By “SkaryMoviez”: Every once in a while, a retro slasher arrives to little or no fanfare, only to be recognized years later, thus attaining what we like to call cult status. Charles Kaufman’s 1980 classic Mother’s Day arrived into theaters only to be looked down upon by fans of the then more popular Friday The 13th, which was coincidentally shot across the same lake used in Mother’s Day.
With the advent of VCR‘s and the VHS boom in the mid 80‘s, Mother’s Day soon crept into the homes of unfamiliar watchers who were exposed, among other things, to violent rape, torture, and ultimately a much well deserving revenge twist that was sure to satisfy the hungriest of gore hounds. More than 30 years later, the movie is just as well known as it was in 1980. It’s known enough to warrant a remake by famed Saw alumni Darren Lynn Bousman who promises that his version will be just as gritty as the original.
I was lucky enough to be in contact with Nancy Hendrickson, who played Abbey, and was able to get all the details of what went on during production. Read on to find out everything you’ve wanted to know about Mother’s Day!
How did you get started in the business?
“I always wanted to be an actress. I started taking “drama” class as an elective in junior high, continued on through high school and then auditioned for Carnegie-Mellon University’s Drama Dept. – the top undergrad acting program at that time. I didn’t get selected after my first audition so I went to a local college, took acting classes, did a few more plays and got into CMU two years later. After I got my BFA I went to New York and started auditioning for plays. Almost as soon as I arrived there I met my first husband, Dan Loewenthal (editor of Mother’s Day). I got a day job as a script supervisor/PA on a low-budget film and he was the 1st assistant cameraman.”
How did you find out about Mother’s Day?
“Dan and I were married at that time with a four-year-old son. I was working in plays and he had settled on editing as a profession. He did an early film for Charles Kaufman (director of Mother’s Day and brother of its producer, Lloyd Kaufman). Charles asked him to edit Mother’s Day so that’s how I found out about it.”
Did you audition for anyone else, or did you specifically read for the part of Abbey?
“I don’t think I auditioned when they were originally casting. Charles had cast all three parts with other actresses but one dropped out after the first week of rehearsal. They had one week of rehearsal left before the start of filming and Charles needed a replacement fast so he offered me the part outright.”
What were the other cast members like on set when the cameras weren’t rolling? Did anyone stay in character the entire time?
“No. No one stayed in character. However, Deborah, Barbara and I did almost everything together so that helped to build convincing relationships. The atmosphere behind the scenes was really very different from what you see on film, though. The five of us younger actors (the three girls and Mother’s two boys) all became good friends and hung out together. We lived in cabins in an old Boy Scout camp and ate our meals in a dining hall. Barbara, the real name of the actresses who played Trina) and Deborah (who played Jackie) and I shared
a cabin and I believe the two guys shared one with each other.”
On the commentary for the dvd, it was mentioned that there was a relationship budding on the set between 2 of the actors and that Charles Kaufman had asked that it be put on hold to keep everyone in character. Do you have any insight on this?
“That would have been Barbara (Trina) and Holden (Ike). I don’t remember it getting put on hold. Maybe it just went underground. I know it lasted awhile after filming ended because I kept in touch with Barbara for quite awhile. In fact we went to Los Angeles together when the film opened there to try to take advantage of the film’s release to advance our film careers. The two main actors from “Don’t Go in the House,” another horror film of the same period, were out here doing the same thing so we hung out with them and traded career tips. One of them, Dan Grimaldi, resurfaced recently as Patsy Parisi on The Sopranos.”
Also, Charles mentioned that before shooting a scene, Billy Ray Mcquade was so hungover from partying the night before that he vomited on Rose Ross. Were you there for that as well?
“I’d forgotten that but, now that you mention it, I do remember his throwing up one day. Michael (aka Billy) was a real method actor who would get so into his role he’d get carried away. When he tied me to the exercise equipment, he was pretty rough and he actually dropped me on the kitchen floor in one scene and I hit my head pretty hard but he was really a sweetheart. He was always terribly concerned that he’d hurt me and apologetic after the camera stopped rolling and he broke character. Michael went on to do quite a bit of work as an actor. Can’t remember everything I’ve seen him in but I know one film he did was “L.A. Confidential.”
Btw, Rose Ross was actually Beatrice Pons who played the cook’s wife on the 50′s TV series, “Sgt. Bilko”, starring Phil Silvers. She was also a regular Officer Toody’s wife) on the 1960′s show “Car 54, Where Are You?” Since she’s passed away now and the statute of limitations is up, I think her true identity can be revealed without getting her in any trouble with the Screen Actors Guild.”
