What makes the elderly in horror so creepy? Is it their aged bodies, mysterious wisdom and experience, or physical reminder of our mortality that makes their demographic such an easy representation of fear? Little old ladies have become a prime model of vulnerability, suspicion, sympathy, and expertly hidden evil when it comes to scary stories of the past and present.
Andy Muschietti’s IT: Chapter 2 promises a harrowing tea time between Beverly Marsh and the supposed old woman living in her childhood home, Mrs. Kersh. The kind old woman is initially innocent and welcoming, but slowly transforms into grotesque monstrosity, taking Beverly completely by surprise. Mrs. Kersh is one example of terror in the guise of a grandmotherly figure as the genre relishes in posing danger in the most saccharine spaces. Often written off for their frail strength and weakened mind, the following 10 of the Creepiest Old Ladies in Horror prove that age is just a number.
Sometimes the higher the number, the creepier the lady…
10. The Countess in Black Sabbath (1963)
I could not think of any character in horror that is more harrowing in looks than The Countess in The Drop of Water segment of Black Sabbath. Mario Bava’s (Black Sunday) italian anthology is rich in imagery and suspense, but the old woman clairvoyant is a terrorizing visage to the eye. From her sunken face to the grotesque baring of her teeth, it’s safe to say that The Countess provides a perfect image for the textbook definition of “creepy old lady”.
9. Deborah Logan in The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)
Alzheimer’s Disease is a vicious, aggressive force that unfortunately claims the mind and bodies of the elderly diagnosed with the condition. Deborah may be ill, but her erratic and bizarre behavior is the stuff of nightmares making Adam Robitel’s (Insidious: The Last Key) The Taking of Deborah Logan a must-see. Though she is possessed, Deborah’s sickness is a real horror that plagues those of an advanced age. We can only be thankful symptoms do not include consuming young women whole.
8. Hermana Muerte in Veronica (2017)
The name says it all when it comes to the chain-smoking woman of Christ in Paco Plaza’s (REC) possession flick, Veronica. Hermana Muerte, or “Sister Death” is a blind nun full of deep, dark wisdom. Her eerie visual impairment was self-inflicted to keep herself from seeing visions of evil spirits and adds to her mysterious aura. While this old lady seems stern and sinister, she has good intentions and is harmless… minus the secondhand smoke.
7. Mary Shaw in Dead Silence (2007)
Which is creepier: old ladies or dolls? How creepy can things get when the two are combined? James Wan (Insidious) answers that question with Dead Silence and the answer is pretty deafening. Mary Shaw, infamous ventriloquist and child murderer is such a creepy old lady that she even has a rhyme to warn off youngsters. There’s something significantly creepy when an old lady has no children and only dolls…
6. Sylvia Ganush in Drag Me To Hell (2009)
There is an inherent sympathy we have for our elders. In Sam Raimi’s (The Evil Dead) Drag Me To Hell, Mrs. Ganush is in need of an extension on her house mortgage, but her loan officer, Christine, is in a sticky spine-strengthening situation at work. She begs and even gets down on her hands and knees to plead for more time, but is ultimately denied. We can’t help but feel bad for the old gypsy woman. That is until she begins vomiting worms, bugs, saliva, and other bodily excrement into Christine’s mouth.
5. Minnie Castevet in Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Minnie Castevet is a real piece of work. The old lady is the epitome of a nightmare neighbor in Roman Polanksi’s (Chinatown) Rosemary’s Baby. She’s obnoxious, tacky, intrusive, she can’t help herself from meddling in everyone’s business, and she’s a minion of the devil. The exercise of her control relies on the good manners of others, setting up one of the creepiest (and most annoying) cohabitations in the history of film. “Love thy neighbor”? More like “Guide thy neighbor”.
4. The Blind Medium, Grace Stewart, in The Others (2001)
The elderly medium, Grace Stewart, may not have a lot of screen time in Alejandro Amenábar’s (Agora) The Others, but she is credited with one of the slow-burn film’s greatest scares. If there’s anything creepier than a strange little old lady dressed up in a child’s dress and veil sitting in the middle of the room playing with a marionette, it’s one doing that and speaking with the voice of a little girl. If that scene wasn’t creepy enough for you then you might be mad.
3. Nana in The Visit (2015)
You would never think of your grandmother as a creepy old lady, right? Well, you might if you found her naked and scratching at the walls in the middle of the night or if she rocks away in her chair laughing hysterically at nothing. M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense) manages to make a trip to grandma and grandpa’s as terrifying as possible in his found footage film, The Visit. While she may be experiencing the more extreme symptoms of sundowning, Nana is happy to welcome her grandchildren into her home… and oven.
2. ‘Mother’ in Psycho (1960)
Norman Bates is not a woman, but he channels his mother well enough to pass for her in Alfred Hitchcock’s (The Birds) legendary psychological horror film, Psycho. A wig, a robe, a feminine voice, and a kitchen knife is more than enough to anchor him down as a creepy old lady for life, whether he’s capable of harming a fly or not.
1. The Old Woman in Room 237 in The Shining (1980)
The female body is one to be praised regardless of size, shape, age, and color, but an argument can be made for when the body is waterlogged. While the old woman who makes a surprise appearance in Stanley Kubrick’s (A Clockwork Orange) masterpiece has no obvious identity, she definitely makes for one of The Shining’s most creepiest of creepy moments. Jack may have thought he got lucky walking in on a beautiful young woman, but The Overlook Hotel dealt him one hideous old maid.
‘The Bride in Black’ in Insidious (2010) and Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)
You would think that Parker Crane’s serial murders in James Wan’s Insidious series would be enough to land him as a horrifying characters, but if you add a black gown, veil, and some makeup he proves that the look says it all. He may not be an old lady per se, but years of torment and abuse condition him to kill and haunt dressed up like one. Chilling.
Tangina Barrons in Poltergeist (1982)
Unlike the others on this list, Tobe Hooper’s (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) Poltergeist introduces a more unique old lady. Tangina is a positive entity in the Freeling home, but her voice, abnormally small stature, and uncanny medium abilities makes her a creepy presence nonetheless.
Which of the old ladies on the list do you think is the scariest? Who are your other favorite creepy old ladies in horror? Let us know your thoughts over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!