Betsy Palmer
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Credit: Paramount Pictures

13 most monstrous movie mothers

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Apr 13, 2020, 4:29 PM EDT (Updated)

Not all moms sport that perfect June Cleaver smile. As a matter of fact, most of the moms on this list would rather hit you with a meat cleaver! Before the next Mother's Day, consider the dark side of parenting with this list. 


Psycho (1960)

Norman Bates’ mother Norma loved her son (Anthony Perkins) a little too much as we eventually learn in the backstory to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic tale of suspense and murder. When the introverted Norman grows attracted to embezzler Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) during her abbreviated Bates Motel stay, the persona of the long-deceased Mama Bates takes over his personality and Norman-now Mother in full drag-reaches for the cutlery. We learn more about the vindictive and mental Norma over the course of three Psycho sequels of diminishing quality, while A&E’s hit reboot/prequel Bates Motel presents a more sensitive side of Mother, as personified by the excellent Vera Farmiga. 


Gorgo (1961)

An undersea volcano erupts and unleashes a prehistoric gorgosaurus, which Cockney Carl Denham wannabes ship to London to be put on public display. But the greedy humans don’t realize that their oversized zoo specimen is only a baby, and before long, an angry Momma Gorgo trashes the city in search of her young. Gorgo represents the apex of mother love. It’s not the big dinosaur’s fault that London Bridge, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey get in the way! Decades later, the climactic San Diego Tyrannosaur rampage in Spielberg’s The Lost World shamelessly ripped off Gorgo.


Strait-Jacket (1964)

In the prologue of this camp favorite directed by Hollywood gimmick king William (The Tingler) Castle, wife Joan Crawford catches hubby in bed with his mistress. Instead of calling Divorce Court, she picks up an ax and slaughters the illicit lovers in front of her adolescent daughter. Upon release from the loony bin, Crawford tries to keep a handle on her shaky sanity. But when a new spate of slayings begins, suspicion soon falls on the hallucinating ex-ax murderess. After her death, screen legend Crawford herself gained ignominy as the subject of daughter Christina’s sordid tell-all book (and later film) Mommie Dearest.


Carrie (1976)

Actress Piper Laurie garnered a well-deserved Oscar nomination as nutty fruitcake Margaret White, single mother to telekinetic teen Carrie (Sissy Spacek). The religious fanatic abuses and represses her fragile daughter, but when Carrie’s powers blossom, not even Mom’s safe from her supernatural fury. Stick with Brian De Palma’s still-shocking original movie (adapted from Stephen King’s debut novel) and avoid the sorry remakes, please.


Friday the 13th (1980)

The big surprise in this much-imitated slasher landmark comes at the end, when we learn the fiend slaughtering the counselors at Camp Crystal Lake isn’t some hulking stuntman, but the vengeful mother (Betsy Palmer) of a mentally handicapped boy who drowned at the site years ago. Palmer’s a demented delight as the crazed killer; the former Hollywood and Broadway star later admitted that she only signed up for the quickie Friday the 13th gig so she could buy a new car!


Mother's Day (1980)

Momma (Beatrice Pons) loves her boys Ike and Addley so very much. She lets them eat sugary cereals, watch all the junk TV they want and even abduct, rape and kill women who stumble upon their cabin in the woods! In this satirical slasher (helmed by Troma chief Lloyd Kaufman’s brother Charles), three unfortunate ladies get trapped by this film’s depraved family unit, but after one of the girls gets killed, the survivors turn the tables on their oppressors with unsurpassed wrath. Director Kaufman abandoned moviemaking to open a bakery in Southern California! 

ALIENS Movie Clip - Get Away From Her You Bitch (1986) Sci-Fi Horror Movie HD

Aliens (1986)

James Cameron’s action-packed Alien sequel pits mother against mother. In one corner, meet badass space jockey Ripley (de facto parent to orphan Newt). And in the other, say hello to the dinosaur-sized Alien Queen, guardian of a nest of extraterrestrial eggs. Both femmes take motherhood very seriously, with Sigourney Weaver (Oscar nominated for her efforts) fiercely portraying a mother’s instinct to protect her little charge and the Queen going on a planetary warpath to avenge her murdered moppets. Movies don’t get more exciting than this. 


