My mammy was a psychopathic serial killer

As Mother’s Day approaches, Ed Power selects the 10 nastiest maternal characters from the film world.
My mammy was a psychopathic serial killer

The maternal instinct turned evil is one of cinema’s most reliably disturbing tropes. What is more unsettling than a mother who, rather than tucking her darlings away at night, would rather bury them six feet under?

Consider that, without the toxic influence of his mother, Norman Bates would have probably had a long and happy life in regional hospitality. The true monster in Brian De Palma’s Carrie isn’t the eponymous protagonist — but her puritanical mater. With Mother’s Day approaching here is our countdown of the big screen’s ultimate scary mommas.

1 Beverly Sutphin, Serial Mom

The perky suburban mom, with her beautiful family and perfect home, is a familiar Hollywood archetype. In this camp John Waters comedy-horror from 1994, Kathleen Turner gives the all-American mother a marrow-curdling makeover.

By day, Beverly Sutphin shuttles her kids to soccer practice and attends to her dentist husband. By night, she is an avenging death angel, who takes bloody revenge against any and all crossing her.

2 Grendel’s Dame, Beowulf

Even before controversially hooking up a recently-separated Brad Pitt, there was a whiff of the man eater about Angelina Jolie.

In his retelling of the Anglo-Saxon fable, director Robert Zemeckis plays on this aspect of her persona by casting Jolie as a monstrously seductive Grendel’s Dame — a mother whose specialty is enticing macho warriors, only to later unseat them with their own offspring. It is a cartoonish part that Jolie makes absolutely chilling.

3 Vera Cosgrove, Braindead

Before he was toast of Hollywood, Lord of the Rings/Hobbit director Peter Jackson was the king of spatter-horror. His crowning glory was Brain Dead, a 1992 zombie caper that splashes the gore by the bucket-load.

Nastiest of all the undead is Vera, the controlling mother of hero Lionel. It is she who unleashes the zombie plague when bitten by a “Sumatran rat-monkey” at the zoo. Further details would require this article to come with an 18 certificate. Suffice to say the results are not pleasant.

4 Grace, The Others

Even scarier than a rabid zombie mother is a mother who endangers her children while believing she is placing them beyond harm.

The big reveal at the end of The Others (2001) is that caring mum Grace (Nicole Kidman) is a ghost, who, in a fit of deranged paranoia, smothered her children so that they would be “safe”, and then shot herself. Now they, like her, are doomed to an afterlife haunting their former home.

5 Erica Sayers, Black Swan

Darren Aronofksy’s 2010 meditation on sexual repression gave us one of cinema’s most unnerving stage moms.

As bullying Erica Barbara Hershey plays a significant part in sending ballet-dancer daughter Nina (Natalie Portman) into an obsessive spiral.

Erica doesn’t merely wish to control her daughter: she wants to get inside her head and own her child’s thoughts.

6 Joan Crawford, Mommie Dearest

Crawford’s abusive parenting was for decades part of Hollywood lore. In 1981 Faye Dunaway put flesh and bones on the gossip in this frequently jolting biopic of an actress who channeled professional anxieties into vicious manipulation of her children.

“Why can’t you give me the respect that I’m entitled to?” she rages at her daughter. “Why can’t you treat me like I would be treated by any stranger on the street?” It was Dunaway’s most mesmerising performance until she declared La La Land best picture winner at the Oscars.

7 Pamela Voorhees, Friday the 13th

Hockey mask fan Jason Voorhees was one of the great horror villains of the 1980s. So it is curious he should be almost entirely absent from the first entry in his own franchise.

In the original Friday the 13th from 1980, Jason was a disabled kid drowned 20 years previously — the true antagonist is his mother, Pamela (Betsy Palmer), who embarks on a teen- killing spree in order to gain justice, as she sees it, for her dead son.

8 Norma Bates, Psycho

How extraordinary that one of cinema’s great Bad Mothers should not even appear in the film to which she owes her infamy. Nonetheless, Norman Bates’ pathological parent is the ultimate source of evil in Hitchcock’s definitive chiller.

The big reveal that she is a skeleton in Norman’s attic still packs a punch today, while the monologue we hear her deliver to her serial-killing son at the end freezes the blood.

9 Carrie’s Mother, Carrie

Everyone seems to wish ill on sensitive teen Carrie (Sissy Spacek). However, it is her religious fanatic mother who truly shreds her feelings in Brian DePalma’s 1976 masterpiece. In the 2013 remake, Julianne Moore had fun with the character.

And yet the Oscar-winner couldn’t come close to derangement conjured by Piper Laurie in the original.

10 Other Mother, Coraline

Somewhere over the rainbow… waits a terrifying puppet version of your mother who wants to poke out your eyes and sew buttons in their place.

In its 2010 adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel, animation studio Laika gives us the marionette Other Mother, with buttons for peepers and violent plans for little Coraline.

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