10 TIMES MOM DIDN'T KNOW BEST...
Mothers, eh? Where would we be without them? They nurture and guide us through life as best as they can and ask for little in return … unless they’re in horror movies of course. In which case they’re just as likely to manipulate their offspring, produced killing machines, or slaughter innocent victims themselves.
Darren Aronofsky’s new mind-bender “mother!” is out very shortly. According to early opinions it is something of a harrowing affair, with that nice young Jennifer Lawrence in a relationship with the shifty Javier Bardem, and having her house invaded by a gang of strangers. We’ve tried to avoid as many spoilers online as possible, and you can expect a review when it’s out. So we don’t know plot specifics, although all preview feedback so far has been amazingly positive. But we do know it’s got something to do with babies and motherhood … or it’s been very poorly titled indeed.
So we’re going to use that as a thinly veiled excuse to present 10 of the best “Bad Moms” in the genre. Characters you shouldn’t trust with children … or sharp objects. It’s a purely subjective list, so if we’ve missed one of your favourites or you have an opinion, please share in the comments section.
But we have to go in now; our Mum’s calling us in ….
(Olivia Hussey, Vera Farmiga & … err … Anthony Perkins + Freddie Highmore)
Psycho franchise + Bates Motel
The ultimate bad mother … or is she? She’s the only character here that’s played by different actresses … and decaying corpses and cross-dressing actors. Depending on which film you see and which character you believe, she’s either a manipulative old harridan who drives her son insane with her nagging and nastiness, or she’s a misunderstood and troubled woman who inadvertently creates a monster with her overprotective love.
Let’s start with the original “Psycho”. The “Norma Bates” that we meet here (ignoring the literal mummy in the basement) is another personality in Norman Bate’s (Perkins) head. If that was indicative of the real person, then she was a horrible old hag who belittled Norman and drove him to matricide. But we’ve only got his perception of that version, so she might not have been that bad. Things get complicated in “Psycho II” however, when we meet [*Spoiler*] Norman’s “real” mother (Norma being his aunt apparently), and this Mommy IS a bad egg. She’s thoroughly psychotic and totally homicidal. After Norman being mad again in Part 3, “Psycho IV: The Beginning” elaborates on Norma’s (Hussey) upbringing of the young Psycho, and confirms that she was indeed a nasty piece of work who suffered from mental disorders, forced him to cross-dress as a punishment and was responsible for his breakdown. We’ll forget about the Gus Van Sant remake shall we?
The TV series “Bates Motel” puts an entirely new and sympathetic spin on Norma (Farmiga). Yes, she is a disturbed woman and has some mental frailty. She even kills a couple of people, but it’s only ever in self-defence and she’s more a victim of circumstance. Norma is over-protective of Norman again certainly, however it’s due to the fact that she recognises his psychosis and she’s initially unwilling to face up to it. In the end, she’s shown as a vibrant woman who is on the verge of finding happiness and peace, until her son snatches it away from her by committing jealous murder. Her end is actually kind of heart-breaking, and the version that takes her place in the psyche of Freddie Highmore’s interpretation of Norman is another spiteful and destructive maternal construct.
Defining moment - The very final scene of “Psycho” with Norma completely dominating Norman and grinning at the camera (“Why … she wouldn’t even harm a fly”).
(Betsy Palmer/Nana Visitor)
Friday the 13th
And here’s another mad matriarch that you can’t ignore in a list like this. It’s Jason Voorhees’s dear old Mum, Pamela. The best known answer to a horror pub quiz (see the opening scene of “Scream”), Pamela was slaughtering camp counsellors whilst Jason was still slacking off at the bottom of Crystal Lake. The shirker!
