Don’t you hate it when your mother becomes possessed by several evil entities, and proceeds to go on a demonic killing spree, murdering friends and strangers with equal gleeful aplomb? It can be so embarrassing. What’s more, to get her to stop ripping the heads off of live human children with her teeth, you have to specially hire a Roman Catholic priest (preferably one from Italy) to get the demons out, and they’re always busy leading mass and whatnot. Plus their rates are outrageous. There’s no end of inconveniences to demon possession.
Such a thing happens in the recent horror hit The Devil Inside, wherein a kindly mother becomes inhabited by a legion of satanic imps. It’s up to her poor daughter to solve the mystery of what happened, and to perhaps solve the mystery of the murders she may or may not have been involved in.
In honor of the embarrassing familial angst that can spring up from watching your mother get slowly devoured from the inside by a black oily presence devoted to death and mischief, we’ve come up with the following Top 10 list of wicked or creepy or evil mothers in cinematic history. Oh, and just a reminder, be sure to call your mom on Mother’s Day. She deserves a call. Even if she ate your cat the last time she was possessed.
10. Mother Firefly from House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
Rob Zombie’s directorial debut was a soupy vomitorium of colorful and disparate horror imagery. In the film, a group of city-dwelling twenty-somethings are kidnapped by an evil tribe of family-minded mutants and hicks, who force them to dress in bunny costumes, feed them human flesh, kill some of them, sew their bodies to fish (!), and end up feeding any random survivors to the blood-soaked cyborg named Dr. Satan, who is a cross between Dr. Frankenstein and a Dalek, but with even more bloodlust. Over the course of the film, we get to know the psychos much better than any of their victims. We meet Otis, his comely sister Baby, the clown-faced Captain Spaulding, and the giant mute oaf they keep in the basement. Leading up the pack of misfits and murderers is the voluptuous horror of Karen Black, playing Mother Firefly, a woman who not only enjoys violence, but openly condones and encourages her brood to do likewise. House of 1000 Corpses is essentially a stylized retread of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with a tilting surrealism, and a spooky mom heading up the pack.
9. Mrs. Lift from Throw Momma from the Train (1987)
Inspired by a late-night viewing of Strangers on a Train, Owen (Danny DeVito) decides, largely without consulting him, to enter a murder pact with his creative writing teacher Larry (Billy Crystal), wherein Owen will murder Larry’s ex-wife, and Larry will murder Owen’s infirm mother. These two men are such neurotic nebbishes that it’s difficult to see them committing any act of violence, but when we meet Owen’s horrible, horrible mother (played by the immortal Anne Ramsey), we begin to see why he might want her dead. She is a grumpy ogre given to bouts of noisy berating, emotional emasculation, and, very occasionally, acts of accidental violence; she nails Larry in the testicles with her cane while she sleeps. Mrs. Lift is not a calculating or evil woman. She is just, very naturally, a horrible human being. She may love her son, but she seems to live for rage. She takes no pleasure in the anger she unleashes on the world. She merely cannot help herself.
8. Mary Jones from Precious (2009)
Precious Jones (Academy Award-nominee Gabourey Sidibe) has had the single most horrible life imaginable. She is morbidly obese. She is stricken by extreme poverty. She is the victim of incestuous rape. She has been impregnated by her father. Twice. The same father has also infected her with HIV. The same father has now abandoned her. Precious does not go to school. She can barely look after her mentally retarded daughter. She dreams of being a pretty white girl, and entertains twisted romantic fantasies wherein she and her father will eventually live together to raise her children. What keeps her so busy? The devil she lives with: her mother Mary (Mo’Nique). Mary not only physically abuses Precious, but forces her to lie to social workers so she can stay on the dole. Mary does not work, and makes constant irrational demands of Precious. What’s more, she resents Precious for siphoning away all of her father’s sexual attention. Mary is a gorgon. An emotional strangler. A woman whose moral compass was never developed, and who thrives on cruelty. Indeed, she’s so evil in Precious, one might almost see her as a cartoon. Surely, you might think, no real person could be that evil. Thanks to a truly amazing performance from Mo’Nique, Mary comes across as the worst human being on the planet.
7. Lily Laemle from Parents (1989)
Every night little Michael has stayed in his new house, he’s eaten leftovers. He is suspicious of the large slabs of undercooked meat his chirpy and good-natured mom (Mary Beth Hurt) puts in front of him. He asks what it is. He is only ever told that they are leftovers. “I want to know what they were before they were leftovers,” he demands. “Before that,” his father deflects, “they were leftovers to be.” How Mr. and Mrs. Laemle came to this point in their lives is never explained, but it turns out that Michael’s parents have developed a taste for human flesh, and they have been feeding him slabs of the stuff for years. Lily is horrifying in how blasé she is. She is the one looking up special recipes and trying out new taste sensations for her little man. However good a cook your own mother was, she no doubt attempted a few things that didn’t go over so well. Perhaps you should be grateful she wasn’t trying to feed you people steak.
6. Mother from Mother’s Day (1980)
There are many stalwart and impressive B-movie houses in the world, but none so idiosyncratic as Troma, the New Jersey-based distribution house behind such classics and The Toxic Avenger, Rabid Grannies, Teenage Catgirls in Heat, and Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD. Not a fellow to shy away from the gleeful gore you require, Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman seems like a noisy lovechild of Herschel Gordon Lewis and P.T. Barnum. In 1980, Lloyd’s brother Charles directed this little Mother’s Day-themed oddity, wherein a pair of dangerous backwater hicks (you know the type) kidnap and torture a trio of comely babes, all to please their morbid unnamed mother, played by Rose Ross (which was a stage name for actress Beatrice Pons from The Phil Silvers Show and Car 54, Where Are You?). She doesn’t just encourage her boys’ bad behavior, but seems to be genuinely impressed by their capacity for torture and rape. Well, you clearly want to do what your mother asks. And if it’s a rape show mom wants, it’s a rape show mom gets. Creepy. Creepy. Creepy.
