Ed Chilton (Steve Buscemi) is a mama’s boy; he may, in fact, be the mama’s boy to end all mama’s boys. See, her voice is still ringing in his ears, a year after her death. The late Mabel Chilton (Miriam Margolyes) went to her grave a full twelve months ago, leaving her hardware store to Ed, where he employs the kindly (Gary Farmer) and fields phone calls from the murderous Reverend Paxton (Rance Howard), who has frequent questions about what hardware would be best to kill his adulterous wife. On an otherwise normal day, Ed finds himself visited by A. J. Pattle (John Glover), a salesman peddling resurrection for the late Mabel, payable on delivery. Ed agrees, much to the chagrin of his live-in uncle, Benny (Ned Beatty), the exact kind of peeping tom horndog that pegs this movie to 1993. The object of Benny’s desire is next-door-neighbor Storm Reynolds (Sam Sorbo credited under her maiden name), who, in fairness, parades around intentionally, trying to attract attention. Uncle Benny is even further perturbed when his sister reappears in the flesh, little worse for wear. She and Ed both have something to fear from the unstable Rob Sundheimer (Jon Gries), a former employer who was convicted by Mabel’s testimony and who’s out on parole with vengeance in his mind.
There’s something very familiar about Ed and His Dead Mother. It’s very tonally inconsistent in a way that really pigeonholes it as something that could only be created at a certain time; it felt a lot like My Boyfriend’s Back and Stepmonster. And wouldn’t you just know it, all three films were released in 1993 (there’s also a little hint of 1991’s Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead). There’s some played-for-laughs not-quite-body-horror here that’s very reminiscent of Boyfriend; for one thing, a distinction is made between bringing someone back to life and bringing someone back from the dead, and as Pattle notes while upselling Ed another product, only latter was promised, not the former. As such, Mabel is forced to consume “life,” meaning living things (mostly roaches), but she isn’t above considering a neighborhood dog, or worse. We never have to see Mabel eat roaches like it’s Fear Factor, nor are we confronted with the image of a canine in distress; like Boyfriend and Don’t Tell Mom, there’s no real gore (at least until the end, where it’s still not very realistic), and there’s very little real sense of menace. Like Stepmonster, it places itself in a very specific time when someone can peep on their hot lady neighbor and the film acts like this is perfectly acceptable behavior that doesn’t soil our protagonist’s character, and here, this goes beyond simple safe-for-TV underwear shots, but a full-on bare-assed striptease and even frontal nudity, a little more than you’d expect from a PG-13 flick and especially something that you wouldn’t expect in a film where the humor feels as juvenile as the aforementioned movies. The sex factor is too high for kids in this movie, but the jokes are either too heady or too obvious for a more upper-teen demographic. It is still darker than any of those, however, as none of the end in a cemetery in which a man must bury his mother’s head in one corner and her body in another, lest she rise again.
There are a lot of bits here that are quite good. The increasingly unhinged Reverend whose rage at his wife’s infidelities (with all of the church council no less, even the women — all at once!) is a lot of fun, and when we get to see another side of Pattle, whom we’ve only seen as a hectoring salesbully with Ed, sheepishly being lectured by upper management about draining Ed of every cent that he got from his mother’s insurance instead of giving so many discounts. Margolyes is clearly having a lot of fun chewing the scenery as Mabel, especially when she’s cartoonishly grinding meat, chasing dogs, and locking herself in the fridge. Glover is always fun, especially when he’s getting to push people around, and Buscemi carries the thankless lead role of the feckless Ed effortlessly. I just wish it was funnier, that it made me laugh a little more. Maybe I’m just not in the target demographic, but then again, I don’t know who is.
-Mark “Boomer” Redmond