face-frame---new
A skinned face for your torture chamber is one of the quickest and easiest projects to do.  I first saw an example from Hocus Pocus Customs on eBay and realized it looked very similar to a mask I had picked up for $1 after Halloween.  Choose a mask that has only the face.

You will need: a mask, various colors of paint, something to poke holes through the mask, either an old frame or wood to create a frame and string.

face-frame-supplles

Using scissors or an Exacto knife, cut out the eyes, nostrils and mouth.  Also, cut around the face so it is not as curved and to give it an uneven edge. Be sure to cut off the holes that the strap went in.  Take a needle or awl and poke a hole at the top, bottom and sides of the mask as well as the diagonal points midway between. You could also use something to burn the holes in the mask.

face-mask-green

I grow bamboo for use in my Halloween projects and my garden.  So, this was an obvious material for creating a frame.   I cut 4 pieces large enough to give a nice border around the mask.  Secured the corners with 2 cable ties on each corner.  Leave some of each end protruding past the square of the frame. Then wrap one cable tie through the inside corner and between the two ends sticking out. Crisscross it with another diagonally across the two protruding ends. Use pliers to pull these very tightly, then snip off the ends.  Repeat on each corner.

Next, wrap string around the corners in every direction until there is no sign of the cable ties. The cable ties are not necessary, but you will find that if you only use string the binding can loosen over time and eventually unravel. I added some Elmer’s glue on the string to prevent it from unraveling.

face-mask-frame2

Using acrylic paint mix a pale skin color and cover the entire mask. The surface will remain a bit tacky but it did seem to adhere.  Then use various red and black mixes to add shadows and blood to the wrinkles in the mask and along all the edges.  Tie strings through the holes you created and tie the other end to the frame.

face-mask---complete-old

Above is my original creation.  However, after it was finished I happened upon Stiltbeast Studio’s video “Blood on the cheap” in which he compares 36 homemade blood formulas.  I immediately mixed up a batch using his Elmer’s clear glue, red food coloring and a touch of blue food coloring recipe.  The thickness and transparency, make it the best blood recipe I’ve used to date.  The first photo in this post was made after I splotched the new blood on it.  Elmer’s is washable, so the prop is no longer safe for outdoors unless it is also covered with acrylic, polyurethane or some other clear, weatherproof coating.

 

jess-dremelMy first Halloween DIY project was a family effort and I treasure the results.  These holiday keepsakes were very simple and allowed each family member to personalize their unique creation.

I started by searching online for epithet ideas. Unfortunately it was long enough ago that I no longer have the links.  But, I searched various terms to cull a list made up of both joke and real epithets.  Several we used were from the old west.  For example one was by a marble cutter who used his wife’s tombstone as a sales pitch for future work. Another of my favorites from a real cemetery was  “She lived with her husband fifty years And died in the confident hope of a better life.”  We each chose an epithet as well as a name from these lists to pair.  Most of the names were jokes, such as Stu Pitt or Claire Voyance.

Next I showed the kids the fonts I had on my computer and everyone picked their favorite.

After the choices were made, we looked a photos of cemeteries and everyone choose their preferred tombstone shape.  I limited the options to simple ones that I could easily draw, either freehand or by using objects of different geometric shapes to get what I needed.  For round tops I used a piece of string and a nail to draw arcs.

foam-with-epithetThe material we used was 1 inch thick foam board insulation. It is easy to cut with a serrated knife, hack saw or box cutter.  It is also very easy to smooth with sandpaper.

After drawing the shapes to get as many as I could fit on a sheet of foam board insulation, we cut them out, measured the space and in an actual size document laid out our names, dates, flourishes and epithets on the computer using the chosen fonts.  I then used tiling in the print options to print them and taped the resulting letter size sheets of paper with the print on them together to form an actual size pattern.

Once the pattern was taped in place we used exacto knives to trace the letters and designs.  These were cleaned up after the pattern was removed using either an exacto knife or Dremel tool to remove the foam.

