31 Days of Fright: Flesh Eating Mothers

Bet you didn't realize Jack Nicholson was even in this movie.

Bet you didn’t realize Jack Nicholson was even in this movie.

This January, in support of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre / Multicultural Women Against Rape, friends and family have raised over $1,000, which means I have to watch and write about thirty-one horror movies. I’ll watch (on average) one movie a night, many of them requested by donors, after which I’ll write some things about said movies on this website. Be forewarned that all such write-ups will contain spoilers! Today’s film is micro-budget camp maybe-classic (?) Flesh Eating Mothers, directed by James Aviles Martin. The film was suggested by good friend and donor Margot Keith, hair and makeup artist extraordinaire, as well as just all-around fantastic person. Flesh Eating Mothers is a difficult movie to find in any physical, rent-able form, so I watched the full movie on YouTube.

What happens:

With a significantly lower budget than the other films I’ve watched this month, and a distinct John Waters feel, Flesh Eating Mothers is undercut by camp and broad humour, so keep that in mind with every sentence you read. It opens in winter, with a hunter hurrying through the woods, suddenly spotting blood on the snow. He realizes that blood is his own – his arm has been severed – and that his pursuer, a tired-looking blonde woman, is hot on his heels. She moves to attack him and the hunter shoots, then the title sequence begins. The words “Flesh Eating Mothers” appear on screen, complete with bite sounds (!), then a strange song about suburbia (performed by Sherri Lamar) plays over what seem to be children’s crayon drawings of a residential street scene.

The film opens proper on a post-coital couple in a suburban bedroom. Roddy Douglas (Louis Homyak) and Booty Bernett (Grace Pettijohn), both married to other people, have some pillow talk. Roddy and his wife never have sex anymore, so he often slips out to see Booty under the guise of jogging. Next we see teenage creep, Rinaldi Vivaldo (Neal Rosen, looking a hard thirty), in his bedroom. He’s been suspended from school, so he sits grounded in his bedroom, blasting hard rock and spying on his neighbours’ secret affairs.

Clyde McDormick (Mickey Ross), local police officer, arrives at his ex-wife, Lois’s house, to deliver his alimony cheque (in person, which seems problematic). Lois doesn’t want to see his face and tells him to leave, but Clyde wants to discuss taking care of their young son, Billy, more often. He fears that Lois (Marie Michaels) is always drunk, and wants to remove Billy from what he views as a dangerous environment. Teen friends Linda (Donatella Hecht) and Joyce (Valorie Hubbard) walk home from school, and a prank by some local boys leads resident loner, Jeff Nathan (Robert Lee Oliver), to bump into the two of them. Jeff apologizes when they shout, and the girls (once Jeff is out of earshot) agree he is cute but strange. Linda, we soon realize, is Roddy Douglas’s daughter, and when she returns home from school, he’s about to head out ‘jogging’ again (complete with Hands Across America T-shirt). When Roddy’s wife reminds him he has blueprints to submit, he thinks aloud: “The blueprints … I’ll just make it a quickie.” The film then introduces Mama’s boy Timmy Nolan (Terry Hayes) and his younger brother, who, despite looking like they’re in their mid-twenties, plead with their mom for money for the ice cream truck. The ice cream truck operator is, coincidentally, Joyce’s new boyfriend, Frankie Lemmonjello (Tony DeRiso).

Cold bodies, cold brewskis, good friends.

Cold bodies, cold brewskis, good friends.

Officer Clyde McDormick visits his friend, Dr. Lee Grouly (Michael Fuer), the police medical examiner, in the loosely constructed morgue. (A severed hand rests in the fridge.) They have a few beers and commiserate about his divorce, but then resident hard-ass Commissioner Dixon (Ken Eaton) comes in and starts to criticize them for, say, drinking on the job. Once he leaves, they discuss Dixon’s missing arm, which was apparently taken by a bear during a hunting trip. (Shades of The Revenant!) He accidentally shot his wife during that same trip. (Clearly, Dixon was the hunter we saw in the prologue.) Across town, at a neighbourhood poker game amongst many of the local moms, the players discover that many of them – Rita Vivaldo (Suzanne Ehrlich), Mrs. Shephard (Alley Ninestein), Booty Bernett – have all been sleeping with Roddy Douglas! He’s not just interested in hands across America.

