreciative review of MOMMY'S EPITAPH. :) The rat scene does kinda "stick to your ribs", eh?

The Vicar of VHS said...

Ah, Duke, your magnanimity knows no bounds! There's room in your big beefy heart for everything from the dizzy heights of Bava's kickassery to the misguided but still entertaining efforts of those more directorially challenged. :D You and I learned long ago there is no virtue in refusing to allow yourself to be entertained, be it by a wonderful atmospheric shot of the fog-shrouded hinterlands, or by the ill-timed, hilarious appearance of a boom mike. If more noblemen were as inclusive in their glee as you, my dear friend, what a wonderful world this would be!

MOMMY'S EPITAPH indeed sounds like a Glorious Failure, and one I might avail myself of next time I visit the Duchy. After my sceptical viewing of THE HORROR OF THE HAIRY HUMONGOUS HUNGANG was repaid with such skull-banging hilarity, I know never to doubt your word when it comes to the joys of even the most unseemly cinematic turd-nuggets.

Shine on, you crazy diamond!

The Duke of DVD said...

Thanks everyone!

@J. Astro - Yup, I fished this nugget out of my very own Toxie's Blood Bank as well. It is a veritable treasure trove of budget-minded flicks. In fact, I think the cost of the Blood Bank set itself was more than the budget for this movie in particular.

@Vicar - As usual, your praise means the world to me. I shall now lie in repose upon a slate block under a cloudless night sky, smiling. Thank you sir.

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