Mommy (1995)


USA. 1995.


Director/Screenplay – Max Allan Collins, Based on a Short Story by Max Allan Collins, Producer – James K. Hoffmann, Photography – Phillip W. Dingeldein, Music – Richard Lowry, Special Effects – Flash Bang, Ltd. (Supervisor – B.W. (Bill) Gerlits), Set Design – Marie Lindsay. Production Company – M.A.C. Film Productions


Patty McCormack (Mommy), Rachel Lemieux (Jessica Ann Sterling), Jason Miller (Lieutenant March), Michael Cornelison (Mark Jeffries/Patterson), Brinke Stevens (Aunt Beth), Sarah Jane Miller (Miss Jones), Majel Barrett (Mrs Withers), Mickey Spillane (Attorney Neal Eckhardt)


Jessica Ann Sterling’s mother goes to see Jessica Ann’s teacher Mrs Withers, demanding to know why Jessica Ann is not getting this year’s prize for the top of the class. When Mrs Withers says they are awarding the prize to another pupil, Jessica Ann’s mother pushes her off a ladder to her death. Mrs Sterling goes on to kill others who threaten to expose her. As the police investigate, Jessica Ann slowly comes to the realization that her mother is a murderer.

Actress Patty McCormack came to fame when she appeared in The Bad Seed (1956) where she played a psychopathic young girl who ruthlessly killed anybody in the way to getting what she wanted. It was a part that had McCormack nominated for an Oscar at age 11 – at the time, she was the youngest person to ever be nominated. McCormack went onto a minor career and is still acting, mostly on tv, including an ongoing support role in The Sopranos (1999-2007) and playing Pat Nixon in Frost/Nixon (2008).

Mommy could almost be a sequel to The Bad Seed. The titular Mommy played by Patty McCormack could be Rhoda Penmark grown up and having become a mother of her own – where McCormack has gone from an evil child ruthlessly determined to succeed in school to a ruthless mother who is determined to make her own child succeed in school. Many other aspects of Mommy echo The Bad Seed – similar scenes with a handyman who blackmails with what knowledge they could reveal; the fight over whether the child deserved an award more than another pupil.

Mommy is cheaply made production. The photography is barely better than the level of an amateur film – faces are often lit completely in shadow and the action is too dimly lit to be able to see clearly at times. Not to mention, Max Allan Collins’s direction is often crudely heavy-handed – a shot of Patty McCormack opening a jar is lit lurid red; overly sinister musical cues play as she enters the room. There is not even any dramatic conviction to the killings – particularly the scene where Majel Barrett is pushed off a ladder or the shooting of Michael Cornelison. While Mommy treads most of the lines of a standard 1990s psycho-thriller – one could maybe make comparison to Mother’s Boys (1994), which came out around the same time – there are some gaping holes in the script. For one, the character of Mark Jeffries played by Michael Cornelison fails to convince – he is an insurance investigator who has posed as Patty McCormack’s boyfriend. After his deception is revealed, he simply shrugs this off and tries to come across as a sincere, decent guy. The character of Jessica Ann, who narrates throughout, often speaks in ways that are far more adult than is credible for her age.

What must be noted about Mommy is the amazing cast that Max Allan Collins has managed to assemble. Aside from Patty McCormack who gives a fine performance, Collins has gathered appearances from Scream Queen Brinke Stevens (in a clothed role as Patty McCormack’s sister); Jason Miller of The Exorcist (1973) fame as a dour detective (a performance where Miller seems washed up and plays indifferently); Majel Barrett alias Mrs Gene Roddenberry, Nurse Chapel and other roles on Star Trek (1966-9) and its various incarnations as the murdered teacher; and surprisingly thriller writer Mickey Spillane (who director Max Allan Collins has written a biography of), the creator of Mike Hammer, as Patty McCormack’s lawyer.

Director/writer Max Allan Collins is a novelist and has written several thriller series as well as a great many film novelizations for the likes of Waterworld (1995), Saving Private Ryan (1998), The Mummy (1999), U-571 (2000) and I Spy (2002), and a bunch of CSI, Dark Angel, Bones and Criminal Minds original spinoff novels. He has also written scripts for comic-books like Dick Tracy and Batman, as well as created several true crime trading card series. Collins’ first original screenplay was the action film The Expert (1995), which was purportedly not a happy experience on his part. Collins subsequently went onto direct Real Time: Siege at Lucas Market Street (2000) and Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life (2005), based on his stage play. Collins’ most well-known work was the graphic novel The Road to Perdition (1998), which was adapted into the film Road to Perdition (2002). Collins shot Mommy in his hometown of Muscatine, Iowa. It was based on a short story he had originally published in the anthology Fear Itself.

Max Allan Collins and Patty McCormack and many of those present here returned with a sequel Mommy’s Day (1996).

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