Jeff Nathan returns to the screen and we get a glimpse into his harrowing home life. His muscular, drunk dad waits on the lawn and shoves Jeff to the ground when he arrives. Jeff runs inside to see his mom (Grace Gawthrop) with a black eye. Mr. Nathan (John Daniels) has been drinking again and battering his wife. Jeff insists that he and his mom have to leave, but she can’t bring herself to do it. The film then cuts to Lois, Clyde’s ex-wife, eating a smorgasbord of food items, stuffing her face like an ill-fated guest on a Willy Wonka factory tour. In another house, Roddy and Sylvia Douglas (Katherine Mayfield) finish their unsatisfying sexual encounter, after which Roddy asks, “Have you ever considered an open marriage.” To which Sylvia replies, “Oh my God! … I’m so hungry.” (Clearly, food is on the top of many of these mothers’ minds.)

Clyde again visits his ex, Lois, who we last saw eating a table’s worth of food. He walks in on Lois gnawing at the severed arm of their son, Billy, still partially sheathed in a baseball glove. Clyde staggers backward in the blood-splattered room as Lois advances on him, and Clyde opens fire, killing his ex-wife. When the police arrive on the scene, they’re dubious of his claims that he shot his ex in self-defence. More dubious than any actual police police officers have ever been of a cop shooting someone in self-defence. And they certainly don’t believe his claims that Lois was eating their child. Clyde McDormick is summarily arrested.

We return to Roddy Douglas, in a venereal disease clinic – which looks suspiciously like a rec room with some handmade signs about V.D. posted on the walls – meeting with Dr. Bass (Allen Rickman). Bass’s nurse, Felicia Dodd (Carolyn Gratsch) notes something strange about Mr. Douglas’s V.D. test, but Bass is dismissive, saying if he doesn’t have gonorrhea or syphilis, then he doesn’t care. Jogging home (in a very unusual jogging outfit), Roddy Douglas comes across Mrs. Nathan, having recently been beaten. He acts very sympathetic for a few moments before making a pass at this new mom on his list. (The suggestion is that Mrs. Nathan will be the next of Mr. Douglas’s dalliances.)

Be wary of medical clinics with signs that appear to be written by children.

Be wary of medical clinics with signs that appear to be written by children.

Clyde escapes from police custody and goes to his friend, the medical examiner, who frees Clyde from his handcuffs and corroborates his story: particles of Billy’s flesh were found in Lois’s teeth. But it doesn’t end with Lois: Mrs. Douglas is seen standing over her infant child, looking completely famished. She picks up her child and embraces him, kissing him on the forehead. This slowly turns to him chewing on his ear. When her daughter Linda arrives home, she finds her mother crouching over her baby brother’s body, blood stained all over her mouth. Linda runs in a blind panic into the streets. Her friend, Joyce, meanwhile, is watching as her mother eats a bizarre array of foods in their kitchen. Joyce informs her mother that at the Women’s Coalition Club Dinner – “all the mothers are going to be there!” – she’ll get to meet her new boyfriend, Frankie.

Mrs. Douglas decides her baby is just so cute, she could eat him up.

Mrs. Douglas decides her baby is just so cute, she could eat him up.

Running from her house-turned-abbatoir, Linda runs into her dad making out with another neighbourhood mom. (She’s having a day.) She runs into Jeff Nathan, and though they’re hesitant at first, they share their terrible secrets: Jeff talks about his abusive dad, and Linda talks about her extremely rough afternoon. But when she tells him that her mother ate her baby brother, he starts to laugh uncontrollably. He doesn’t believe her, which makes Linda fear the police won’t either. Nevertheless, they make plans to run away. Jeff is going to try to bring his mother so they can escape his abusive dad. A night rendezvous at the basketball courts is made.