Throughout the running time of the OG 80’s slasher “Friday the 13th”, a mysterious figure slices and dices the teenage victims at the reopened summer camp by the lake. Movie ignoramuses assume that this was the first outing of hockey-masked Jason, but we genre fans of course know that this was Mrs Voorhees (Palmer) avenging the “death” of her son (and that Jason didn’t kill until part 2 or get the mask until part 3). The character is a bit of a cheat, being the sort of suspect doesn’t turn up in a detective novel until the final chapter. Here she blithely introduces herself to final girl Alice (Adrienne King) before going nutzoid and chasing her through the woods with a knife. She gets a great death scene as well (if you ignore Tom Savini’s hairy knuckles) as she gets full-on decapitated by our heroine.
If you investigate online and in novels, there’s a substantial backstory for Pamela. Pregnant at 15 by a man called Elias, she endured a short marriage and brought up the deformed Jason by herself. Working as a cook at the camp, she became deranged after her son drowned whilst the camp counsellors screwed around. The portrayal by Palmer hit home with US audiences as she was a popular TV personality and a regular on quiz shows, so the role kind of shocked older viewers. The actress originally had problems with the fame that the part brought but embraced it in later years. Mrs Voorhees remained a presence in some sequels (due to Jason keeping her head and memory intact), and Star Trek actress Nana Visitor briefly played the (still doomed) character in the 2009 remake. But Palmer’s version is the one that we all know and love.
Defining Moment – Well, to be honest … she doesn’t get much of a chance to make an impression, but luckily she makes an impact in the time allotted. Pamela’s descent into nuttiness is encapsulated nicely by Palmer as she hunches up and scampers after Alice with a machete … all the time whispering “Kill her mommy … Kill her!”. And of course that’s where the iconic “Ki..Ki..Ma..Ma” soundtrack comes from on the “Friday” films.
(Piper Laurie/Julianne Moore)
Another regular on bad mom lists. One of the best religiously inclined villains in the genre, she’s born directly from Stephen King’s best-seller, and although Laurie differs somewhat to the description in the book, the worst traits are still well in evidence. It says a lot that a defining horror film from the 70’s about a mass-murdering girl with telekinesis has the true villainy represented by the mother of that character.
In Brian De Palma’s 1976 film (and the novel and remake), Carrie White is a sweet-natured girl who suffers only from lack of self-confidence and naivety … and emerging telekinetic powers of course. She might be driven over the edge into murder and mayhem by merciless bullying, but it’s her mother Margaret (Laurie) that put her in this dark place and unable to deal with life. Domineering, abusive, insane and fanatically faithful to the (misconstrued) words of the bible, her miserable attempts at raising her daughter rebounds on her by the finale. Once her daughter’s powers manifest, Mrs White genuinely believes her to be a witch (“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”) and it’s this that drives her to attempt to murder her own daughter. Unfortunately she indirectly succeeds in her aims, as Carrie’s own powers consume her, but at least the daughter gets revenge on mum with mind-controlled kitchen utensils beforehand.
The 70’s film is perfectly cast (Spacek is simply brilliant as Carrie), and Laurie is inspired as the monstrous Margaret. A slight Southern accent belies her fragile mental state, and she is genuinely frightening to behold as she flies into lethal rages, locking her daughter in the cupboard for merely daring to grow-up. You inwardly cheer for Carrie as she defies her, and her final demise in a quasi-religious pose is satisfyingly ironic. The part earned Laurie an Oscar nomination at the time for best supporting actress. Julianne Moore played the same role in the 2013 remake but as good as she is, it didn’t make an impression like Laurie’s version and even added an odd element of unnecessary self-harm to the portrayal for no good reason.
Defining Moment – Distraught by the chaos she has wrought at the school and betrayed by the actions of her classmates, Carrie returns to her mother sobbing for comfort. Margaret seemingly softens and starts to communicate honestly with her child… before literally stabbing her viciously in the back. Never has a character been so eloquently visualised in one scene. Cue those flying knives…
A mother can be a serial killer … but that doesn’t mean she’s necessarily a bad person or can’t look after her family properly. John Water’s crime comedy satirises the prissy and irrelevant nature of suburbia, where “normal God-fearing” folk lose their shit over the most meaningless of things and take it to extremes, whilst the genuine outrages pass them by unnoticed. (NB: In the UK, we call people like that: “Daily Mail Readers”).
