It hadn't been long since I last talked to Darren Lynn Bousman, the director of Mother's Day (on DVD and Blu-ray today). We saw each other on the red carpet for his most recent horror musical The Devil's Carnival, you may recall, but we didn't get a chance to talk enough about Mother's Day, his remake of the classic 1980 Troma Film, considered by many to be one of the best movies ever produced by the intentionally trashy production company. Charlie Kaufman's original film was an unflinching look at misogyny, maternity and sexual victimization, so perhaps it was only natural that the man who brought you the unflinching first three Saw sequels and Repo! The Genetic Opera would bring the film's disturbing story and characters back in front of the cameras. Although it's only his first horror remake, he has a lot to say on the subject of how to do it right.
CraveOnline: This was your first produced horror remake. What’s that like as a director? What are your responsibilities beyond simply making a “good movie?”
Darren Lynn Bousman: In my mind, I think that you are just making something that people have already seen, and that’s really hard when you’re doing a remake. The whole idea of a remake is remaking something that people have already seen. So, I think the hardest thing for me is to do [the same thing], but how do I make it different, unique, and no something that people are going to say, “Yeah, that’s the exact same film as Mother’s Day 1980. So I think that’s #1, but I think that, for me, what excites me the most is doing things that are kind of out of the box, and unique and different. Here’s why I made movies like Repo! or I’m making this thing, The Devil’s Carnival. I kind of thrive on doing things that are a little bit different. So for this, how do I inject my version of this film, in my style, yet kind of hold true and stay true to the original message of the first film?
Mother’s Day isn’t as popular as Friday the 13th or Halloween. Have you noticed a lot of fans responding with concern, “How dare you remake Mother’s Day?”
No… Here’s the thing. Yeah, it’s not Friday the 13th or it’s not Nightmare on Elm Street, in fact it’s not even Last House on the Left. It’s kind of one of the more obscure films, it’s a Troma film on top of that. I think that because Lloyd and Charles [Kaufman] embraced the movie, it kind of killed what anyone would have done or bitched or complained about. So many times remakes are done without the endorsement of the original creators. We did the film with the endorsement, we championed the original creators, so I think that went a long way with the fans. On top of that, I didn’t try to dismiss or just kind of throw out what Charles did. I made my own thing. Again, I held true to what they originally had, I just put my own spin on it.
Were you brought on before the script had been developed?
No, I developed the script with Scott Milam. It was something that Brett Ratner came to me with, saying that he always loved the idea of Mother’s Day, and did I have a take on it. Originally I didn’t, and so I went back and watched the movie a bunch. I was a fan of the original from when I was a kid growing up. I had a VHS of it. So I went back in and kind of revisited the movie, and I had a kind of an idea, so I went to Scott Milam, who is my writing friend. We said yeah, we have to do something that’s unique and different. So we went back to Brett, pitched him an idea, and it kind of went out from there.
What I like about the original film – yeah, it’s kind of grungy and low-budget – but it has a lot to say about some real issues like misogyny and domesticity and feminism. What sort of conversations did you have about what the remake would tackle?
Well, yeah, if you look at the original film, it dealt with a lot of things. It dealt with kind of this whole media… If you notice in the original film, there’s TVs in every single room of the house. An overabundance of saturation with media coming into the house. You dealt with misogyny, you also dealt with the kind of perverted relationships the kids have with their parents. In ours, I think that we tried to make it… You know, we did one thing about the housing crash, the whole market crash and what’s going on with the banks. But I think more than anything, we wanted to keep it at the core of what the original film was about, is basically the perversion that these children have to try to please their mother. I think, in a way we are [all] like that. We all want to be supported and make our parents proud, whether that be me inviting them to the premiere to say, “Hey mom, look at this, I did this.” I think we all want that, and so I think that, to me, is… What happens when you take that a little bit further and pervert it even a little bit more? What do criminals do to make their parents happy?
So that was the main idea, and more than anything now, I think the theme that I wanted to go with is kind of shades of grey. That is something that I always wanted to see in a movie like this, where you take the clear-cut villains and the clear-cut heroes, and you blur the lines between them. Where the villains aren’t as bad as the possibly could be, and the heroes aren’t as good as they should be. […] A lot of the critiques we got of the movie were that the people down the stairs are despicable. Well, good! That’s what we wanted to do. And other critiques say that the villains aren’t that bad. Well, good! That’s exactly what we wanted. I wanted to do something where it wasn’t a clear-cut, this is the good guys, this is the bad guys. I wanted the film somewhere in between.