Rinaldi is called down from his room to dinner by him mother, who’s prepared him a menu of very creamy mashed potatoes and milk. She then talks extensively about how veal is made, with calves trapped in very small pens, fed only milk. She begins to force-feed him glass after glass of the white liquid gold, then takes an impressive bite out of his forehead. Rinaldi (looking a bit too old to be veal) is able to break free and flee his house. Jeff sneaks back into his bedroom and hears his parents having another shouting match. But this time, when Mr. Nathan swings at his wife, Mrs. Nathan stops his fist with a new incredible strength. Her face then morphs, Smilex-style, and she bites into her husband’s arm. Across town, Mrs. Nolan is, similarly, eating Timmy’s younger brother.

Jeff escapes out the window again and soon runs into Rinaldi, who’s covered his forehead wound with a bitchin’ doo-rag. They share their parallel experiences with cannibal mothers, though Rinaldi is philosophical about it: “I don’t blame her, really. It’s society’s fault.” They assemble at the basketball court when Timmy, another victim of the flesh-eating mothers, arrives with his sob story of mom cannibalism. “She’s never done anything like that before,” he moans. Dr. Grouly, the medical examiner, has been studying the blood sample from Lois’s body, and has discovered something alarming. A disease, transmitted sexually, has been turning women into cannibals. But before he can talk much about it with Clyde, the Commissioner barges in and Clyde must hide in an evidence closet. Commissioner Dixon suspects Grouly helped Clyde escape, but can’t prove it. While he maligns Grouly’s character, he surreptitiously grabs Grouly’s files on the blood sample. When Dixon leaves, Clyde – who saw the theft happen – volunteers to retrieve the file. Dr. Grouly, meanwhile, will head to the venereal disease clinic with his blood sample.

Dr. Bass, as per usual, doesn’t want to hear Grouly’s medical findings. He kicks him out of his office, but Nurse Dodd, overhearing their talk, reaches out to Dr. Grouly before he leaves. She asks about the blood sample, and, recognizing similar findings with Roddy Douglas’s V.D. test, tells him to seek out Mr. Douglas. She offers to help him once she’s done at the clinic. Meanwhile, the Women’s Coalition Club Mother-Daughter Dinner is underway, and – as you might expect – fraught with peril, given how many mothers are in attendance. Joyce and Linda’s moms are busy treating the dinner as if it were Medieval Times: Dinner and Tournament, which is no surprise to the other moms, who whisper knowingly: “they’re divorced.” Joyce goes to introduce sweat hog Frankie Lemmonjello to her mother, but she’s a little busy eating some other moms. “Oh, mother, how could you?!” Joyce cries. Panic engulfs the dinner.

Mrs. Shephard shows other neighbourhood moms the dangers of gossip.

Mrs. Shephard shows other neighbourhood moms the dangers of gossip.

Joyce and Frank find shelter in the women’s washroom. Joyce opens the door after a few minutes to see if the coast is clear and is startled by Rinaldi, also on the run. The other teenagers (not at the dinner), however, have hatched a plan. Timmy is going to stand outside his house and call for his mother. When she walks outside, Jeff will conk her out with a baseball bat and Linda will bind her in chains until they can find a cure for whatever has afflicted these moms. But when the rubber hits the road, Timmy chickens out and warns his mother of the ambush, sending their plan crashing down in flames.

Back at the Club Dinner, Rinaldi, Joyce, and Frank are on the run. Frank leaves to go to the washroom and Mrs. Douglas – face like Jack Nicholson as the Joker – emerges from around the corner. When she approaches, Rinaldi decks her. They step over her unconscious body, but Frank doesn’t make it. Linda’s mom grabs Frank’s leg and pulls him around a corner to eat him alive. Joyce and Rinaldi continue on until they join the rest of their friends at the basketball courts. Grouly and Dodd, working on a cure, discover that while the disease is sexually transmitted, it only affects women who have had children, but not men. (Thanks, Obama.)