The lady in question here is the perfect-seeming housewife Beverly Sutphin, who is immaculately played by a perfectly cast Turner. To all intents and purposes Beverly is the typical suburban housewife, living with her dentist husband and their teenage kids. She holds social niceties and good manners in the highest of regards, but unlike most people she’ll cold-bloodily murder anybody who offends her. She’s a bit like Hannibal Lector … but without the cannibalism and a lot more cake. The funniest aspect is the way she turns on a dime from a good-natured Martha Stewart to a foul-mouthed loony, exhibited during some hilarious prank calls.
Waters takes it into satire overdrive when Beverly is arrested by the police, becomes an overnight sensation and is named “Serial Mom” by the press. By a serious of ludicrous machinations that she engineers, she actually gets off the charge. It’s an offbeat tale that is greatly enlivened by the note-perfect performance from Turner, who’s able to use the role to merge the wholesome and more outrageous characters that she’s played in the past. It’s a striking and endearingly daft piece of horror/comedy.
Defining Moment – The kitschiest of murder scenes as Beverly savagely bludgeons a victim to death with a large joint of lamb, whilst the poor unfortunate is watching a VHS copy of “Annie” and singing along to “Tomorrow”. Although she makes a point of shouting “Rewind!!” before ejecting the tape when it ends … because that’s just good manners.
This early David Cronenberg film provides one of the oddest and most surreal entries in this list. Whilst it mostly focuses on the male protagonist, the film features a weird set of murders perpetrated by dwarfish “creatures” that exhibit unnatural physical traits. The source of these small killers is the reason for this entry and provides a somewhat grotesque nomination for bad motherhood.
Nola Carveth (Cronenberg still using names for his characters that sound like anagrams) is a mother and wife badly affected by abuse in childhood. In a twist on the usual scenario, it was her alcoholic mother that beat her and her useless father that lived in denial. Now separated from her husband and fighting for custody for her 5-year old daughter, she undergoes experimental therapy treatment. Warning: Never undergo questionable medical procedures when the doctor is played by Oliver Reed. It leads to the bizarre situation where she externalises her repressed internal rage by asexually producing mutant “children”, via a womb that grows outside her body. She subsequently becomes a “Queen Bee” of sorts, with the savage kids acting on her behalf and reflecting her current mood.
It’s heavily hinted that Nola has some kind of strange physiology inherent in her to do this, and it’s sometimes disturbing stuff. Of course being Cronenberg, it’s all loaded with hidden meanings and analogies. The climax can easily be read as men’s inability to relate to the nature of birth and motherhood, but there’s also the emphasis on repressed rage and emotions. It’s made more effective by the crazy-eyed performance of Eggar, an actress normally known for stage work and more mainstream roles, who always seems on the verge of flipping out and making her “children” attack those who threaten her.
Defining Moment – Nola is actually absent for much of the running time of the film, but the climax provides incredibly unsettling moments focusing on her. Initially serene and calm, she reveals the external womb on her body and gives birth to another “hate-baby”. Tearing open the skin with her mouth, and licking the foetus clean with her tongue, she responds badly to the reaction from her husband and her emotions push her children to bloody murder…
The Woman/”La Femme”
The mother without a name. Although she’s not technically a mom currently, or aims to be a bad one, it’s what she does to try and achieve motherhood that’s truly disturbing. The character is a mystery for most of this 2007 French film, which was part of the so-called “new wave extreme” movement that was prevalent in the country at that time. Films that sloshed bad vibes and graphic gore in glorious Gallic fashion. It showcased the horrific lengths that some women will go to get a child into their lives, and was unnervingly based on a few true-life incidents.