5. Eleanor Iselin from The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Poor Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey). He seems largely overwhelmed by post-war life. He seems to be a gentle soul, but also capable of the violence required of a soldier. What’s more, he has been secretly brainwashed by an evil cabal of Chinese soldiers. As we see in this classic’s opening scenes, Raymond is being “programmed” by his wartime captors to be an assassin against his will, and indeed against his knowledge. Thanks to a special psychological trigger, Raymond will eventually complete a violent act without even really understanding it. Lucky for him he has his dear, loving mother Eleanor (Angela Lansbury) to aid him, right? Well, maybe not. Eleanor, you see, is a sharp-tempered bully who pushes her milquetoast senator husband around and snaps at her son with regularity. What’s more, we eventually learn that she approves of the violence her son is capable of, and has been helping with the brainwashing plot all along. What a great mom. She wants her son to do something great, so she helps him become a psychic slave. Heap on top of that a healthy dose of creepy, creepy incest, and you’ve got a mom for the ages.
4. Mary Kane from Citizen Kane (1941)
We don’t see much of Mary Kane (Agnes Moorehead) in Orson Welles’ top-of-the-pops cinematic classic, but what we do see is chilling. Stern, tight-haired, stone-faced, cold, Mary Kane seems to be uncomfortable in her human skin. She looks out on her little son Charlie playing in the snow, and no emotions seem to cross her face. She is not calculating, but seemingly emotionally dead. She makes Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk About Kevin look like a cuddly teddy bear in comparison. When some previously worthless land she owns delivers forth some newly discovered gold, her first instinct is to bundle up her son, force a huge wad of cash into his hand, and ship him off to a series of boarding school wherein he’ll be safely away from her for the rest of his life. Not creepy necessarily, but, as Citizen Kane unspools, we begin to see the subtle emotional impact of her outright rejection of her son. Is it any wonder that li’l Charlie Kane grew up into a millionaire sociopath?
3. Mrs. Voorhees from Friday the 13th (1980)
A mother’s love is a powerful thing. It can drive a woman to kill. Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), you see, was the mother of one Jason Voorhees, he of the hockey mask and machete and immortality. In the original 1980 Friday the 13th film, a first-tier slasher classic if ever there was one, camp counselors are being picked off by a mysterious killer in the woods. Many people believe it to be Jason, the poor hydrocephalic youngster who drowned in Crystal Lake years ago, somehow resurrected and exacting revenge on the counselors who let him drown. The tale (at least before any of the sequels) was classic around-the-campfire stuff, with the added bonus of yielding real bloodshed. It is eventually revealed that Mrs. Voorhees was the one dong all the killing, and was exacting her own form of revenge, all prompted by mysterious schizophrenia-like voices. Over the years she has poisoned the water in the lake and started fires around the camp. The final scenes of the film have Mrs. Voorhees shrieking at one final victim, all in Jason’s voice. It’s truly chilling hearing her scream “Kill her, mommy.” Jason and Mrs. Voorhees are one and the same, you see. A mom so loving, she’s willing to become her son, and commit several murders. Don’t say mommy never got you anything.
2. Joan Crawford from Mommie Dearest (1981)
Joan Crawford, the actress of course. Crawford was a stellar screen presence and a formidable talent. She was also, according to most people who knew her, a fiery and controlling bitch queen whose need for utter dominance over her peers and fellow actors led to some of the most erratic meltdowns in Hollywood history. Crawford’s adopted daughter Christina, after Joan’s death, wrote a tell-all book called Mommie Dearest, detailing the horrors of being raised by such a wrathful mother, and how the smallest slight would result in steel-eyed emotional guilt trips, and outright physical abuse. In 1981, a film was made of Mommie Dearest, and, thanks to Faye Dunaway’s amazing and bold performance, it has become a gigantic cult classic. By turns wrenching and campy, Mommie Dearest is a depressing and entertaining film, detailing every last irrational outburst from a monstrous rich bitch. In the film’s most notorious scene, Joan hauls Christina out of bed in the middle of the night to berate her for hanging a nice new dress on a gauche wire hanger. While whipping Christina with the offending object, she rhythmically chants “No! More! Wire! Hangers!” Crawford’s wickedness reaches a delirious height. There have been a few accusations that Christina’s tell-all book may not be entirely true. Either way, Mommie Dearest is a fascinating film.
1. Mrs. Bates from Psycho (1960)
A boy’s best friend is his mother. In a glib epilogue to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror classic (sometimes cited as the first slasher film), a psychologist appears on screen to explain what happened to dear Norman. I won’t say what happened to dear Norman (Anthony Perkins) on the off chance you haven’t seen Psycho, but I will say that Mrs. Bates’ presence in his life consumed him. Mrs. Bates… Who was she? What kind of woman was she? How did she drive poor Norman to such horrible acts? Why does she look so ominously from the upper window? If she is so infirm, how come she seems capable of sneaking into hotel rooms to visit guests in the shower? We don’t see her face until the end of the film, but we do hear her berating her son, and we get a strange, creepy presence from her. Like a demonic spirit hanging in the air, Mrs. Bates permeates every last odor in the Bates Motel. If that’s not creepy, nothing is.
Full Disclosure: This article has been sponsored by Paramount Insurge.