We all love our mothers. They’re great, they raised us, showed the ways of the world, and generally shaped who we ultimately become. Because they wield such a massive influence in our lives, it makes sense that they also figure prominently into horror as a genre, and sometimes that power and inspiration is less than positive. And with Mother’s Day this weekend, we figured, what better time to explore some of our favorite terrible horror movie moms and what makes them so wonderfully evil. Reading this list should make you thankful for our own mother.
10. Mother, Mother’s Day
Given the holiday, this is the most obvious place to kick things off. While we’re talking about Charles Kaufman’s (brother of Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman) 1980 horror-thriller Mother’s Day, you can also check out the recent remake, which was surprisingly solid. When a group of friend embark on an annual camping trip, their trip takes a nightmare turn when the encounter a gang of hillbilly punks, the likes of which you only encounter in campy movies. These freaks live in a creepy hotel with their unstable Mother who goads them into horrific acts of all kinds. She’s certainly a piece of work, urging them to all manner of antisocial behaviors, but then again, so is her sister, Queenie. Like most movies of this ilk, it was divisive, appealing to gore hounds but shocking and appalling the normal, the mainstream audiences, and a large part of this reaction stems from the cinematic matriarch.
9. Amelia Vannick, The Babadook
Granted, I’m not as in love with this movie as many other people, but Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook certainly struck a chord with audiences last year. Amelia Vannick (Essie Davis) may not be evil, or even a terrible mother, but she’s stuck in one of the hardest situations a parent can endure. An evil force named Mr. Babadook, who resides in an eerie children’s book, haunts Amelia and her annoying son, but beyond that, the film explores how trauma and pressure impact motherhood and how she feels about her son. A balance between supernatural horror and psychological thriller, Amelia confronts birth, death, and evil spirits, as well as the weight and stress of raising a troubled child on her own, dealing with her increasingly dark feelings towards her child, and becoming an actual threat to her own offspring.
8. Vera Cosgrove, Dead Alive
There’s no doubt that Vera Cosgrove (Elizabeth Moody) from Peter Jackson’s gore-soaked Dead Alive is a terrible mother. She endeavors to keep her meek son, Lionel (Timothy Balme), under her thumb by sabotaging his date at the zoo and is bitten by a rare Sumatran rat-monkey for her trouble. This turns her into a zombie, which doesn’t do wonders for either her relationship with her son or her parenting skills. Living or dead, she’s not going to win any mother of the year trophies, but she certainly does get to participate in one of the most memorable and funniest, not to mention grossest, dinner party scenes that has ever been committed to celluloid.
7. Mrs. Loomis/Debbie Salt, Scream 2
The 1997 sequel to Wes Craven’s self-referential genre offering takes an even more meta approach, including a movie based on the events from the first film. It also brings in that oft-used horror elements of both copycat killers and terrible mothers out for revenge, though it combines the two. Laurie Metcalf plays Debbie Salt, a.k.a. Mrs. Loomis, who not only figures prominently into the motivation for the killings in Scream, but also embarks on her own murderous spree against Sidney (Neve Campbell), who she blames for the death of her baby boy. Granted, she wants justice for her son, even if he was a serial killer, but still, her abandonment is a big part of what pushed him over the edge in the first place. Scream 2 also teaches us an important lesson, if you think the villain is dead, shoot her again just to make sure.
6. Beverly Sutphin, Serial Mom
Mothers are, understandably, protective of their young, and never is that on as prominent, deliriously gleeful display as in John Waters’ 1994 dark comedy/horror Serial Mom. And when we say dark, we mean dark. Kathleen Turner plays Beverly Sutphin, who, by all appearances, is your typical suburban mom, married to a dentist, shuttling the kids to soccer practice in her neutral colored minivan. On the down low, however, she’s also a serial killer, slaughtering her neighbors for the most minor slights. Serial Mom, and Turner’s performance, walk a fine line between camp and portraying Beverly’s mental illness in a realistic light. It lends a sharp, serious edge to what otherwise could have been exaggeration. This doesn’t sit well with some viewers—it’s hard to laugh at someone with a legitimate disease—but it adds a twisted sense to the film.
5. Pamela Voorhees, Friday the 13th
As a franchise, Friday the 13th is obviously most known for its hockey mask wearing, machete wielding, unkillable villain Jason Voorhees. What you may remember, however, is that Jason doesn’t show up until the very end of the first film, not to mention that he doesn’t even adopt his iconic mask until later than that. In the first movie, the killer is Pamela Voorhees, Jason’s mother, a woman driven to mad feats of revenge against those she views as responsible for the death of your young son. Jason was a mentally disabled boy who drowned at Camp Crystal Lake while the counselors who were supposed to be watching him were screwing and getting high. Pushed over the edge by tragedy, Mrs. Voorhees proceeds to enact vicious retribution looking for justice for her boy.
4. "Mommy" Robeson, People Under the Stairs
Few cinematic families are as memorably twisted and messed up as the Robesons from Wes Craven’s 1991 horror film The People Under the Stairs (maybe the family from Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and that includes Wendie Robie’s "Mommy" Robeson. You don’t raise a brood of feral, cannibalistic children in your walls without having a few screws loose. She’s shrill, vicious, and when there are leather gimp masks and booby traps in play, this is one house that you don’t want to break into and rob. To quote Fool (Brandon Adams), the young protagonist of the film, "Your mother is one sick mother."
3. Nola Carveth, The Brood
In the midst of a run that included disturbing, psychotropic thrillers like Rabid, Scanners, and Videodrome, Canadian body horror master David Cronenberg dropped a warped family tale in The Brood. What first appear to be a litter of misshapen children committing murders turns out to be the "psychoplasimic" spawn of a mentally disturbed woman, Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar). They’re essentially the physical manifestations of her rage that automatically respond and attack threats against their queen bee mother or targets of her ire, whether she’s conscious of it or not. The graphic, taboo nature of The Brood has turned off many viewers and critics over the years, but while it’s a sordid, nasty little tale, it’s also absorbing, engaging, and certainly one of Cronenberg’s most memorable films, full of themes of repression, power, and abuse. There are some things here that you can’t unsee, and Nola has a few lessons to learn about being a mother.
2. Margaret White, Carrie
The overbearing mother, brutally pushing her child this way or that, is a well-used trope in horror films, but it’s rarely been as effective as in Carrie. Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation features meek 17-year-old Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) abused and belittled by her unstable, religious fundamentalist mother (Piper Laurie). When Carrie discovers she has telekinetic powers, and having been pushed to her breaking point by everyone around her, though especially her mother, things explode in a fiery bit of revenge. Carrie has received sequels and remakes in the subsequent years, and while they haven’t all been terrible, none of them has quite lived up to the first one, which taught us all an important lesson, never dump pig’s blood on the weird kids.
1. Norma Bates, Psycho
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic, Psycho, is, pardon the pun, the obvious mother of this subgenre. Whether you consider it a true horror movie or a thriller, we’re talking about one of the scariest movies ever made, and one that reminds us all to avoid creepy roadside motels in the middle of nowhere, and made it so we’ll never look at a guy in a dress the same way ever again. Unprecedented at the time for its use of sexuality and violence, Psycho is also credited as one of the first psychological thrillers, and has one of the best twists pulled off in cinema history. Villain Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) has more serious mommy issues than damn near any character ever put on celluloid, and though she never appears on screen alive, Norma Bates goes down in history as having raised one of the most memorably twisted movie characters of all time.
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