Beatrice Dalle, the toothsome French actress who likes to push boundaries, plays a character that is never fully identified in the film, and is only ever given the title “La Femme”. In what basically is a home-invasion story, she’s stalking the nearly-full-term pregnant and recently widowed Sarah (Alysson Paradis), as she waits out her final night alone before going into hospital for the birth. What follows is desperate and bloody conflict as expectant mother and psychotic prospective mama fight a warped “custody battle” for the unborn infant.
It’s strong and brutal film, which was born (hah) from the desire of the directors to create a female antagonist for the story, and emphasise maternal instincts in a good and bad way. It’s a disturbing watch and Dalle is brilliant as the violent faux mother. The male characters that pop their heads into the story are basically swatted away by her as insignificant foes. The ending still stings the memory to this day and it holds 83% on Rotten Tomatoes. A remake with Laura Harring playing “The Woman” is currently playing festivals but is yet to get proper release.
Defining Moment – The final scene clarifies whether La Femme is successful in her objective or not … but it’s the first physical encounter between her and Sarah that really chills. Creeping into a darkened bedroom as the expectant mother sleeps; La Femme produces a pair of scissors and prepares to cut into the slumbering woman’s swollen belly…
Dead Alive / Braindead
Probably the most repulsive incarnation of motherly love on this list. If you’re American you’ll know Peter Jackson’s early gore-athon as “Dead Alive”, if you’re British you’ll love it as “Braindead”. Whatever you know it as, this was the last (and greatest) splatter film that Jackson made before going mainstream and eventually making LOTR. Nine years before that, “Braindead” was the ultimate gore-fest of epic proportions, with buckets of blood and the worst mother you could wish for.
During the 1950’s in the city of Wellington, Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) lives in a Victorian mansion with his domineering mother Vera. When he starts to fall for the local Spanish beauty, Vera jealously follows him to the local zoo, where she inadvertently gets bitten by a Rat-Monkey (from Skull Island!). This infects her with a virus that turns her into one of the living dead. As Lionel tries to hide her from sight, she causes a zombie plague that overruns the mansion, and means that it’s harder than ever for him to break away from her dominance in his life.
Moody plays Vera as a marvellously hateable character, who forever lays guilt trips on wimpy Lionel and manipulates him for her own ends. It’s all OTT and totally hilarious of course, and there’s remarkably gross bits where she drips goo into rice pudding, and the jaw-dropping finale (see below) where she tries to return her son to the womb. But it’s a lovely caricature that gets the poetic justice that she deserves…
Defining Moment – Vera is the epitome of every selfish and overbearing mother you’ve ever seen onscreen. But she physically reflects her personality by the end, where she’s mutated into a huge slobbering monster at the climax. She even absorbs poor old Lionel back into her stomach! Luckily our plucky young hero finally (and gorily) breaks free of her once and for all, as her cuts his way out of body. Try showing that scene to Sigmund Freud…
(voiced by Teri Hatcher)
Possibly the only “family-friendly” mother on this list … but that doesn’t make her any the less disturbing. Released in 2009, this “children’s” film is a marvellously visual realisation of Neil Gaiman’s fairy-tale novel. Impeccably directed in stop-motion by Henry Selick (who actually made “The Nightmare before Christmas”… NOT Tim Burton!), the puppets and visuals are inspired by Japanese illustrator Tadahiro Uesugi, who became the concept artist.
Coraline herself is a typically moody 11 year-old girl, disgruntled with the lack of attention from her father and her mother Mel (Hatcher). In a dark twist on “Alice in Wonderland”, she finds a literal doorway into a parallel universe which is a skewed photocopy of her own existence called “Other World”. Warmer and more loving parents live here, including her Other Mother (Hatcher again), whose only difference from her real mother are the large black buttons stitched into her face for eyes. As she tries to get Coraline to stay and disfigure herself, Other Mother gradually turns into a veritable monster and the whole of Other World is revealed as a child-trap and her own evil creation.
