You’ll Like My Mother (1972)
Studio: Scream Factory
Release date: May 10th, 2016
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Some gonzo movies announce their insanity pretty loudly. It’s tough to miss these films—stuff like Blood Feast, Pieces, or Doom Asylum tend to wear their gory, unhinged hearts on their tattered sleeves. Some, however, are quietly nuts in the sense that they just sort of sneak up on you. They don’t grab you by the throat with outrageous performances and over-the-top hysterics so much as they just slowly creep up next to you and whisper into your ear, slowly guiding you to a realization that you’re watching something totally insane unfold on-screen. You’ll Like My Mother is of this sort, a film that gradually escalates into something quite lurid without resorting to obvious, over-the-top displays.
Instead, it comes to reflect the quiet desperation of its protagonist Francesca (Patty Duke), a pregnant widow who recently lost her husband in a plane crash. To cope with her grief, she decides to take a bus from sunny Los Angeles to rural, snowy Minnesota, where she hopes to meet her mother-in-law (Rosemary Murphy). Upon announcing her intentions to her kindly bus driver, Francesca is greeted with a quizzical look, immediately signaling that something is off, and her arrival at eerily desolate family mansion does little to allay her suspicions. Described by her late son as a kind, caring woman, Mrs. Kinsolving is anything but: not only does she not care to visit with Francesca, but she goes so far as to completely disown her and her baby. This is nothing like the woman her husband always described in such loving terms; “awkward” doesn’t even begin to describe the situation. Unfortunately, her desire to get the hell out of dodge is thwarted by a driving snowstorm that forces her to stay with both Mrs. Kinsolving and her mentally-challenged daughter, Kathleen (Sian Barbara Allen).
What’s even more disconcerting to Francesca is that her husband never mentioned even having a sister, so nothing is adding up here. An air of bewildering intrigue abounds, leading both Francesca and the audience to wonder what other secrets this house might horde. Slowly but surely, they’re revealed, with each detail adding up in increments as the captive girl endures a hellish experience. Let’s just say that this might not be the ideal movie to watch when your wife is pregnant, as that particular angle is mined for just about all of its horrific possibilities. A birth sequence is naturally unsettling—as you can imagine, Mrs. Kinsolving and Kathleen aren’t exactly equipped for it—and yet the film somehow manages to grow even more disturbing, thanks in large part to Murphy’s supernaturally icy turn as this deranged matriarch.
Not to dismiss Duke’s performance as the plucky Francesca, but Murphy is a true show-stealer as Mrs. Kinsloving. Like the film itself, it’s unassuming in its strangeness: this woman isn’t just callous—she’s practically reptilian. From the moment she greets her daughter-in-law at the door, it’s clear that she’s just not here for this shit. It’s not a personal matter so much as it’s just a matter of fact for her, and that brutal indifference carries the film’s early going. Just what is this woman’s deal? No one should treat a stranger the way she treats Francesca, yet Mrs. Kinsolving consistently twists the metaphorical knife on the woman carrying her slain son’s child. She’s essentially the in-law from hell, right down to her ability to throw the most savage shade. Again, this isn’t some histrionic performance: Mrs. Kinsolving isn’t prone to engaging in shouting matches or wild-eyed, manic displays. She’s much too prim and proper for that, so she kills with a detached, mannered appearance of Midwestern nicety.
And weirdly enough, she’s legitimately insistent that Francesca needs to leave. Most films of this sort kind of nudge and wink at its audience to hint at the psycho’s ulterior motives, but that’s not the case here. Mrs. Kinsolving seems to be driven by something besides simple bloodlust, and those motivations come into focus as Francesca prowls through the house, uncovering clues from family heirlooms and ominous newspaper clippings. When she discovers the truth, it’s of a familiar sort—you’ve likely seen similar turns of events in other movies, but it’s nonetheless pretty wild stuff, especially since it’s also treated so nonchalantly. To put it mildly, the living arrangements within the Kinsolving house are unconventional, something Francesca learns pretty quickly. Even though that big mystery is revealed about halfway through, the tension doesn’t deflate since the odds continue to mount against Francesca. Time and time again, she seems to have openings to escape, only to see them swiftly, cruelly closed. By the end, you’re wondering just how she’ll ever escape the clutches of this bizarre family—despite knowing more than the Kinsolvings assume, they continuously frustrate and thwart her.
Director Lamont Johnson also maintains a tight grip on the proceedings. In lieu of constant outbursts of violence and schlock, he fashions a chilling, suffocating atmosphere to heighten suspense. The icy wilds of Minnesota have rarely felt so menacing, as even daytime scenes are cast in that slanting, winter light that drains them of vitality. Not that we (or Francesca) sees the outdoors very often since Johnson wisely confines much of the action to within the Kinsolving home, a cavernous abode sprawling with various nooks and crannies. Every corner seems to hold some new menace, creating the sensation that the walls are closing around Francesca. Whatever glimpses we do see outside are often fleeting, like the shot of street cleaners plodding down the street, oblivious to Francesca’s attempts to catch their attention with a flashlight. That kindly bus driver returns all too briefly, satisfied as he is by Mrs. Kinsolving’s explanation for his missing passenger, who can only watch on helplessly.
That sort of frustrating claustrophobia defines You’ll Like My Mother, a film that barely raises its pulse until the end. It’s at that point—and only that point—that it lives up to the gory potential of a poster art that promises scissors-based slashing. Until then, it’s less a slasher movie and more a take-off of something like The Beguiled, where a captive houseguest must slyly manipulate and maneuver amongst strangers to escape. Like that Clint Eastwood vehicle, this, too, is driven by the muted, lurid impulses of a screwy family dynamic, though Duke is certainly much more of an audience surrogate, meaning You’ll Like My Mother isn’t particularly concerned with complex morality. That’s fair, though: after all, the poster also promises that it’s “a thriller,” a label it does measure up to.
In its efforts to curate a well-rounded library, Scream Factory has uncovered little-seen gems, often raiding their partners’ MOD vaults to deliver definitive editions of lesser-heralded films. You’ll Like My Mother is among the latest in this batch: originally released via Universal’s Vault Series, it’s been upgraded to high-def and sports a handful of supplements on Scream’s Blu-ray release. While its title is sort of a spoiler, “The Mystery of Kenny and Kathleen” is a solid extra nonetheless. Clocking in at 55-minutes, it features interviews with Sian Barbara Allen and Richard Thomas, who share their recollections about this film specifically and their careers in general. A photo gallery and the film’s trailer round out a pretty solid disc—this feels like one of those films where Scream would usually be content to go with a no-frills release, so they’ve gone the extra step with this release. More importantly, the movie itself also qualifies as one of the label's better excavations, as You'll Like My Mother is a chilly, claustrophobic little thriller that's full of terrific performances and unseemly plot twists. comments powered by Disqus Ratings: