What is it about mothers and horror? Perhaps because childhood is such a fearful time, the ones who comfort us wind up inextricably linked with the terrors they help us overcome. (Whoa, this post just got heavy. Wait, it’s going to be light-hearted and fun, honest!) Of course, in horror mothers are often as monstrous as our worst fears. Here then, are five horror movie moms worth screaming for, in no particular order.
1. Norma Bates, Psycho (1960), Bates Motel (2013-Present)
When it comes to moms in horror, Mrs. Bates truly is the mother of them all. After all, this “clinging, demanding woman” was apparently so awful she drove her son Norman (gay, adorable but creepy Anthony Perkins) insane, at least according to the heteronormative psychiatrist at the end of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic. But was she really as bad as she seemed—and did she deserve to be poisoned and mummified? The answer came in the form of the fabulous Vera Farmiga and A&E’s masterful Bates Motel, now nearing the end of its fourth season. Well… it’s complicated. As embodied by Farmiga, Norma is conflicted, volatile, and frequently hilarious. She also tries to do what’s best for her beloved son at all times, even if it verges on the incestuous once in a while. Sleep-overs at 17? Girl, cut the cord already. Besides, you’ve got hunky Sheriff Romero to share your bed these days. Norma and the series add an intriguing new dimension to one of the horror genre’s most unforgettable mothers.
2. Margaret White, Carrie (1976)
Sure, a blood-drenched Carrie threw a supreme hissy fit in the ultimate high school revenge fantasy, Carrie. But she couldn’t hold a telekinetic candle to her ferociously Bible-thumping mom, played by Piper Laurie in an Oscar nominated performance. This woman is so drenched in sexual guilt that she views poor Carrie as the symbol of her biggest “sin” and locks her in a closet with a really creepy bug eyed Jesus on a cross. Not to mention the fact that her daughter doesn’t have a clue what’s happening when she has her first period and is subsequently humiliated by her locker room peers. This is what abstinence only education hath wrought!
3. Ellen Ripley, Alien series (1979-future)
In some ways, the Alien series is all about maternity, what with its anxiety inducing perversions of conception and birth via face-huggers, chest-bursters, and Alien Queens. But the baddest mother is Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, who has served as mother to Jonesy the cat, a tragically abandoned daughter in the Aliens director’s cut (hyper-sleep’s a bitch), fan-favorite tyke Newt, an Alien Queen and, by extension, the spindly Newborn in Alien Resurrection. “I’m the monster’s mother,” she seductively explains in Resurrection. She’s also a strong, fiercely determined caregiver to more conventional life forms, a trend which should continue in Neil Blomkamp’s forthcoming sequel (which resurrects both Hicks and, rumor has it, Newt).
4. Amelia, The Babadook (2014)
As played by Ossie Davis in this critically acclaimed chiller, Amelia is a complex character faced with a challenging child and a nightmarish threat. The psychological ordeal tests her mettle and leads to some cruelty against her son—but this fully formed heroine remains someone we can empathize with. After all, at a certain point we all have to realize our parents are people and fallible, too.
5. Janet Leigh
A mother off-camera, legendary actress Janet Leigh (Psycho, Touch of Evil) gave birth to the greatest scream queen of all time, Jamie Lee Curtis. Her daughter’s breakout role was all too appropriate, given that Halloween was fashioned as a tribute to Psycho. The two appeared together in two films: John Carpenter’s Halloween follow-up The Fog and the gleefully postmodern Halloween: H20. Janet appears as Jamie’s secretary, “Norma” (natch), complaining about clogged shower drains and staring disapprovingly at her daughter canoodling with the guidance counselor. Then she delivers the kicker: “I know it’s not my place, but if I could be maternal for a moment…” Opinions on H20 are mixed, but this bit was a sublime tribute to an iconic mother and daughter duo. (Leigh died in 2004, and her daughter recreated her shower scene on Scream Queens last fall.)
Follow Monster Nation on YouTube: youtube.com/monsternation and on Tumblr: monsternationusa.tumblr.com