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10 Terrifying Movie Moms Who Could Use Some Flowers

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Written By: Rachel Sanders

The abusive dad/stepdad is a movie standby, from Jack Nicholson’s tortured Jack Torrance in The Shining to approximately one-third of everything Robert De Niro’s ever done. But that’s no reason to overlook the equally terrifying monster mom, who brings the ability to emotionally and physically scar their child and who often works in far more devious ways than just straight-ahead abuse. The worst movie mothers play on everyone’s intense and inherent spiritual bond with their mother, even if that bond is frayed to the breaking point. These characters get inside their children’s heads, and by extension, the viewer’s, thanks to their cold-hearted methods and their unwillingness to give in. Nobody’s relationship with their mom is perfect, but yours probably doesn’t look anything like these. Maybe it’s time to give your mom a call.

  1. Joan Crawford, Mommie Dearest: The ultimate in horror-inducing mothers. The film and Faye Dunaway’s performance are regarded as camp classics now, but it’s worth noting the sheer insanity of what Crawford does in the film, including her infamous freakout over wire hangers. She is completely dedicated to terrorizing her child, and she is so self-involved that she lacks the ability to see what she’s doing is horribly wrong. Some of the claims in the story (based on the autobiography of Crawford’s daughter, Christina) were met with derision, but many were also supported by peers.
  2. Margaret White, Carrie: Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) already had plenty of problems: the late onset of puberty, a lack of social skills, and a temper that aggravated her telekinesis and inherent capability for murder. On top of that, though, she had to deal with one of the looniest mothers in movie history. Played by Piper Laurie with zealous glee, Margaret White badgered her daughter into suicidal rage with tales of religious fundamentalism and sexual perversion. It’s debatable whether she deserved such a rough ending, but there’s no doubt that she’s one tough mother. Laurie and Spacek, incidentally, were nominated for Oscars for these roles.
  3. Norma Bates, Psycho: Norma Bates never makes an onscreen appearance (well, she never appears alive), but her domineering presence is all over her son, Norman, and the grisly deeds of Psycho. Anthony Perkins plays, essentially, both roles, inhabiting the weaknesses of Norman and the controlling wrath of Norma as he lures in and subsequently murders women in his run-down motel. She was the one that drove him to the edge to begin with, and it’s the twisted version of her living in Norman’s mind that’s still inflicting damage years later.

  4. Pamela Voorhees, Friday the 13th: Jason gets all the publicity for stacking the bodies of horny teens like cordwood at Campy Crystal Lake (and later Manhattan and, inexplicably, outer space), but it’s his mom who got their family into the serial killer business. In 1980’s Friday the 13th, Mrs. Voorhees stalked a group of kids as a way to get revenge for the way her son was allowed to drown years earlier while camp counselors fooled around. Her grief is understandable, as a rule of thumb, it’s never OK to sneak around in the dark and mutilate teenagers to distract yourself from personal trauma. Lady needed some serious therapy.
  5. Mrs. Lift, Throw Momma From the Train: Anne Ramsay played a rotten mom more than once, most notably as the leader of the vaguely evil but mostly moronic Fratelli gang in 1985’s The Goonies. But it was in 1987’s Throw Momma From the Train that she really brought the heat, earning an Oscar nomination for her bracing performance as the awful Mrs. Lift. The film is a surprisingly dark comedy for Billy Crystal, though it set the mood for several films that director Danny DeVito (who also co-starred) would later make, like The War of the Roses and Death to Smoochy. Crystal just about goes through with the planned murder, inspired by Strangers on a Train, to dispose of the overbearing and abusive Mrs. Lift, but he relents, and she eventually dies of natural causes. Still, he might’ve been onto something. She was pretty rough.

  6. Beverly Sutphin, Serial Mom: John Waters’ dark satire from 1994 didn’t really click with audiences, likely because of how extreme he’d made the character of Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Turner), a suburban mom willing to murder locals who upset her family. Beverly’s not wacky or misguided, just flat-out nuts, and the film is almost a little too unnerving in the way it depicts her gleefully dispatching people who cross her. She needs a nice vacation, not just flowers. Still, the film’s definitely worth checking out, if only to see Kathleen Turner bludgeon someone to death with a leg of lamb.
  7. Eleanor Shaw Iselin , The Manchurian Candidate: Taking the notion of an overbearing mother to a terrifying extreme, The Manchurian Candidate‘s Eleanor Iselin is a brutal manipulator who’ll stop at nothing to see her husband and his plans succeed, even if that means deploying her own son as a brainwashed sniper to assassinate presidential candidates. (She’s also apparently up for having an incestual relationship with her hypnotized offspring, which is even crazier.) Angela Lansbury, who won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar for her work as Eleanor, was only three years older than the actor playing her son, but her performance was powerful enough to make the film work.
  8. Mary, Precious: Precious is a grueling and often gruesome experience; it’s a movie you don’t really watch as much as survive. The harrowing story of a teenage girl in Harlem who is repeatedly raped by her father and beaten by her mother is heart-rending, and it’s anchored by compelling performances like the one Mo’Nique gives as Mary, the manipulative mother to Precious. She won the Academy Award for her startling portrayal of a hateful and controlling woman who had no love for anyone but herself, and who learned too late that Precious deserved love like all children. It’s not exactly a movie for a breezy Saturday afternoon, but Mo’Nique does amazing work.

  9. Ginger McKenna, Casino: To be fair, Ginger (Sharon Stone) didn’t want to be a mom; Ace (Robert De Niro) pressured her into it, knocking her up before he’d marry her. She was never cut out to be a mother, what with her penchant for drug use, adultery, and mullets. Still, she had plenty of chances to clean her act up and turn her life around, chances she traded away while her daughter grew up with almost no parenting. At one point she even ties her daugher to the bed so she can have a night out with her boyfriend. The kid would’ve been better off with wolves.

  10. The Wicked Stepmother, Cinderella: Her character name is actually Lady Tremaine, but almost no one remembers that. All that sticks with us is the fact that the wicked stepmother prized her loathsome daughters over the more humble and genuine Cinderella. She’s so demeaning that she becomes the ultimate version of the mean mother, an archetype that got copied and pasted almost wholesale into countless other films. If there’s ever a self-involved mother who favors one child over another, you can bet some of her DNA came from Lady Tremaine.

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