Friday, December 4, 2009

Movie vs. Book: Mommy 2: Mommy’s Day

This month Bill and I did Mommy 2: Mommy’s Day. Two things that make this movie unique is a-it’s a sequel, and that’s not something you usually find with both book and movie. Also, the book’s writer and the movie’s director is the same person: Max Allen Collins. You’re almost guaranteed a loyal adaptation there (and if it isn’t, Collins has no one to blame but himself). However, I have yet to read the book and Bill hasn’t watched the movie yet, so you loyal readers get to decide for yourselves if this sounds true to the book or not.
Mommy 2 follows the original Mommy story by a few months in movie-time. The serial killer Mother from the first movie is on death row, put there by the testimony of her eleven year old daughter. Just as she’s about to get a lethal injection, something goes awry, thus buying her just enough time for a psychotropic medication to be developed where she can get a chemical cure instead of a death sentence. She is set free, but just as she is, murders start occurring again. All the evidence points to Mommy. Is she back to her old tricks or is someone trying to frame her?
Yes, this is a sequel, but you don’t have to watch the first Mommy movie in order to follow this. Collins does a great job of getting you up to speed with the story. If you have seen the first, this is where the movie might drag a little, since you’re getting information you already know from the first time around. However, it only takes a few minutes then off we go for the ride!
This plot could easily fall into teen slasher flick level in less deft hands. Instead, what we are treated to is a send-up of the serial killer stories. It’s perfectly fine to laugh during Mommy 2 and is strongly encouraged. This is not a movie that makes fun of the genre, but instead celebrates it for both the great aspects as well as the silly ones. The people who do get murdered definitely fall into the “Neededkilling” category, whether they are greedy cheats, or someone who insults Film Noir movies. There is just enough humor to be entertaining, but it stops just short of camp, and that shows how skilled Collins is as a writer and director.
The performances also help keep that balance. Patty McCormack, the murderous child Rhoda from the original Bad Seed is all grown up now, and shines in the role of Mommy. In fact, Mommy could easily be Rhoda in all her sociopathic glory. McCormack is brilliant in this role. A lesser actress would have approached Mommy with a nudge and a wink, showing her hand to the audience and letting us know that nobody takes it seriously. McCormack does, though. Her Mommy, for all her unabashed callousness, is real. That makes the fun scenes even more fun and the creepy parts creepier. Rachel Lemieux is great as the daughter playing the pre-teen angst and the confusion of whether she should fear or love her mother. Also, watch for a fun cameo by the late great Mickey Spillane as Mommy’s tough-as-nails lawyer.
I strongly recommend Mommy 2: Mommy’s Day, even if you haven’t seen the first. If that’s the case, though, pick up the double DVD that has them both. The first is just as much fun to watch as this one is.


Mommy’s Day is a typical novel by Max Allan Collins. By that, I mean it’s entertaining, sly and accessible. The book starts with a focus on Jessica Ann, the little girl who was the focal character in the preceding novel, Mommy. After introducing her for people who hadn’t read the earlier book, Collins proceeds to summarize the events of Mommy.

The result is a novel which really doesn’t start moving until page fifty, but that’s eminently forgivable here. The type is larger than it needs to be, as if the publisher were trying to fit a 180 page novel into a 270 page format. Thankfully, if page count was a factor, Collins resisted the temptation to expand the novel. The story is cohesive and fast-paced, and would have been damaged by padding the word count.

I’d recently finished reading another wonderful Collins book, Quarry in the Middle, published last month by Hard Case Crime. There’s been a decade between these books, but the key similarity is that Collins has an excellent grasp on how long to perpetuate a story. Details which support the tale, whether in characterization or plot, are kept in; those which do not progress the narrative are excised.

A quick reader will burn through Mommy’s Day in under an hour and a half. That’s about the same amount of time it will take to watch the movie. There are benefits to either format, particularly for Mommy’s Day.

There are references to classic works throughout the novel. Whether it’s the quote from The Bad Seed by William March that opens the book, or the occasional similarities to Psycho II by Robert Bloch (the novel, not the unrelated movie) or the casual reference to the Mohonk Mountain House (where the Mohonk Mysteries hosted by Donald and Abby Westlake were held,) I was entertained by the appreciative nods toward the giants of the past. I have no doubt I missed many of those references, and that’s fine; if anything, it’ll inspire me to visit this book again in a few years, when I’ve read a few dozen more legendary mysteries and thrillers.

This is a book which can be enjoyed by the casual reader, and by the studious one, for different reasons. It has a depth of playfulness… for example, the title character is never given a first name, instead being referred to as “Mommy” or “Mrs. Sterling”… while it intentionally avoids excessive internal analyses (a constant question in the reader’s mind is just how much emotional depth Mrs. Sterling has.)

You can get an enjoyable popcorn read out of this book, and get more from it the second or third time you pick it up. It fails only if you’re looking for a plot of deep complexity or cosmic horror, and if that’s the case you were reading the wrong book to start with.

Five stars out of five.