Clyde McDormick, having retrieved the file from the Commissioner’s office, soon finds himself at the basketball courts with the assembled teenagers. They update each other on the flesh-eating mothers, and Clyde tells the kids that the medical examiner is working on a cure. He also warns them the police can’t be trusted. He has a point, as Officer Hitchcock (Morty Kleidermacher, who looks like Frank on 30 Rock) arrives at the courts and, after a tense stand-off with Clyde, shoots him dead. The teenagers run. Realizing they can trust no one but themselves, they decide they have to destroy their mothers. “We are all responsible for our own mothers’ actions,” Rinaldi advises. Jeff wants to wait to see if Dr. Grouly’s cure works. Timmy, however, isn’t willing to wait. He storms off on his own to kill his mom.

The other teenagers find Dr. Grouly and Nurse Dodd and inform them that Clyde McDormick, sadly, has died. But before he was shot, he did tell them one important thing: that Dixon’s wife had the virus! Dr. Grouly immediately confronts Commissioner Dixon with this new information. Dixon believes the disease can’t be stopped: he is sure the cannibal pandemic is punishment for both his and Clyde’s adultery. (So I guess we know why Clyde and Lois split up.) Grouly threatens to go to the papers with the real story of Dixon’s wife and the flesh-eating mothers, so when he leaves in a huff, Dixon calls on his lackey, Officer Hitchcock, and tells him to “take care” of the coroner, “just like he did the last one.” Which is exactly what Hitchcock attempts to do. But when he aims his gun at Dr. Grouly as he’s leaving the Commissioner’s, he’s attacked by three mothers and slowly torn to pieces. Timmy, witnessing the murder from the bushes, waits until the mothers leave and retrieves Hitchcock’s gun.

Hitchcock couldn't have directed a better end for this Hitchcock. (Correction: he 100% could have.)

Hitchcock couldn’t have directed a better end for this Hitchcock. (Correction: he 100% could have.)

Felicia Dodd synthesizes a cure and distributes one syringe of the cure to each teenager. At the very same time, the Commissioner assembles the entire police force to tell them there are cannibals loose in the city, and grants them permission to shoot the cannibal mothers on site. Timmy stalks his mom and Mrs. Douglas, who chat about things like accidentally leaving the iron on and retail sales when they’re not eating people. Linda and Jeff find Mrs. Nathan and Mrs. Vivaldo rooting through the garbage for food. Linda distracts Mrs. V, punching her in the face (good distraction!), while Jeff sneaks up behind his mom and injects the needle into her behind. Mrs. Nolan and Mrs. Douglas, meanwhile, have found a cat to eat, and (trigger warning: cat violence) they rip it in two during a tug of war. Timmy, witnessing the carnage from the bushes, trains the police pistol on his mom, but Dr. Grouly, out of nowhere, lifts Timmy’s gun and squeezes a round off into the air. He passes Timmy the needle and he also injects his mom in the butt with the cure.

Linda, with Mrs. Vivaldo in hot pursuit, runs into Joyce and Rinaldi. They get into a difficult struggle, but Rinaldi succeeds in injecting his own mom with the cure. (They really live by that “responsible for our own mothers’ actions” creed.) Eventually the teenagers each inject their own moms, but nothing really happens. The mothers still stalk around hungrily, looking like corpse-paint ghouls, chatting about mom stuff. The gang hears gunshots and hop into a car to where the sound came from. The police, you see, still have the order to shoot to kill these mothers, and they don’t realize they’ve been injected with the cure.

Commissioner Dixon, flying solo, comes across three mothers, pulls his car over to the side of the road, and draws on them. But another mom wrests his gun out of his hands. He escapes and runs to a phone booth to call for help. The mothers surround the booth and Dixon runs into a dead-end alley in his frantic escape. The mothers advance on him and Dixon picks up a discarded two-by-four to hold them at bay. The cavalry arrives in the form of the entire police force, who block off the alley and aim their guns. The teenagers arrive and run to act as human shields in front of their moms. Dixon commands the cops to “shoot them, too.” Nurse Dodd and Dr. Grouly then arrive in a car and, realizing the tight spot Dixon is in, Grouly gets him to confess that he knew about this disease before, that he killed the old coroner – all sorts of crimes and misdeeds.

