The horror genre has explored a variety of themes, and often times the complexities, mothers face from conception through death. It’s an analytically heavy topic that can provoke the most fundamental of thoughts, draw out the most genius symbolism, and shape our beloved characters down to even the most minute detail.
Mothers’ Day is the one day out of the year we use as a time to celebrate the most wonderful of idols we have been given. If not for the nurturing care, strong, fertile bodies, and ongoing evolution of women all over the world humankind would cease to exist. The colorful flowers, corny cards, and midday brunches are our attempts at offering a ‘Thank You’ to the ones who raised us, biologically or not, as we’ll do this Sunday, the 13th.
With that, what the horror genre has done so obviously well is show audiences that motherhood might not be as rewarding as it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes motherhood is scary. Sometimes motherhood is not about laser-cut flower petals, warm hugs, and relaxing pedicures. Sometimes motherhood is a bitch. Horror shows us that the most horrifying realization we can come to terms with is that the ones who bring us into this world can easily take us out of it.
Below are the 13 Worst Mothers of Horror. Directly or not, these women prove that parenthood can be a real mother-you-know-what and they’re not here to deal with it.
Margaret White in Carrie (1976)
Our titular character, Carrie White, is a shy, quiet, high school oddball who is constantly the victim of her classmates’ taunts and pranks in the novel Carrie written by Stephen King and the film adaptation directed by Brian De Palma. Instead of finding solace when she returns home from school each day she is faced with the Christian-saturated hellfire at the hands of her crazed mother, Margaret White. A mother, especially a godly mother, should use moral and powerful guidance to build Carrie up, but instead she wields that iron fist – clutching a kitchen knife – and spirituality as a device to literally drive her only daughter straight into the ground. Whether she is locking Carrie in a prayer closet for hours or purposely keeping the truths about a normal menstrual cycle from her, Margaret White is the epitome of a hypocritical, overly religious, and everything but Christian mother. Always watch out for the extreme ‘bible thumpers’. I know what I’m talking about, I live in the south.
Mommy in The People Under the Stairs (1991)
One of my earliest memories of horror film imagery is straight out of Wes Craven’s campy The People Under the Stairs and it’s one of those snapshots that will never leave my mind. Alice is a young girl kept as a prisoner in her home by her hedonistic parents promptly named Daddy and Mommy. After Mommy, played by fan favorite character actress Wendy Robie, murders an intruder, Alice, clean and nicely dressed, slips and falls in an enormous puddle of his blood at the bottom of the stairs. It’s just one of those scenes that fueled my love for the genre. The contrast of the gore and the beautiful home surroundings is absolutely perfect. Mommy is equally unforgettable as both a character and a portrayal of some real parental evil that exists in the world. Alice, along with many other ‘children’, are isolated from the outside world, physically (and suggestively sexually) abused, and either neglected to the point of death or smothered, well, to the point of death. If Mommy isn’t scary enough for you, check out the documentary The Turpin 13: Family Secrets Exposed for a real, all too recent example of how a mother, and father, like this can torture their children for well over a decade without anyone knowing. The scariest part: this film was released in 1991, the Turpin children were found just this year.
Rachel Keller in The Ring (2002)
You know those silly ‘Keep Out of Reach of Children’ disclaimers you see on common, but obviously dangerous, household items? Someone, somewhere was stupid enough to leave a bottle of bleach out on the floor in easy access for their toddler to take that one fatal sip. Rachel Keller of Gore Verbiniski’s The Ring is that mom. After the incredibly strange death of her niece, Rachel comes into possession of a videotape haunted by the spirit of a little girl, Samara, that murders the viewer seven days after watching it. Rachel, of course, watches it and receives the foreboding call from Samara giving her the countdown. Does she destroy the tape or even make an attempt at it? No. Does she hide the tape from her young, curious son, Aiden? No. Does she at least rid the house of all VHS players and leave him to endure cable over dying a horrible death? No. What she does is casually leave the tape out allowing the precocious boy to view it alone dooming him to the same terrifying fate of all of Samara’s victims. Rachel attempts to put all the pieces together to rid her and her son of this curse, but do you think she would ask Aiden, who obviously has a sixth sense when it comes to Samara, a single question as to the girl’s vengeful motive? You guessed it. Nope. Way to go, Rachel.
Mother in Mother’s Day (1980)
Acts of murder, rape, and physical abuse should not be impressive to anyone, least of all your mother unless you are Ike or Addley of the cult classic, occasion-appropriate titled Mother’s Day. Mother played by Beatrice Pons, pretty much changes the entire trajectory of motherhood in this extremely campy 1980 film. She encourages her two sons to commit heinous acts against others with the same gusto and enthusiasm as a mom cheering her son on during a little league baseball game. Ike and Addley are basically human trash she has raised into adulthood and the worst part is that she is proud of her unique parenting skills and her sons. The more brutal their acts are, the higher the praise she gives them. Mother certainly has her own twisted spin on the whole positive reinforcement technique. There is absolutely nothing redeeming about this mother nor her revolting offspring. Although, I can’t help but wonder what B.F. Skinner’s thoughts would be on this type of parenting. Operant Conditioning at its best, right?
