The early 1970s was a very popular time for domestic violence if the horror/thriller genres were any indication. A number of releases based on abuse from mothers, aunts, and other relatives hit theaters, many of them garnering critical success and, in turn, prompting in-law terrors. Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (I reviewed here for Shit Movie Fest’s 25 Days of Shitmas), What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?, and What’s the Matter with Helen? all released around the same time and were classified as a psycho-biddy subgenre, meaning that the older women in those films normally went on a killing spree. A lesser known film starring Patty Duke and the psycho-biddy Rosemary Murphy got a 1972 release with direction from Lamont Johnson; known as You’ll Like My Mother, it got middling attention at the time, but Scream Factory has brought it back for a Blu-Ray release.
Duke stars as Francesca, a young pregnant lady making a journey to see her mother-in-law Mrs. Kinsolving (Murphy) a few months after her husband’s unfortunate death; it just happens that Mrs. Kinsolving lives in Minnesota, and there’s a horrendous blizzard blowing up as Francesca arrives. Snowed in, she has to deal with Mrs. Kinsolving’s mentally handicapped daughter Kathleen (Sian Barbara Allen) as well as her son Kenny, who is most likely a rapist and murderer hiding out at the residence until Mrs. Kinsolving can ferry him out of the country.
It’s immediately clear that things aren’t great at the Kinsolving house, although they do have a gorgeous manse that sits on a secluded hill, far away from prying eyes. Johnson’s direction creates a moody, almost supernatural atmosphere to the proceedings, and the early snow scenes further disturb the viewer because of the dangerous conditions outside – clearly real, and very cold. You’ll Like My Mother has a little bit of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House at the start, featuring creaking wooden floorboards and darkened staircases within the massive house. Quickly, though, Murphy’s character Mrs. Kinsolving helps to dispel the supernaturality of the situation: the terror of the film comes solely from the horrible personalities of its characters.
The plot is essentially a tight four-person thriller, and almost the entirety of the film takes place in the house itself. It’s often difficult to maintain engagement with such a sparse and simple setup, but Johnson wrings a lot of tension from the setting and the actors themselves. Murphy is absolutely brutal as Mrs. Kinsolving, delivering some devastating lines to both Kathleen and Francesca; she refuses to acknowledge Francesca as her son’s wife, and rejects their baby with a comment that she doesn’t really know if Francesca’s actually telling the truth about the father. Mrs. Kinsolving is a uniquely peculiar character, though, because she often means well despite her bluntly disrespectful comments.
Allen does a wonderful job as Kathleen as well, playing a woman unable to speak besides short vocal bursts; the pathos she emits, as well as the tender way that You’ll Like My Mother builds Kathleen and Francesca’s relationship, is heartwarming, and it adds much-needed levity to a film that is often drearily chilly.
The middle act runs a little long once Kenny (Richard Thomas) is introduced. That’s because the film’s focus shifts from Francesca to the Kinsolvings, opting to spend more time with Kenny and Mrs. Kinsolving than it does with Francesca. Johnson nearly gets too close to his villains, especially Kenny, who is something of a Norman Bates-lite: the classy and boyish exterior hides a fuming rage underneath, something that You’ll Like My Mother skimps on throughout most of the film except for a wildly successful delivery where an otherwise loving comment from Kenny towards his mother is followed up with a playful “You bitch.”
The film gets back on track in its conclusion, however, and finds a nice balance for its characters. While Kenny is an unbalanced psychopath, Mrs. Kinsolving is not, and the film eventually makes that distinction as a pitiful Mrs. Kinsolving continues to mutter to herself as she leans over her dead son. Johnson plays with expectations, and often defines Mrs. Kinsolving not as a murderous dame but as a woman just as locked into her house as Francesca; the closing scene effectively cements that characterization.
You’ll Like My Mother is a slow, brooding thriller with lots of tense scenes that pay off. It lags in its second act but comes together for a great finale, and its characters are engaging enough to make the ending resonate. There’s a lot of drama within You’ll Like My Mother, and this reviewer would venture to say that you’ll like this film.
Scream Factory’s Blu-Ray is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio and looks about as good as can be expected. There are definitely some issues with grain in some brighter lighting, such as outdoor scenes with the white snow, and there are some noticeable damage marks especially early on in the film. Otherwise, though, the rest of the film is very good in this high-def release.
Audio comes in DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio and sounds very good, with no issues heard. This also comes with English subtitles which do occasional have a spelling error with the Kinsolving name.
Extra features for this film are most likely hard to come by, but Scream Factory was able to get new interviews with both Sian Barbara Allen and Richard Thomas, which amounts to about 55 minutes of footage about the making of You’ll Like My Mother, working with the cast, and Allen and Thomas’ relationship thanks to working on the film. It’s a good long piece of supplemental information, and adds quite a bit to this release. Also included is a photo gallery and theatrical trailer, and on the back of the cover art, some extra photos.