The mothers, like so many moms before them, begin to experience terrible migraines. The cure is taking effect! Their faces slowly return to normal and their hunger for flesh subsides. Teenagers and moms embrace tearfully and the police, bewildered, have no idea what to do, but figure they should arrest Dixon (and make a very timely F. Lee Bailey joke). Dodd reveals to Dr. Grouly the cure: simple penicillin. Is there anything penicillin can’t do? Thank you, Alexander Fleming!

The movie features a final prologue with Roddy Douglas (remember him?) talking in bed with Booty (remember her?) about his favourite topic: open marriage. Booty cuddles with Roddy and then, in a more visceral sequence than any previously seen in the film, tears off Roddy’s nose and part of his face. Seems Booty is a flesh-eating mother they forgot to cure. Could there be a sequel in the works? Another weird pop song by Sherri Lamar soars over the closing credits.

Mom group photo. Okay, now take a silly one!

Mom group photo. Okay, now take a silly one!

Takeaway points:

  • While it can be dangerous (and perhaps foolhardy) to seek a deeper meaning in an intentionally campy horror film like Flesh Eating Mothers, I’m going to do it anyway. Quite obviously, the subtext of Flesh Eating Mothers – like many a pandemic movie – is that of sexually transmitted disease. In Flesh Eating Mothers, the cannibal curse is explicitly spread through a venereal disease, which spreads so quickly in this suburban small town because everyone is sleeping with local sleaze bag Roddy Douglas. The Commissioner strongly believes the disease to be a divine punishment for his infidelity. Or infidelity in general. The movie supports his belief somewhat, but the disease only affects mothers. If he is being punished for his infidelity, why is his wife the one who contracts the disease and ultimately dies? That’s a really male way of thinking: your wife dies (at your hand), and it’s you being punished.
  • The movie is rife with this kind of casual misogyny. I mean, I get it. Suburban moms are goofy and sometimes a little too concerned with shopping and appliances. Hilarious. Not to mention how they’re always gossiping about something or other. But are not suburban dads just as ridiculous? Certainly Roddy Douglas, in his casual jogging wear, is. And Mr. Nathan is way worse – a dangerous abuser. But the movie both pokes fun at the easy target of moms and punishes those moms who have sexual lives and desires. Remember, some of these moms aren’t married. Why are they being punished for Roddy Douglas’s infidelity? As is the case in most horror movies (and life, in general), women never catch an even break.
  • Let’s talk about the completely bonkers music in this movie. Half of it sounds like the demo song from a Casio keyboard, circa 1988, the other half is this very strange latter-day-Talking-Heads-esque pop-rock by someone named Sherri Lamar. Just listen to her hit track, “Suburbia.”
  • Fun fact: Flesh Eating Mothers has a Spanish-language Wikipedia page, but not an English-language one. (The movie is shot in English.)

Truly terrifying or truly terrible?: Terrifying Flesh Eating Mothers is not (despite that pretty rough final sequence). The dominant mode is camp. And because it’s so campily made, it prevents itself from being terrible. The acting is pretty atrocious and the sets belong in a high-school theatre production, but everyone is in on the joke.

Joyce Shephard (right) in a pretty boss bowling shirt.

Joyce Shephard (right) in a pretty boss bowling shirt.

Best outfit: I was a big fan of Joyce Shepard’s bowling shirt, which she nicely paired with a skirt and white Keds. (Special commendation to Roddy Douglas’s “Hands Across America” T-shirt.)

Best line: Flesh Eating Mothers is wall-to-wall one-liners, but “Everybody’s mother is after our meat,” quoted by Rinaldi Vivaldo, may be my favourite.

Best kill: Booty Bernett pulling off Roddy Douglas’s face is the undisputed winner. Not only was it the most horrific, it’s a great comeuppance for a character who really created the entire crisis, but never felt its consequences. (I can’t even remember if he discovers his infant son is dead. He certainly doesn’t care, if he does.)

Unexpected cameo: Not a lot of the actors in Flesh Eating Mothers have gone on to memorable acting credits, but Allen Rickman (not that Alan Rickman, rest in peace), who plays Dr. Bass, may be recognizable as George Baxter, cutlery salesman and recurring character on Boardwalk Empire.

Most suitable band name derived from the movie: Famous People Who Had V.D.

Next up: Deadly Blessing (1981).