The year’s series of Women in Horror Month articles focuses on horror icons – both real and fictional. Now we head to the fictional side, with my three articles this week will center on a recurring role many females in horror films play: mothers. As I see it, there are three “staple character” mothers: the timid nurturer, the evil mother, and the conqueror. Today, let’s celebrate the evil mother. There are so many evil mothers in horror films that it’s hard to decide which ones to write about. So I’ve decided to focus on a few different “types.”
The religious zealot – Best exemplified by Mrs. White from “Carrie.” I’ve gone on many rants about how religion is usually treated ridiculously in horror, and this type of mother is a prime specimen. This “religious spitfire” of a mother shows her Christian spirit by beating her daughter with a Bible and locking her in a closet to pray for forgiveness because her sins have caused her to hit puberty. Unfortunately, the zealot mother has a basis in fact – there are notable examples of overprotective and domineering mothers who use their Christianity as an excuse to abuse their children, many of which later become criminals. But in horror, the child is usually blameless, and the mother is just crazy. For my money, Julianne Moore’s Mrs. White in the remake was 100 times better than Piper Laurie’s. Moore seemed genuinely sick, mentally, whereas Laurie was over the top nuts.
Speaking of crazy – mental illness is nothing to joke about, but it can be horrifying. For the mentally ill mother, we can look to Beverly Sutphin of “Serial Mom” and Dorothy of “Frightmare.” Both of these women are plagued by mental illness, which in turn causes them to murder. In “Fightmare,” Dorothy is obviously nuts. I mean, just look at her! (See slideshow.) Spending 18 years in an institution will do that to you. But Beverly is an entirely different animal. Is she murderous, killing off her neighbors for the tiniest annoyance, or is she really an anti-heroine?
Now, one mother we can all agree is totally deranged and awful is Nola Carveth of “The Brood.” When your anger at your ex-husband is so great that you give birth to little, murderous anger-babies, there is a real problem. The horror here is real.
Revenge mothers are another standard, best exemplified by Pamela Voorhees of “Friday the 13th” and Mrs. Loomis from “Scream 2.” Mrs. Loomis’ revenge is misguided. She tries to kill franchise heroine Sidney because she had a hand in killing her son Billy, the Ghostface of the first film. (This is a lame twist in what was already a dying franchise, and we have no sympathy for Billy getting killed, but ok.) The same indifference cannot be had for Pamela Voorhees. We wouldn’t have the “Friday the 13th” franchise if it weren’t for Pamela’s undying love for her murdered-by-negligence son, Jason. We can empathize with her, unlike Mrs. Loomis, because Jason was disabled and it was, in fact, the camp counselors’ faults that he wasn’t rescued (just not the particular ones she murdered).
But terrible moms aren’t limited just to horror films for grown-ups. No, kid’s movies have their fair share of terrifying mothers. Take, for instance, the many evil stepmothers of Disney films (like Lady Tremaine of “Cinderella” or the Evil Queen of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”). The best example though, is “The Other Mother” from “Coraline.” The Other Mother seems wonderful – everything a child who is bored with their life and family would want. Yet she is really a monster who steals children’s souls. Terrifying.
Evil mothers are nothing new – either in film or real life – and thank goodness, because without them, we’d be missing a lot of horror films. For more movies with evil mothers, see: “Straight-Jacket” (1964), “Dead Alive” (1992), “Mother’s Day” (1980), “The People Under the Stairs” (1991), “The Girl Next Door” (2007), and “Mommie Dearest” (1981).