Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mommy Fearest: A Mother's Day Special

I love my mother, as evidenced by how well-adjusted I clearly turned out, but nothing renews my appreciation for the loins that birthed me than a rundown of questionable mothering I've seen from horror TV anthologies. I guess all parents do the best the can, the best way they know how--whether that's reanimating their long-dead children, dispensing advice on how to get away with murder, or brazenly stealing from the neighborhood witch to pay the bills. So this week, sit your mom down for this list of mothers whose parenting skills are sure to make them feel better about theirs:

Tales from the Darkside
Season 3, Episode 6

"Now, we can't start using up our neighbors, or we're just going to have to move on. 
Strangers are much better."

I always thought of this episode as a kind of spiritual sister to a certain The Hunger episode: A mother shares tells her daughter Audrey, on the eve of her wedding night, a dark secret about the women in their family: Surprise! They're carnivorous spider women! They don't have skeletons in their closet so much as dry husks of Daddy Dearest and several door-to-door salesmen. 

Audrey takes it pretty well in the end; she has more important things to think of, like her new baby. The episode title itself is kind of a dead giveaway of the plot twist, which I could forgive, but there's also that glaring plot hole: Why the hell Mildred would wait so long to tell Audrey all this? Why the secrecy? The man-eating couldn't have just been for mating, as it's implied Mildred still eats men, but then how has Audrey gone on for so long with a normal diet? 

The difference between this and The Sloan Men, aside from the obvious gender swap, is that Black Widows plays out a bit more like a dark comedy. You can see how the story turns out from a mile away, and still I prefer David Nickel, but it does have some nice touches, like Mildred's clothesline arranged like a spider's web, or the baby's arm resembling an arachnid limb.

Tales from the Crypt
Season 4, Episode 7

"Lady, are you aware that you are the epitome of the inept parent and that your little 
Felicity is the ultimate problem child?"

Nora can't get her misbehavin' daughter Felicity under control, so she enlists the help of arrogant shrink Dr. Alan Gertz, who believes this will make a great publicity stunt that can boost his radio show's ratings. Gertz is convinced that Nora suffers from multiple personality disorder and Felicity is just her playing dress-up. But because this is Tales from the Crypt and subtlety is a lost art, of course it turns out Felicity is a reanimated zombie! Hey, it does explain her erratic behavior.

Like Black Widows, Nora and her daughter have spent years luring child psychologists to make house calls before getting the millionth second-opinion from Gertz. No warm fuzzies in this one. I don't know which is more nightmare-inducing: Zelda Rubinstein being her usual terrifying self, Felicity with creepy china mask on, or Felicity's actual rotting face.

In this list, The New Arrival is the only episode with any real scares, however weak, but I still have to give Nora props for actually trying to be a good mother. She doesn't give up on her daughter, in spite of Felicity's bad behavior--or her death. And extra points to David Warner's Dr. Gertz, who parlayed his hilarious child-rearing mantra of "Ignore it, ignore it, ignore it!" to a bestseller aptly entitled, "The Art of Ignoring Your Child."

Season 1, Episode 24

"What happened between La Strega and your mother was between them. That was 
their destiny. What happens between you and me is our destiny."

A man intends to avenge his mother's death, convinced that she had been cursed by a witch called La Strega who owns a pawn shop. But when confronted, the shopowner claims that La Strega was actually her mother. The ending is supposed to show there are two sides to every story, but everything up to that point plays out strangely, including a awkwardly long undressing scene and the annoying synth-y background music throughout. 

It's not easy to describe this episode. I think it's because the titular La Strega isn't really much of a witch. It's suggested she uses her powers for good, but she makes the man go through all these bizarre hoops (i.e. subject him to terrifying and confusing visions) to convince him of this. I suppose it's so he can arrive to that conclusion himself, but why not just come clean about being a witch in the first place? And here's the biggest doozy of a plot hole: If his mother pawned her ring and then blackmailed La Strega into giving her a better one--all with good intentions for her family--why lie to him about it on her deathbed? It takes away from the nobility of her actions.

So yeah, the driving conflict between La Strega and the guy's mother starts to unravel the more you think about it, so, um, don't dwell too much on the details. All in all, this is still a pretty mom-centric episode: in the first place, the man's mother pawned her ring all those years ago for money to take care of him, so it does comes full circle.

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