Dead Alive (1992)

In Peter (Lord of the Rings) Jackson’s supergross zombie farce, a nebbish man’s mother from hell (Elizabeth Moody) becomes an undead mother from hell. This old bitch on high heels precipitates a living dead outbreak after being bitten by a rare monkey. Before long, the whole town becomes infected, and Jackson’s unbelievable zombie apocalypse has yet to be topped in the 20 years that have followed Dead Alive’s release. The film’s final battle between Mum and son will swallow you whole!


Serial Mom (1994)

Leave it to screen provocateur John (Pink Flamingos) Waters to rehabilitate the career of ’80s cinema siren Kathleen (Body Heat) Turner, here cast as a Good Housekeeping cover girl with a psychopathic edge. With campy gusto, Turner plays Beverly Sutphin, quintessential suburban mother who will do anything to protect the sanctity of family. Likewise, she’ll strike out (fatally) at those who offend her dated ’50s-era morality. Wanna wear white after Labor Day? Then you’ll catch a fatal date with the pointy end of Serial Mom’s scissors. Turner’s a hoot in Waters’ wacky satire, and any movie with Mink Stole, Traci Lords and Suzanne Somers (as herself!) demands our attention.


Scream 2 (1997)

After the surprise blockbuster success of Scream the year before, director Wes Craven continued to fire on full-cylinders with this quickly-generated but energetic sequel. Like its predecessor, the characters in this Kevin Williamson-penned follow-up know their horror films backward and forward, this time commenting on the nature of sequels (surprise, they suck!), etc. Scream 2 also pays homage to horror’s venerable mad mater syndrome, casting Roseanne’s Laurie Metcalf as the bloodthirsty mother of the first film’s killer, now seeking revenge for her son’s demise. Metcalf generates chills and laughs as the pistol-packing stalker and proves the perfect tormenter of indefatigable heroine Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). 


House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

Hollyweird eccentric Karen Black essayed one of her most extreme roles in heavy metal god Rob Zombie’s directorial debut. She plays the lunatic Mother Firefly, matron to a family of psychotics who did not fall far from the tree. When four teens (including Talking Dead’s Chris Hardwick) get waylaid at the titular abode, well... let’s just say the film’s not called House of 1000 Survivors! As the lady of the house, Black attacks the part with her usual cross-eyed zest; shame she bowed out of House follow-up The Devil’s Rejects, where Police Academy’s Leslie Easterbrook took over as the heavily mascaraed maniac. 


Mother (2009)

They say a mother’s a boy’s best friend, a maxim Korean director Joon-Ho Bong certainly upholds in this sly Hitchcockian suspenser. When authorities hastily lock up a simple man (Bin Won) for a brutal murder, it’s up to his blindly devoted parent (Yoon Do-joon) to prove his innocence, play detective and ultimately get her own hands dirty (and bloody). The filmmakers keep us guessing throughout this beautifully-crafted film, while Do-joon contributes a powerful performance (and she can dance too!) as a dedicated mom who will stop at nothing to free her son. 

Mama (10/10) Movie CLIP - The Ending (2013) HD

Mama (2013)

Fanboy hero Guillermo del Toro produced this scary horror hit, and his influence can be felt throughout director Andy Muschietti’s dark fairy tale. Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster Waldau stars as an uncle raising his late brother’s two young daughters, who disappeared five years earlier. But an overly protective supernatural surrogate, who “raised” the children in a remote cabin, follows the kids back to civilization. Deprived of her own child centuries ago, ghost Mama wants her babies back! Co-starring Jessica Chastain, Mama delivers a mother lode of scares. Expect a sequel.

What do you think? Any mothers we missed?