Mother’s Day is two weeks away, but I’d be hard-pressed to think of a better werewolf movie for this month’s Pink Moon than 1991’s Mom, one of a number of films hailing from the early ’90s centered on sons dealing with their suddenly monstrous mothers. From New Zealand came Peter Jackson’s 1992 opus Braindead, released in the US as Dead Alive, about a zombie outbreak spawned by a mild-mannered young man’s domineering mother. It was followed by the homegrown Ed and His Dead Mother, a 1993 horror-comedy starring Steve Buscemi that landed more on the comedy end of the scale. Preceding both, though, was Mom, in which the proud mother of a TV news reporter is turned into a flesh-eating monster by a bite from the transient who takes up residence in her spare room.
When she’s introduced, Emily Dwyer (Jeanne Baker) is about the sweetest old lady you can imagine, but she’s suffering from empty nest syndrome since the only way she can see her son on Christmas Eve is by watching his news broadcast and her daughter is just a distracted voice on the telephone. Still, she makes a point of filling her modest house with decorations, with the most important one being the “ROOM TO LET” sign in her front window. This draws the attention of drifter Nestor Duvalier (Brion James), who turned into a monster and viciously murdered a pregnant girl in the film’s opening, so the viewer knows he’s bad news even if she can’t see through his bogus “blind man” routine. She also ignores such classic warning signs as her dog growling at him and the fact that he can smell something burning in the kitchen from his room. (Later on, he even refers to the “heightened sense of hearing” he has thanks to his “condition.”)
The breaking point comes when Emily tries to force some of her home cooking on Nestor in spite of his protestations that he always eats out, whereupon he transforms and puts the bite on her. In short order, they’re preying upon Los Angeles’s homeless population together and her son Clay (Mark Thomas Miller) finds himself in the awkward position of reporting from her crime scenes. (“My mother just quietly and deliberately killed a man and ate him,” he says after witnessing one of their nocturnal outings. “That kind of blows all the old rules to hell, don’t you think?”) On top of this, his girlfriend Alice (Mary McDonough, late of The Waltons) is pregnant, so even after Nestor is taken out of the picture (stabbing him with knitting needles doesn’t work, but burning him to a cinder does the trick), Clay fears for both her and their unborn child. Locking Mom up in her room is only a temporary solution, though, and over time his attempts to hide her condition from the world grow increasingly desperate.
While watching Mom, it quickly becomes apparent that its story may have been better served had it been done with more of a satirical edge, but first-time writer/director Patrick Rand plays things fairly straight. He even includes your standard subplot about the police (represented by harried lieutenant Art Evans, who played a similar role in Ruthless People) investigating a series of animal-related attacks around town. (“Fingerprints?” asks one of his detectives. “For that, you would need fingers,” he replies.) About the only novel twist is the ambiguity surrounding what kind of creature Nestor is. “Vampire, werewolf, ghoul — it’s all the same,” he says, but his monstrous form is hairy enough to qualify as the middle one for our purposes. As for dear old Mom, the only time she’s seen fully transformed is in one of Clay’s nightmares, but the intermediate stage of her make-up is more than a lot of current werewolf films attempt, so I won’t knock it.