Happy Mother’s Day! Today we celebrate mothers and let them know how much we love and appreciate them. But we who walk here, walk alone — so instead of sending Hallmark cards and flowers, we thank mothers for protecting us from monsters or for being entertainingly evil monsters themselves. Below, I have listed 15 of my favorite horror movie mothers. Take a look and let me know if you think I missed anyone.
15. Amelia Vanek – The Babadook
The Babadook, written and directed by Jennifer Kent, is an impressive and memorable entry in horror cinema. In the film, young widow Amelia struggles to take care of her son Sam, who is troubled and prone to tantrums, while she drowns in grief and denial over the death of her husband. After Sam mysteriously finds a creepy pop-up book called The Babadook, the title monster begins terrorizing Amelia and Sam. What follows manages to be both a wrenching exploration of grief and a legitimately terrifying movie.
Essie Davis is wonderful as Amelia. Her palpable despair, frustration, and exhaustion make us sympathize with Amelia. She loves her son, but she’s not a perfect mother; Davis’s performance lets us know that, even if perfection were possible in life, it would not be possible under these heartbreaking circumstances.
14. Katherine Thorn – The Omen
You probably expected to see Rosemary Woodhouse from Rosemary’s Baby on this list, but I prefer creepy demon-child Damien to Rosemary’s evil-eyed spawn of Satan. In The Omen, Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) and his wife Katherine (Lee Remick) are expecting a baby. After Katherine gives birth in an Italian hospital, the doctor informs Robert that his baby was stillborn and asks him to adopt an orphaned newborn; Robert agrees but does not tell Katherine what happened, letting her think that Damien is her biological son. In reality, the Thorns’ child was murdered and they are fooled into raising the Antichrist, who will ultimately ascend to power given Robert’s status as a U.S. Ambassador.
Katherine knows that there is something wrong with Damien, but she still fights to protect him from all the strange and frightening occurrences that seem to follow them wherever they go. One day, Damien causes Katherine to fall over their second-story railing. While Katherine is recuperating in the hospital, Damien’s Satanic nanny sneaks in and murders her. I think Katherine belongs on this list by her own merits, but even if she didn’t, I would include her purely out of pity. Her child is murdered, she is forced to raise the Antichrist, and then she is murdered. That is a woman who deserves some candy and flowers.
13. Evelyn – Who Can Kill a Child?
Who Can Kill a Child? is a Spanish horror gem about an island of murderous children. In the film, Tom and his pregnant wife Evelyn are on vacation, and they pick the wrong damn island to visit. They notice that there seem to be no adults on the island, only children. When they finally spot another adult, they witness a little girl beat him to death. Tom and Evelyn flee, but they end up trapped.
Earlier in the film, a little girl approaches Evelyn and whispers to the baby in her womb. After the couple gets trapped, we learn what the little girl was telling the baby, as it attacks Evelyn from inside her own body and murders her. It’s one of the most shocking horror deaths I’ve ever seen, and I love it. Happy Mother’s Day, Evelyn. Rest in peace.
12. Laura – The Orphanage
The Orphanage is another film that, like The Babadook, manages to be both terrifying and heartbreaking. In the movie, Laura, her husband Carlos, and their adopted son Simón visit the orphanage where she once lived. Laura wants to reopen the orphanage as a home for disabled children. At the reopening party, Simón gets into an argument with Laura and runs away. Laura sees a little boy and follows him, thinking it is Simón, but it turns out to be the ghost of a boy she knew at the orphanage. Simón goes missing, and Laura begins a desperate search to find her son.
I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot because this is a story that needs to unfold on its own time. It is haunting and tragic, and it will stay with you long after you’ve watched it.
11. Raquel Putterman – TerrorVision
I’ve mentioned before how much I love TerrorVision and its unrepentant weirdness, but I haven’t gone into much detail yet. I will remedy that soon, but for now we’ll just talk about Raquel Putterman (played by the queen of unrepentant weirdness, Mary Woronov). Raquel is an aerobics-loving swinger who doesn’t like her children very much because they cramp her style.
Raquel is a classic skeptical horror mom. She doesn’t believe her son Sherman when he tells her about the alien monster in their house, so of course she ends up being eaten by the monster. Poor Raquel…she’ll never be able to use the Pleasure Dome again.
10. Hortense Daigle – The Bad Seed
As you can probably tell from this list, I’m a big fan of the killer kid subgenre, and Rhoda Penmark from The Bad Seed is one of the earliest and best examples of murderous children. Rhoda (chillingly portrayed by Patty McCormack) is a sociopathic little girl masquerading as a sugary sweet angel. She murders her classmate Claude Daigle to steal his penmanship medal, and Claude’s mother Hortense soon begins to suspect her of the crime. Eileen Heckart portrays Hortense Daigle as a broken woman; she is desperate, distraught, and self-medicating. And she sells the hell out of it: Heckart doesn’t play to the back row, she plays to the crowd ten blocks down the street.
It is obvious from her performance that she originated the role on Broadway, and her work earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. (Both are also true for McCormack and Nancy Kelly, who plays Rhoda’s mother Christine.) The film’s tacked-on happy ending (necessitated by the Hays Code) is a disappointment — Rhoda is struck by lightning, putting an end to her evil and reassuring the audience that justice is served — but Rhoda’s malevolence and Eileen Heckart’s glorious overacting live on.