It was also mentioned that prior to filming, someone had died in the house. Were you aware of this?
“I remember hearing that. I didn’t know if it was a rumor concocted to help us get into character or actually true but I really didn’t want to know. It was a pretty creepy place, with or without a death, thanks to production designer Susan Kaufman (Charles and Lloyd’s sister). She went on to have a big career as did Ellen Lutter who was the costume designer/wardrobe mistress/sometimes boom operator on Mother’s Day.”
Speaking of the sets, What was it like spending most of the movie in the woods and in a dirty old house? Any stories?
“Well, as I mentioned already, the house really was creepy so we got out of it the minute Charles called “Cut!” No one stayed on the set for meals or breaks. There was a make-up trailer outside the house where we could hang out between takes. The woods wasn’t scary at all. There were big lights all over during the night scenes and lots of crew members. And the Boy Scout camp was primitive but pleasant enough.
I think the scariest thing might have been the food they served us. There was a cook who worked full time in the dining hall making our meals and she did the best she could I guess but a lot of the food was procured for free in trade for screen credit.”
Some fans would really like to know what was used as the bear poop that Trina (Tiana Pierce) stepped in. Any clue?
“No. I can’t remember. It looks pretty gross and realistic, doesn’t it? We had a special effects person though who made the Drano I killed Ike with out of pop rocks and rigged the TV set that I hit him over the head with. I’m sure he made it and made several back-ups too because you never get anything on film in just one take.”
There were a lot of physical stunts in the movie. Did you do your own or did you have a stunt double?
“I did my own stunts and had the bruises to prove it. The only exception being that the bodies inside the sleeping bags were not us, except during the campfire scenes when you first see us being stuffed into them.”
What was the most difficult scene for you to shoot?
“The night time campfire scene because we shot it in New Jersey at the end of September which means it was 40 degrees and I wasn’t wearing much so I was freezing the whole time. Carrying Jackie around in the sleeping bag was a close second. She lost fifteen pounds right after the shoot. Wish she’d done it BEFORE. ”
The most memorable scene was the one where I lowered Trina out the window inside a sleeping bag – or it appears as though I did. I actually just had my hands on a rope that was being held taut at the other end. The scenes of the bag were done separately with two guys holding a sleeping bag with Meta, the script supervisor, inside. I can remember the crew applauding after my takes were done and that was really surprising and gratifying.
The make-up/special effects people did such a good job on my hands, that people who’d seen the film kept wanting to look at them afterwards to see if they had scars or whether they’d healed. Then a still photo of me with my bleeding hands holding the rope was blown up to life-size and displayed on the sidewalk outside some of the theaters where the film was playing. A shot from that scene also made it into Fangoria magazine so it would be very hard to forget.”
Was there anything in the script that didn’t get shot? Was there anything that was shot that didn’t make it to the final cut?
“Not that I can recall.”
Queenie’s back story was briefly touched upon in the movie. Was there supposed to be more to this story that perhaps set itself up for a sequel?
“No one ever really said so but of course, as actors, we hoped that ending would be the jumping off point for a sequel.”
Were you aware that a then unknown movie called “Friday The 13th” was being shot across the lake? If so, did you or anyone else go over to the set and visit?
“Yes, we were aware of it and no, we didn’t go to visit. When you’re shooting there’s no time for anything else. You work 12 hour days, then you try unwind a bit and sleep. On Sundays, our one day off, we would drive back to NYC to spend some time with our families.
There was a small local bar in the area where we used to go sometimes after the shooting day ended. Patrons autographed the ceiling tiles there so of course cast members from Mother’s Day did too. Apparently the Friday the 13th cast also visited the bar because they also signed the ceiling tiles but we never happened to be there on the same nights and never met them. I was aware that Betsy Palmer was in the film and that was a big deal as her name had been a household word when I was growing up. Because of those two productions that little stretch of northern New Jersey became known, for awhile, as the “Hollywood of Horror.”
Friday the 13th was picked up by Paramount and released months before Mother’s Day and it gave us all high hopes for our own film. That was the first time it really occurred to me that Mother’s Day might actually play in real theaters – not just drive-ins. Interestingly, my ex, who cut Mother’s Day ended up cutting Friday the 13th Part V and the character of the young boy in that film was modeled after our son.”
Mother’s Day is known for its excessive violence and rape which caused it to be banned or severely trimmed in other countries. Did you think that it would have a negative impact upon its initial release? More importantly, did you ever think that it would have such a cult following, even 30 years later?
