Year: 1987
Director: Joseph Merhi
Cast: Delores Nascar, Natasha Pavlovich, Flint Keller, Liz Kane

By most standards "Epitaph" is not a good film. The production values look cheap, the acting in extremely over-the-top and campy, and the plot extremely implausible. Still, as crazy as it may be, this film remains one of my guilty pleasures and I thoroughly enjoy each viewing.

Very few people probably even know "Epitaph" exists, and I suppose there is good reason for that. Most will immediately latch onto and not be able to get past the film's flaws, as "Epitaph" defines cheesy cinema at its worst. It looks like it was filmed with a home video camera, which will be a turn off to many.

The film centers around a family consisting of a father, mother, teenage daughter, and mother-in law, who have to keep moving from town to town because Mommy is a psychokiller who does away with practically any guy she can get her hands on because she thinks they all want to rape her. This is the main weakness with the plot of the film; we are led to believe that the Mother has killed many many men, yet has never been caught because the family simply up and moves? The mother herself is a sight to behold and acts like a combination of Piper Laurie in "Carrie" and Faye Dunaway in "Mommie Dearest." It is such an overblown, hammy performance that I seriously think the actress (Delores Nascar) truly believe she would be nominated for an Oscar for her performance. She treats her family, including her kind and caring elderly mother-in-law like dirt, which makes it even more unbelievable that they would keep covering up her murders.

Her husband hires a psychiatrist to secretly observe her because he realizes just out of hand she is. Shortly after this, a painter shows up to paint a room on the house. Crazy Momma tries to seduce him, but he refuses. In return, she stabs him multiple time with a butcher's knife and claims he tried to rape her. In an interesting plot twist, when the father goes to bury the body, he realizes (a tad late) that the dude is not dead and ends up with a pick-ax in his chest. You would think this would be the last straw for the daughter and the mother-in-law and that they would notify the police, but nope. They continue to cover for her and obey her, with dire consequences. When the daughter starts dating a boy at her school, the mother becomes obsessive. And when she finds out that her husband hired a psychiatrist, all hell certainly breaks loose.

One thing that makes this film stand out is that the killings in the film are VERY violent and cruel, including one of the most creative and disturbing death scenes I have ever witnessed in a horror film (involving at rat, a bucket, and a blow torch). This alone scores the films some points for creativity, on top of the fact the really nobody is safe from the mother's rage. The ending becomes a frantic and frenzied experience for the viewer because we are just not sure how it will end up and who will be left standing. "Epitaph" also becomes more effective than it should be because it never falters from its serious tone. Some can argue that a movie of this budget and quality SHOULDN'T have taken itself so seriously, but the fact that "Epitaph" does, coupled with the almost documentary feel of the film (due to the low production values) makes it seem almost like we are watching a truly dysfunctional family. The fact that the death scenes are pretty brutal and realistic only helps to create an uneasy and dirty feeling in the viewer. It is a strange, rare instance where a films flaws become beneficial and make the film even more effective.

"Epitaph" is far from a great film, but I still give the film high marks. The serious tone of the film and the viciousness of the mother's murders, as well as the interaction between the family members is interesting to watch and almost voyeuristic in feel. The result is a film that had everyone thing going against it before it was popped into your DVD/VHS player, but ends up becoming much more memorable and effective than it should have.

Fright Meter Grade:

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