Steering away from his usual supporting roles, Ed and His Dead Mother stars character actor Steve Buscemi as Ed,
a troubled young fella still reeling from the death of his beloved mother a year ago. His Uncle Benny, in between leering at Storm, their neighbor across the street (played by the way-too-foxy Mrs. Kevin Sorbo, Sam Jenkins), tries to convince Ed to move on with his life and enjoy the $60,000 his mother left him. Although Ed can't seem to stumble upon happiness on his own, a cheerful but aggressive salesman from the Happy People Corporation (John Glover; Gremlins 2: The New Batch) trots into his life to take a swing at the problem. He offers Ed an opportunity that seems too good to be true, and, of course, it seems that way because it is -- for the piddling sum of $1,000, the good folks at the Happy People Corporation will reanimate Ed's mother, good as new. With nothing to lose, Ed reluctantly agrees.
The process turns out to be much more costly than expected. Ed's mother was an organ donor, leaving what's left of her remains scattered into convenient bite-sized chunks. The initial cash outlay seems worth it, though, as her overbearing personality remains intact and there's no visible scarring. However, the Happy People Corporation lifts its financial philosophy from Gillette, giving away the razor but marking the living hell out of the blades. Keeping his mother alive and kicking proves to be a difficult and expensive proposition for Ed, with a seemingly endless flow of cash directed at keeping Ma one foot out of the grave. Of course, you can't put a price tag on love, but the sticker shock becomes even more unbearable as it becomes increasingly clear that Ed's mother didn't come back quite right. As things start to get hot 'n heavy between Ed and his neighbor Storm, Mom's voracious appetite threatens to consume everything and everyone in sight.
Ed and His Dead Mother was released around the same time as Peter Jackson's Dead Alive, and there are some obvious surface similarities between the two: a devoted son who shuns the affections of a neighbor to care for his crazed undead mother, a boorish uncle, flesh-shredding lawnmowers, arse-kicking priests, and...that's about where the similarities end.
Dead Alive had barrel drums of blood, a hysterically over-the-top smattering of gore, a legion of murderous zombies, and a hopelessly twisted sense of humor. Ed and His Dead Mother is comparatively tame, limited to a single zombie, no real on-screen grue, and next to nothing in the way of comedy. The humor mostly relies on sight gags of the maniacal matriarch's crazed facial expressions and random quips like Bennie's musings on protection ("Shield that gator, no regrets later!"). Other than that, Ed and His Dead Mother doesn't seem to even try to snag a laugh. Maybe the Dead Alive comparisons are unfair since not a whole hell of a lot stacks up well next to that splatter classic, but when Ed and His Dead Mother cowers next to the likes of Flesh Eating Mothers, you know you're in for 85 minutes of disinterest.
Maybe I set my expectations too high for Ed and His Dead Mother, a movie I'd really been looking forward to seeing ever since I stumbled upon the title in a They Might Be Giants discography seven years ago. Unfortunately, I found the movie to be limp and lifeless. Despite my obvious lack of enthusiasm, Ed and His Dead Mother has managed to amass a pretty sizable fan base over the past decade, and its devoted followers may be interested in the movie's reanimation by Pathfinder Home Entertainment for this DVD release.
Video: Looking as if Pathfinder dug up the master from a Laserdisc release, Ed and His Dead Mother is letterboxed to an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is not enhanced for widescreen displays. The presentation is passable but looks rather dated. The image is grainy, sporting drab colors and a lack of fine detail. Stability is also an issue; in every shot in the film, something looks as if it's shimmering, vibrating, or fluttering, including stairs, stacks of books, shingles, and striped shirts. Contrast at times seemed artificially bumped up, perhaps to try to compensate for some of the transfer's shortcomings. This DVD is certainly watchable, and none of its flaws left me cringing on my couch in disgust, but it's kind of a disappointment that a brand new transfer couldn't have been cobbled together for this release.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 2.0 track (192Kbps) is similarly utilitarian, and if I'd piped the flat, dated audio through my TV speakers rather than my home theater rig, it probably wouldn't haved sounded much different. The movie's aural highlight: They Might Be Giants' "Everything Right Is Wrong Again" plays over the end credits.
There are no alternate language tracks, subtitles, or, unlike the Laserdisc release, closed captions.
Supplements: The first of the extras is a set of filmographies, rattling off a list of credits for Steve Buscemi, Ned Beatty, John Glover, Sam Jenkins, Miriam Margoyles, and director Jonathan Wacks.
Although all traces of director Jonathan Wacks and writer Chuck Hughes have apparently vanished completely from the face of the earth, two critics, Luke Y. Thompson (whose website features brilliantly brief reviews for movies like All the Real Girls; "Zooey Deschanel is a Real talent! Plus I'd rather have sexual intercourse with her than most actresses!") and Gregory Weinkauf stepped in to record the disc's audio commentary. It's incredibly fun and chatty, frequently having little to do with the movie, but still entertaining anyway. There are some notes about Ed and His Dead Mother, including various motifs, camera movement, and the reversal of the usual "monochromatic flashbacks/color in the present" scheme. What makes this such a fun commentary are the innumerable quotes and references to other movies (including revered obscurities like The Apple), along with impressions as varied as Gollum, Glenn Danzig, Clint Eastwood, Jim Backus, Morrissey, Tom Hanks, Gary Cole, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Lee, Michael J. Anderson, Hank Hill, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Thompson and Weinkauf careen off on tangents like the color of Ned Beatty's tanktop, cast members' teeth and the pronunciation of their last names, horrendous wallpaper, George Lucas' diabetic dream diner, the presentation of breasts in a PG-13 movie, obscene references to Parker Posey's oral talents, and the differences between "bravo" and "brava". Some of their comments are a little...questionable (48kps mp3; 22.0K), but if you have a chance, this commentary is definitely worth a listen.
The disc's still gallery includes twenty-five production stills. Rounding out the extras are alternate opening and ending sequences, running just over eight minutes total. The primary difference seems to be that they're in color rather than black-and-white, and this footage has not been letterboxed.
"Production Credits" lists the URL to the Pathfinder website along with some shots of cover art and a nod to the menu designers at Pointcomma.net. The disc's 4x3 menus, by the way, are static, centered around stills from the film. The main menus also have the Happy People corporate anthem playing underneath. Ed and His Dead Mother has been divided into eighteen chapters.
Conclusion: Ed and His Dead Mother has a pretty rabid fanbase, but whatever appeal it holds is apparently lost on me. Intrigued viewers may want to give this disc a rental, but I wouldn't recommend a purchase of Ed and His Dead Mother sight-unseen. Rent It.
Boring Image Disclaimer: The screen captures in this review are compressed, slightly digitally sweetened, and don't necessarily reflect the appearance of the movie on DVD.