Nola Carveth in The Brood (1979)
One of the bitter pills we must digest as we age is that in ways obvious and subtle, we slowly become our parents. There is always a certain vicious circle that evolves when it comes to our parents, ourselves as parents, our children, them as parents, and so on that is natural and basically unstoppable. In David Cronenberg‘s body horror The Brood, Nola Carveth, played by Samantha Egger, learns just how truly vicious that circle can be. Nola is the product of an abusive mother herself and is being accused of abusing her own daughter, Candice, by her ex-husband causing her to seek therapy. The psychoplasmic methods (and possibly the unexplained discolored bumps she has growing on her arms) produce a handful of strange, dwarfish, creatures that extract revenge out on others based on Nola’s anger and psychic connection the litter has with her. Of all the mothers on the list, Nola isn’t exactly the worst as her story is really a metaphor for hereditary productivity, but we can’t let that be an excuse here. The creatures do attack Candice in the third act proving Nola has some resentment and animosity toward her daughter, proving her inner mentality as a mother is not exactly kosher. The inevitable circle spins on as we see Candice escape the attack fairly unscathed… except for some unusual discolored bumps on her arms.
Erica Sayers in Black Swan (2010)
If Dance Moms has taught us anything it’s that stage parents are the absolute worst. Living vicariously through your children is both selfish and utterly creepy. However, the subject of a stage parent is intriguing by an analytical standpoint and simultaneously horrifying to observe. Take Erica Sayers played by Barbara Hershey in Darren Aronofsky’s ballet horror Black Swan as an example. She is the mother to dedicated ballerina Nina, played fantastically by Natalie Portman, and she is about as manipulative and controlling as they come – if you can catch it. Mothers like Erica are masters at using words and seemingly kind gestures to guilt their children into loving them when they really should be running away from them. So much is suggested and hinted at in dialogue and setting to suggest Erica’s control over Nina and her domineering push forcing her to be obsessed with perfection, that if not payed attention to one might think Erica is caring and protective of Nina. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. I mean, the way she rewards Nina with a cake knowing very well the girl won’t eat it and that she would shame her for it later if she did, then makes her feel guilty for not eating it, is enough to give anyone a bout of bulimia. Mothers like Erica appear perfect and act perfect, but that’s all it is: an act.
Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest (1981)
Speaking of horrible mothers in the entertainment industry…
One of my favorite notions to use is that real life is scarier than any film out there. Nothing could support that more than Joan Crawford and the exploitation of the abuse she inflicted on her two adoptive children throughout their whole lives. While Mommie Dearest is not exactly a horror film, the emotional and physical torment her children suffered under her is sadly the standard by which we measure bad mothers against. Faye Dunaway played the role so well she is almost synonymous with the notorious actress, minus the child abuse, and her image still comes to most of our minds when we think about terrible mothers. The woman was basically the queen of outrageous punishment for minor indiscretions that children tend to make. The accounts from those around her, including the hired help, co-workers, lovers, and her children, Christina and Christopher, are pure parental nightmare fuel. It’s hard to believe this is not a made-up genre story, but it did happen unfortunately, exaggerated or not. I still cringe at the thought of her cutting off Christina’s hair as a distrubing penance for a simple mistake. That wasn’t even the worst of it. Hair grows back. The mental psyche takes a bit longer to heal. No wire hangers, kids.
Marge Thompson in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
The mother of one of horror’s favorite final girls, Nancy Thompson, can be considered both a good mom and a bad mom depending on which one of her actions you’re observing. Marge, played by Ronee Blakely in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, is part of the original cul-de-sac lynch mob of Elm Street that burn Fred Krueger alive after learning he is behind the series of child murders in town. While we understand the parents’ revenge on Krueger and would gladly light the wick on the molotov cocktail thrown into his warehouse, the nightmarish ongoing result of Krueger returning to murder the kids of Elm Street in their dreams for a number of films is more than likely not what the parents expected the outcome to be. Marge goes on to be a full blown alcoholic and mostly absent minded mother to Nancy. She continuously takes the easy way out by either ignoring the fact that this monster is hunting her daughter and her friends or she drinks reality away being of no help nor support. Our final girl has to maintain her gumption and find her own courage and strength from within to escape the razor-bladed grasp of Krueger all on her own while Marge remains in a pathetic liquor infused stupor. It’s almost a relief when she is pulled through that tiny front door window at the end of the film. Thanks for nothing, Marge! Saddle up for the long haul or leave it to the judicial system.
