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 ….

Norma Bates
(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”).

Pamela Voorhees
(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.

Margaret White

(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…