The remake has a lot more male characters than the original. The original was much more female-centric, except for some of the villains. What sort of dynamics did that introduce into Mother’s Day plotline.
I don’t necessarily agree with that. There’s actually two more females in the movie than there are males, and they all live. One of the things that was funny is that I got critiqued about being misogynistic. The thing that was translated to me is, in the movie, the guys all get the comeuppance. It’s the females who will survive it. Mother survives, SPOILER ALERT here, but Mother survives, Lydia survives, Beth survives, all the girls survive except one. It’s all the guys who get killed. It’s Ike, it’s Addley, it’s Treshawn, it’s George. All the guys end up getting killed in this one. I think part of me, I wanted to do that on purpose. The fact is that in all my movies, the female is basically the protagonist in it. You go from this to Saw, being Amanda, from Repo! being Shilo. I like that it’s more than the woman playing the victim, running around screaming and doing whatever. And I wish that more films would do that, because one of the things that bothered me about doing horror films is that you have the girls always playing characters in tight brassieres, running around in their shorts screaming “Help.”
I actually only saw Mother’s Day recently, the original as well as yours, and one of the things that surprised me about the original was just how much rape there was.
I noticed that you didn’t shy away from that, but it’s less of the focus.
Well, again, we tried to make it… I didn’t want to make an exploitative film. There’s no sex in the movie, there’s no rape in the movie. There’s a striptease scene, which is the only quasi-sexual thing. I wanted to make it as un-sexual as possible. In doing that, I tried to say, how can we kill the erection immediately? Well, let’s have have her bawling [and] crying […] People have seen rape in movies too much, in my mind. So how do we discuss, in a way, nothing to do with rape but the “anti” of that? No sex, whatsoever. For me, the whole scene with Briana [Evigan] being forced to kind of dance around, and having Mother be the instigator… not the guys, but Mother, the woman. “Let him touch you,” “Let him feel you,” “Shake your ass in front of him.” And it is Mother unbuckling his pants, doing all of that. For me that was much, much more disturbing than having her just lay down and get raped by somebody.
Rebecca De Mornay is really fabulous in this movie, I’ve always loved her. Was she your first choice for the role? This is obviously a big role for an older actress.
Yeah, here’s the thing. I met with many actresses. It couldn’t be more different. You met with much older actresses who could have played it more perverted, the “Grandma” type. You played with much younger actresses, it could have been the “Young Adult” type. I think I wanted to go somewhere in the middle, like a very, very attractive woman, like you were scared of her scorn. And I think that Rebecca, the minute I got on the phone with her I knew she was the right one. I went back and watched a lot of her movies, I went back and what she did in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle […]and she’s got something about her, this fierceness in her eyes, but there’s also compassion there as well. I think that’s what makes her so dangerous. You know she could cut you, but that she’ll feel bad about it later, and I think that’s a scary type of person.
Beyond simply making it your own, what is the trick to making a great horror remake?
I think what you’ve got to do, in my opinion, is write down the top ten things that you think people will expect, the top ten things that they want to see in a remake or that they remember [about the original], and then don’t do any of them. Because I think that people are already expecting something out of a remake, that it’s a carbon copy or a copycat thing, and that’s what I do. When I do a movie, I think, “What’s my favorite ten things about that genre? What’s my favorite ten things about that particular thing?” And then I don’t do it. Because I think if you do that you’re playing into why remakes don’t work a lot of the times. There’s a time to put young, hot teenagers in peril running around screaming and forgetting about the story and the characters and the acting. To me, this movie was all about acting. It was always the focused on in the movie. In terms of cool camera shots, cool transitions, totally gory things, I care about acting and the performance. That was basically my only focus making this movie.
Did you have a favorite horror remake that does that, besides your own obviously?
Yeah, I really liked Last House on the Left a lot. I was a huge fan of the original. I really liked that they did the same kind of thing [that I was talking about.] They went with a much more different approach to everything. I was really disturbed by it, except the last scene. I thought the last scene was kind of ridiculous, the microwaving the head scene, but [other than] that I really enjoyed that one.
You’ve got a couple of films coming up. You’ve got The Barrens and a few more after Devil’s Carnival…
Yeah. I’ve got The Barrens coming out this year, and I’m on tour right now with The Devil’s Carnival. We’re going right into production on Episode 2 of The Devil’s Carnival, and it looks like the next thing.
Have you ever thought about making Mother’s Day as a musical?
[Laughs] Some movies work as musicals, others wouldn’t. I don’t think Mother’s Day would be that good as a musical.