Monday, November 4, 2019

I’d Love To Turn You On At The Movies #230 - Ed and His Dead Mother (1993, dir. Jonathan Wacks)

In the early ‘90s, after falling completely in love with his character Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs, I became sort of fixated on consuming all the other films in which Steve Buscemi starred. That included a lot of late-1980s/early-1990s independent vehicles that were very hit and miss. Ed and His Dead Mother was one of the hits for me. It was one of the first Buscemi flicks that I watched period, let alone one of the first ones that I saw where Buscemi played a (relatively) normal schlub and not a psychotic, violent creep. Ed is also a comedy, which was (and really still is) my forte; my first love. And even though Buscemi was absolutely hilarious in most of his roles, he didn’t do a lot of comedic movies in his early days - at least not that I had seen. Buscemi’s turn as Ed, a sweetly naïve hardware salesman from small town Iowa is simultaneously charming and disturbing.
Ed is the third and final effort by American director Jonathan Wacks. Wacks is perhaps best known for his first film, the George Harrison (yes, THAT George Harrison) co-produced Powwow Highway, or for producing the cult favorite Repo Man. Buscemi plays the titular Ed Chilton, the ultimate mama’s boy. Ed receives a visit from a kind of shifty snake oil salesman (John Glover) from a company called Happy People, Ltd., who offer to reanimate his dead mother for a fee. After some consideration and a lot of resistance from his live-in Uncle Benny (Ned Beatty), Ed decides to go through with it. At first Ed is thrilled to have his mother back, as she picks up where she left off when she died, cooking and cleaning and generally helping Ed keep his life in order. But over time, as her behavior grows more and more irrational and bizarre, (hunting and killing living things for sustenance, for example), Ed must make a decision on what to do about mother.
The film itself is any indie film nut’s darling. In addition to Beatty, Glover and Buscemi himself, the film also stars a handful of other fairly well-known character actors, like Miriam Margolyes, Gary Farmer, Eric Christmas and especially Rance Howard, father of Ronnie and Clint, who plays the town preacher shopping at Ed’s store for tools to use to murder his unfaithful wife. The film also has one of the more curious set design choices I’ve ever seen. For the most part, the film looks like 1993, when it comes to wardrobe and hairstyles and things like that, but location-wise, the small Iowa town that’s supposed to be being portrayed here looks almost more 1953. Whether this was a conscious decision or a happy accident is beyond me, but somehow it works, adding yet another layer of strange to an already eccentric film.
Steve Buscemi is still one of my all-time favorites and I still tend to try to watch everything he appears in. Wacks, on the other hand, never directed another full length after Ed and His Dead Mother was released, most likely due to the poor box office activity of all three of his feature films. This would also explain why, up until 2018, the DVD was long out-of-print as well. This is a shame too, because I consider Ed to be kind of an indie classic. A deep cut that never tries to be anything it’s not. It’s just a quirky little comedy, in the tradition of Floundering or Living in Oblivion, with a little bit of a dark and macabre edge to it. Not a zombie film per se, but definitely a seasonally-appropriate film that offers a fresh take on portraying the undead.

- Jonathan Eagle

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