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ED AND HIS DEAD MOTHER(director: Jonathan Wacks; screenwriter: Chuck Hughes; cinematographer: Francis Kenny; editor: Lisa Day; music: Mason Daring; cast: Steve Buscemi (Ed Chilton), Miriam Margolyes (Mabel Chilton), Ned Beatty (Uncle Benny), John Glover (A.J. Pattle), Sam Jenkins (Storm Reynolds), Gary Farmer (Big Lar), Jonathan Gries (Robert Sundheimer), Rance Howard (Reverend Paxton), Eric Christmas (Mr. Abner), Harper Roisman (Judge Fearson); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: W.M. Christopher Gorog; Fox Video; 1993)
“Bizarre spoof that’s too stupid to be funny.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jonathan Wacks (“Powwow Highway”/”Just Another Night”/”Mystery Date”) directs this bizarre spoof that’s too stupid to be funny. The odd black humor has a momma’s boy resurrecting his dead mother and then realizing he may not have made a wise decision to pay a steep price to have a slimy salesman bring his now monstrous mother back to life. The cartoonish film was a flop at the box office, as its silly zombie humor only appealed to a limited audience. Writer Chuck Hughes seems to be desperate to come up with something funny, but the characters never can and the situation grows increasingly weird but its droll humor is too forced to feel right. It always felt like the gags were just thrown against the wall and the film wasn’t coherently constructed or fully thought out (though it can be argued that the kind of strange humor it shoots for is an acquired taste).

It opens in black and white with the nerdy mild-mannered Ed Chilton (Steve Buscemi), a small-town Iowa hardware store owner, on trial for decapitating his mother and telling his bombastic lawyer that his defense is that it’s not a crime because his mom was already dead. It then goes into flashback to three months earlier and is filmed in Technicolor, as it shows Ed approached by a smarmy white-haired, dressed in a white suit and shirt, aggressive salesman, A.J. Pattle (John Glover), representing “Happy People Ltd.” who is intent to sell him “Life.” He tells the gloomy hardware store owner, who is in mourning the past year for his beloved mother Mabel (Miriam Margolyes), that he can bring his mother back to life for a price. Ed just inherited $60,000 from his mom’s insurance policy and doesn’t recognize this as a con game, as he goes along with the salesman’s guarantee that he doesn’t have to shell out any bread until his mom is brought back to his house alive.

Living with Ed is his mother’s brother, the middle-aged goofy laid-back Uncle Benny (Ned Beatty), who is using a telescope to spy on their sexy new neighbor Storm (Sam Jenkins). The sexy dish is in a bikini walking around the house with the windows open, as Benny tries to get Ed to take a peek and thereby move on and start enjoying life. Soon the dish comes over to Ed’s house and starts putting the make on him, as she’s unknowing to Ed hired by Pattle and is supposed to be part of the con—though it’s really never made that clear what she’s supposed to do except romance the lonely guy.

In any case Mom is miraculously delivered intact the next day, and immediately starts nagging the boys and becoming overbearing (following the axiom, that sometimes it’s better not to get what you wish for). The driven mom exhibits a few personality quirks like sitting inside the fridge and can only survive by eating at least two live bugs a day, an extra that Ed has to pay handsomely for by purchasing a “life kit” after mom collapses. Mom also goes nuts when the local bully thief Robert (Jonathan Gries) returns to town after spending the last ten years in prison for robbing the family hardware store and swears he will get even against Mabel for testifying against him. The only thing is Mabel intercepts him breaking into the house and attacks him with a chain saw and devours him for a snack. There’s also the crazy image of the hyper dotty Mabel running in slow motion down a suburban street in a dress patterned like an American flag while chasing a small dog with a meat cleaver and the equally bizarre image of Mabel on a rider mower trying to mow down Storm in her house for being promiscuous with her boy. Finding his zombie mom too hungry for human flesh and dangerous to keep alive any longer, Ed tries to return her to the grave and Pattle assists for a hefty price.

If this type of absurdist zombie humor appeals to you, where every main character is a weirdo or a phony and capable of extreme actions, then I would stick to the much more clever Eating Raoul by Paul Bartel, who created a classic in such black comedies that’s hard to top.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”