9. Delia Deetz – Beetlejuice
Delia Deetz is a pretty terrible (step)mother. She really only cares about her bizarre sculptures, and she doesn’t recognize the perfection that is Lydia Deetz. But dammit, that woman has style, and the dinner party scene where the guests are forced to sing and dance to “Day-O” is one of the weirdest and most fun scenes Tim Burton has ever filmed.
I can’t stay mad at a woman who wears a glove as a hat. My love for Beetlejuice is undying, and thanks to Catherine O’Hara’s performance (and wardrobe), so is my love for Delia “My Best Friend Is Named Otho” Deetz.
8. Diane Freeling – Poltergeist
Diane Freeling is a legitimately great horror mom. When her house is besieged by evil spirits, she battles skeletons and braves ectoplasmic portals to save her daughter Carol Anne from a demon called the Beast.
Read that sentence again — Diane doesn’t get a lot of love in the realm of horror icons, but that’s pretty badass.
7. Chris MacNeil – The Exorcist
Chris MacNeil, movie star and hostess of one of history’s most awkward dinner parties, doesn’t believe in religion. But when her daughter Regan begins acting strangely and none of the dozens of doctors she’s seen have any idea how to treat her, Chris agrees to try an exorcism. After some disgusting and profane displays of demonic power, the priests expel the demon from Regan’s body.
Chris did everything she could to help Regan; by trusting Fathers Merrin and Karras, she saved Regan’s life and her soul. Where’s the Hallmark card for that occasion?
6. Martha Thomas – Sleepaway Camp
Oh, Martha. You are my favorite crazy horror mom of all time. Martha is technically the aunt of Angela, the film’s protagonist, but after Angela’s father dies, Martha raises her as her own alongside Martha’s biological son Ricky.
Sleepaway Camp is a movie I refuse to spoil, so if you haven’t seen it, go watch it right now. You will soon see why Martha holds such a special place in my heart. Hell, even if you have seen it, go watch it again. Make it a new Mother’s Day tradition.
5. Marta – Deep Red
If there’s a list, you know I’m going to slip some Argento in there somewhere. Deep Red is another film I refuse to spoil, because the visual reveal is so cleverly done that I don’t want to ruin it for anyone.
For those of you who have seen the movie, Marta makes the list for obvious reasons. For the rest of you, watch it as soon as you can; in the meantime, revel in Marta’s unbelievably thick eyeliner.
4. Wendy Torrance – The Shining
There is a case to be made for Wendy Torrance as the most iconic horror mom of all time. Shelley Duvall plays her with such fragility, but she also displays incredible strength protecting herself and her son Danny from her insane, bat- and ax-wielding husband Jack.
Wendy’s such a warm, engaging presence that we instantly feel her love for her son, and her stark terror at Jack’s “Heeere’s Johnny!” moment is one of the best horror performances I’ve ever seen.
3. Margaret White – Carrie
“They’re all gonna laugh at you!” There are plenty of unhinged mothers on this list, but it’s hard to beat Margaret White when it comes to pure insanity. Thanks to Margaret’s religious fanaticism, her daughter Carrie has no idea what is happening when she gets her first period; when Carrie tells her mother about it, after having A Talk with her gym teacher, Margaret bemoans the fact that Carrie is now doomed to hell for the sin of being a woman.
After the infamous (and fantastic) prom scene, Carrie returns home and tells her mother that she was right. While praying with her daughter, Margaret stabs her, thinking that if she kills Carrie she will save her soul. Carrie defends herself telekinetically, shooting sharp projectiles at her mother, who ends up crucified in an unsettling tableau that would no doubt fulfill Margaret’s most delusional religious fantasies.
2. Pamela Voorhees – Friday the 13th
In the opening minutes of Scream, Ghostface asks Casey (played by Drew Barrymore) who the killer was in Friday the 13th, and Casey confidently answers that the killer was Jason. Call me cruel, but after that I kind of agreed with Ghostface that Casey had to die. Pamela Voorhees is such a classic horror mom that I had a hard time not making her #1 on this list; to forget about her is, in my book, a cardinal horror sin.
Pamela’s eerily calm manner in comforting Alice after all of the other camp employees have died, her inventive kills, and her deranged “Kill her! Kill her, Mommy!” dialogue with the Jason in her head…these secure her position as one of the greatest horror moms in history.
1. Mrs. Bates – Psycho
I know it’s predictable, but I can’t help it: Psycho‘s Mother deserves the #1 spot. Ask any non-horror fan about a mother in horror movies, and they’ll be able to tell you about Mrs. Bates. They may have never seen a horror movie in their lives, but I guarantee you that they know about Norman Bates dressing up in a wig and a dress as Mother takes over his psyche.
Even though we never see her while she’s alive, Mrs. Bates casts a long shadow, both in this film and in pop culture. I can’t do the film or the character justice here, but let me just say that she wields a lot of power for a woman who wouldn’t even harm a fly. She is the ultimate shocker, the ultimate twist ending, and the ultimate horror mom.