In one way, “Coraline” is a typical modern fairy tale with a message (be thankful for what you’ve got etc.), but being typical Gaiman, Other Mother is a very grim creation under all that. She’s specifically killed kids before and wants Coraline to perform self-harm and then trap her soul ferchrissakes! Dark. Hatcher does some excellent vocal work here, with her velvety voice alternating between sweet-natured promises and shrieks of anger towards the end. Her button-eyed face remains as creepy AF to this day…
Defining Moment – The finale where the Other Mother starts to transform into her true self, a spidery combination of bone, pins, and needles. “You know I love you”, she croons, before finally erupting into cries of’ “You dare disobey your mother” and finally “Don’t leave me here”. She even menaces Coraline with her severed hand! Motherly love gone very wrong.
Judith “Jude” Madigan
(Jamie Lee Curtis)
This film is a lightweight-but-warped study of maternal instinct, only with shoulder-pads and big hair. It’s a 1994 thriller which starred iconic scream-queen Jamie Lee Curtis and Vanessa Redgrave (?!). Largely forgotten these days, it makes the list for the spirited performance by Curtis and – let’s be honest – the novelty factor of seeing Laurie Strode act as nutty as Michael Myers.
Curtis plays Jude Madigan, a woman with apparently sociopathic tendencies. Which would beg the question as to why her husband (Peter Gallagher as Robert) would have three kids with her? Nevertheless he has done, and she simply walks out on him and her sons, vanishing for three years. When hubby tries to move on with his life and gets a new potential wife, Jude appears out of nowhere and wants to claim him and the boys for herself again. When Peter rejects her seductive attempt at reconciliation, she sets her sight on the boys instead, convincing them to turn against Peter’s new partner and even put her on “trial”. Jude also attempts to murder her own sick mother and goes on several foul-mouthed rampages.
It’s a typically silly 90’s film, which verges on turning into an erotic-thriller at points when Jude uses her sexuality (every film went a bit “Basic Instinct” in the 1990’s). But Curtis seems to relish being the cruel villain, although the script is very much written from a man’s POV. If “Fatal Attraction” realised a husband’s worst fear about extra-marital affairs, then this was the equivalent nightmare scenario for a divorce. Jude’s childhood abuse and motives are glossed over, and she becomes a bit one-note in that respect. But there’s still a perverse pleasure in seeing her creep about in the dark with a large knife, like her errant brother in “Halloween”.
Defining Moment – There’s some just-wrong fun to be had when Jude bad-mouths her competition and cruelly manipulates her eldest son. But for a true reflection of her sheer eeee-villl nature it has to be look of glee and then contentment when she makes the family dog run out in front of the family car (which she has cut the brakes on by the way), thereby nearly causing a fatal crash. Don’t worry though … Doggo’s okay.
The only extraterrestrial on this list, and the one with probably the biggest body count to her credit. Truly the Xenomorph Queen is the epitome of evil motherhood. Or is she?
Let’s take a look at things from her perspective in the classic 1986 James Cameron film. For a start, she doesn’t actually directly kill anyone. Sure, she’s the mastermind behind the slaughter of hundreds in the LV-246 colony, and she presumably controls the main actions of the warriors that kill all the space marines … but there’s no evidence of her laying an actual claw on anyone. Well, she does tear Bishop in half, but he’s arguably not “alive” and is still functioning afterwards. She tries to grab Newt, but the little girl is too quick. She does have a good cat-fight with Ripley though…
But look at the circumstances. There was the Queen, all cocooned up and happily laying eggs. She’s basking in the imminent birth of her new babies, whilst the older kids are out playing. In strolls a curly-haired amazon with a flame-thrower, who proceeds to flambé all her children in front of her, and then blows up half the freakin’ planet as an act of defiance. You’d be pissed-off as well! So Xenomorph Queen: murderous mother, or misunderstood matriarch? You decide…
Defining Moment – “Get away from her, you bitch!!” What else is it going to be?