Beverly Sutphin in Serial Mom (1994)
Being a perfect homemaker in the suburbs can be absolute murder and that is exactly what Beverly Sutphin, played by Kathleen Turner, is driven to when those around her get in her way in the dark comedy Serial Mom. Though her bloodlust is born from good intentions (an instructor makes a rude comment about her son), Beverly goes on a spree murdering anyone one she deems as a threat or just a nuisance to her or her family. For the most part, I get it. I actually debated on including her in this list at all. Ultimately, I decided that while annoying, none of Beverly’s victims really deserved to die and her own family remarks, in the humorous way the film is crafted in, to remind themselves not to piss her off for fear of her going on a murderous rampage again. What good is a mother if everyone around her is afraid she’ll put an axe in their head? Beverly best take a chill pill, wash it down with a tumbler full of white wine, and come to terms with the fact that most of us have to deal with on a daily basis: you can’t go around murdering everyone that annoys you whenever you feel like it. That’s what Purge night is for.
Norma Bates in Psycho (1960)
Most times no matter how irritating or intrusive our mothers can be, deep down inside we love having them around us. Always. However, should you want your mother to stay with you as long as Norman Bates does you may want to seek some help. The famous slasher’s mother, Norma Bates, is a special case on this list as she never makes an actual living appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Her voice and actions are all manifested from her son Norman himself who, it is suggested and pretty obvious, is severely dependent on her in all aspects of life whether she is alive or deceased. Norma’s emotional antagonism and violence towards him and the women he encounters paints us a picture of how bad the woman must have been when she was alive, though that is always up for debate. Was she as awful as the voice coming from Norman is or is it something he’s made up himself? Regardless, the psychological haunting linger of Norma is enough to drive Norman into the most serious identity crisis resulting in murder and Norma completely taking over him, mind and body. Life lesson: Stay away from the mama’s boys. Believe me when I tell you: this specific relationship portrayal isn’t too far off from what those guys are truly like.
MU-TH-UR 6000 in Alien (1979)
Many would think the Alien Queen would be on this list, but I can hardly count her as a bad mom. If anything, the Queen is a great mom who uses all of her genetic instincts to grow and protect her young when a handful of human incubators make themselves available to her throughout the series. Natural selection is also a bitch.
The real bad mom here is the space ship Nostromo’s mainframe system MU-TH-UR 6000, referred to as ‘Mother‘. The crew relies on MU-TH-UR for information, protection, and most importantly, survival. It is one of many analytical elements in the Alien series that relates back to the theme of motherhood. However, while the crew sleeps and operates under the trusting care of MU-TH-UR, the system is monitoring them to relay details on their activity back to Weyland-Utani and is in cahoots with the highly untrustworthy AI, Ash, on carrying out Special Order 937: collect an alien xenomorph specimen and deliver it back to earth with the crew members being completely dispensable. It’s an unfortunate lesson the crew members learn, but don’t trust technology no matter how long it lets you sleep in its womb.
Mother in Mother! (2017)
If there is ever a film so overtly saturated in motherly symbolism, it’s Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! Jennifer Lawrence’s mother character is pure, wholesome, and nurturing. She is all of the things a mother, including that of ‘mother nature’ and ‘woman’ should be. However, when random intrusive guests begin showing up and inviting themselves in to wreak havoc on the beautiful home mother is creating for her narcissistic poet husband Him, and their unborn baby, mother remains so passive to the point that a full on world of war explodes tearing down the establishment from the inside out. She only puts her foot down and embraces her protective instincts when it is far too late for everyone. The fate of her baby is gruesomely tragic and results in mother literally destroying herself and her surroundings only to be born again anew in the name of love for Him. Like any strong mother archetype would destroy themselves for the weak man that betrayed her and caused the death of her firstborn? I think not. This is a pretty sad portrayal of actions not taken by a mother, a wife, and a woman. mother really should have destroyed Him. However, given the subtext of who and what these characters personify, we should be grateful that mother doesn’t really hold a grudge nor seek apocalyptic vengeance… yet.
Rosemary in Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Similarly to mother, Rosemary Woodhouse of Roman Polanksi’s Rosemary’s Baby, adaptation of the novel written by Ira Levin, is another character you just want to grab by the shoulders and violently shake into sense. As beautiful, sweet, and delicate as Mia Farrow is in the iconic role of Rosemary, she is painfully dependent, weak, and totally naive. She is blindly trusting of her pushy neighbors and self absorbed actor husband, Guy (eye roll) all of which have made some deal with the devil and are part of the geriatric cult that worships him. Pregnant with her first child, unknowingly the antichrist, Rosemary falls ill many times, complains about threatening symptoms in her breathy voice, and takes advice from everyone but a trustworthy doctor who isn’t connected to the cult’s inner circle. Of course she isn’t aware of her husband’s involvement and the promises made to the underworld at her expense until it’s a trimester too late, but all of the suspicions and signs are there as plain as day for her to see. Thank goodness mothers and wives, women in general, have come a long way since the 60’s.
So, kiss your mothers this Sunday and appreciate them for the wonderful women that they are, unless they are anything like the characters in this list because, well, they are the worst. If your mothers are anything like this lot, you might want to start running…