“Thirty years?! Yikes! That makes me thirty years older. I have to say that I never worried too much about the release because very few horror films had crossed over into mainstream theaters at the time we started filming – probably only Halloween and The Hills have Eyes. I did the film thinking it would be good practice in film acting and that no one would ever see it. When I was approached to attend Eli Roth’s screening last year, I was absolutely flabbergasted to learn that the film still had so many fans.
It’s true the tone was pretty dark compared to other horror films. I really think that darkness (along with the dark comedy aspect) is why it was never a franchise like Friday the 13th but also probably accounts for the fact that it has developed a cult following. I tried to dissuade Charles from some of the more tasteless scenes – in particular, stuffing Addley’s mouth with sanitary pads – but he really wanted that edginess. I’m not sure how many people know that Mother’s Day was an early effort of writer Warren Leight who went on to win a Tony Award for his Broadway play “Side Man” and who became president of The Writers Guild of America East.”
The ending pretty much left it opened to the viewers to determine the fate of Abbey and Trina. What would you have happen if the scene didn’t end with a shot of Queenie jumping out from the bushes? Would you reprise your role as Abbey had there been a sequel?
“I liked the open-ended ending because of the fact that it seemed to be setting up a sequel but I wondered if it was dissatisfying to the audience not having the plot resolved. Yes, I definitely would have reprised Abbey.”
Were you asked to participate at all for Troma’s DVD release? If not, would you have?
“No, I wasn’t asked. I doubt they knew where to find me by that time. Certainly, I would have. The night the film opened in 1980, my husband Dan and I and Charles Kaufman and his girlfriend at that time took cabs from movie house to movie house in NYC (it opened in 70 theaters at once in the NY area) and we spent a little time at each watching it on the big screens and watching the audience’s reactions. I was asked to do an interview for the TV show 20-20 that was doing a segment on horror films shortly thereafter but I had booked a commercial for the day of the interviews so Deborah Luce took my place.
A little over a year ago, after Quentin Tarantino bought the New Beverly Theater in LA, Eli Roth hosted a horror festival there and borrowed the last 35mm print of Mother’s Day from Lloyd Kaufman. Charles Kaufman, who now owns and operates a bakery in San Diego, Rex Piano (a PA on Mother’s Day who now directs Lifetime movies) and I were on hand to introduce the film and do a Q&A afterward.”
Sadly, Frederick Coffin/Holden McGuire passed away in 2003 due to complications with lung cancer. Were you aware of this? And do you still keep in contact with anyone from the movie?
“No, I wasn’t aware of that and I’m very sad to hear of it. Unfortunately, I lost touch with most people associated with the movie in 1985 when I moved to California. I was in touch with Warren, the screenwriter, briefly, a couple of years ago when he had a play opening out here and I just saw Charles and Rex for the first time in decades at the New Beverly.”
A lot of fans were surprised when it was announced that Darren Lynn Bousman was going to be remaking Mother’s Day. How do you feel about remakes in general? More importantly, what are your thoughts regarding them remaking Mother’s Day?
“First of all, I heard it was Brett Ratner. Maybe they’re both involved? In general, I’m not a fan of remakes because usually people choose to remake movies that were really successful and would be hard to do any better than they were originally. Consequently, the remakes are almost always a disappointment.
My only reaction to the news of a Mother’s Day remake, however, is to be intrigued and curious. I wish the filmmakers and actors well. I’ve heard it’s not going to be just a straight remake but will have a whole new slant which I think is good. I also think it might revive some interest in the original. I’d love to do a cameo in it.”
Not only are you an actress, but you also write, produce and direct. What projects do you have lined up?
“I am just finishing up a rewrite on a comedy which I have high hopes for and producers waiting to read. I also have several features I’ve written being shopped by producers so there are various irons in the fire. Although I still like to act when asked, I no longer pursue acting work. My main profession is writing now. I started in 1991, writing star-driven promo spots for The Disney Channel. Since then I’ve won some screenwriting awards, had scripts optioned and was a regular writer for Creative Screenwriting magazine for many years as well as a sometime contributor to MovieMaker magazine. I’ve written, produced and directed three short films and currently teach screenwriting, directing and general filmmaking at The Los Angeles Film School.”
Any last words for fans of Mother’s Day?
“Yes. I’d like to let you all know how very appreciative I am that you remember that performance all these years later and for your interest and support. Andy Warhol said everyone gets fifteen minutes of fame but, thanks to your generosity and to new generations of Mother’s Day fans, I’ve had way more than my fair share.”
Thank you so much for doing this. I speak for the fans when I say that we truly appreciate hearing from you. Good luck!