Once the carving was finished, we highlighted it by painting them with black latex paint.  It is not necessary to stay inside the lines, but it is important to completely cover the foam inside the lines with black paint.

stones-enamelAfter the epithets were highlighted, we treated the foam with enamel spray paint.  The enamel paint reacts with the foam, slowly dissolving it.  The thicker the paint, the more foam was dissolved. This step resulted in giving the surface an aged, worn look similar to stone with water and wind damage. We also sanded the edges to soften them as a weathered tombstone would be.

The last step was simply to spray or use a brush to paint them gray.  The result was a fairly quick, easy family project with a big impact for our Halloween display.

While pleased with the tombstones, there was one ongoing issue – how to make them remain standing in the often windy fall weather. Initially I used some thin metal stakes that I pushed into the stones & the ground.  These were hard to work with and the tombstones would bend over. Next, I tried small rebar spikes in the front and back of the tombstones.  These worked well but were visible and hard to cover as they had to be left high enough the tombstones could fall over them. They also caused pressure points that made an indent in some of the tombstones.

I saw later that some people drilled holes through the bottom of their tombstones and placed them over the rebar.  standWhile this seemed like a good idea, especially if one used a piece of PVC in the drilled holes so that the rebar wouldn’t pop a hole through the front with too much pressure.  But, having used only 1 inch thick foam, I was afraid to do this.  Instead, I created some stands out of furring strips and scrap plywood.

I cut the furring strips just slightly longer than the tombstones and drilled a hole on each end so that I could drive a barn nail or small piece of rebar through them without hitting the tombstone.  I screwed a small piece of plywood on the front side and a larger one on the back to prevent the tombstone from falling.  The front of the stands were very easy to cover with leaves, but unfortunately this stand design does show from the back and therefore won’t be our choice for any future tombstones.  I plan to use slightly thicker foam board and try the drill method with a PVC insert.

Regardless, the entire family had fun with this project and it is one that can be tailored to fit a scary horror scene or a kid friendly, funny Halloween display. Care should be used in storing your tombstones.  Though they are weatherproof and fairly sturdy, it’s very easy to chip off pieces of the foam if they are rubbed together.  You can see the specks of blue showing through in my finished photo as it was taken a couple of years after they were made. It is easy to touch them up if this happens.

original-tombstones

One final note – if one of your tombstone breaks, be very careful what you use to attempt to fix it. Many adhesives will eat through the foam.  Be sure to choose one the specifically mentions foam board on it. Liquid Nails and Gorilla Glue both make versions of construction adhesive that is safe for foam board.

DIY: Easy eviscerated torso

Posted: May 14, 2016 in DIY, Projects

Eviscerated TorsoIt was Friday the 13th today and we’re halfway to Halloween so it seems an appropriate time to kick off the prop building season! This skinned, split open torso is one of my favorite projects so far. It was extremely easy, fairly quick to complete and I loved the result. Plus, it’s lightweight and weather-resistent so there are many staging possibilities.

I recently picked up several hanging manikin torsos for $1 each at the local Habitat ReStore. So, when I saw the garbage bag torso in a blog post on Haunt Nation it, I decided to try it.

Tools: screwdriver, heat gun, scissors, hot glue gun, spray bottle filled with water, paint brush.

Supplies: heat resistant form, black garbage bags, cardboard, glue sticks, acrylic paints.

torso bagged torso moldFirst, put the form into a garbage bag.  I used a thick name brand bag to make a more durable finished product.  Different brands or types of bags will melt differently, but any will work – you just may have to use more of the bags are thinner.

Simply aim the heat gun a few inches from the bag until it shrinks and fits tightly to the form.  Do this over the entire form, a small area at a time.

After just a couple of bags, the plastic is surprisingly rigid, but doesn’t completely cover the edges of the form.

Next, cut two pieces of cardboard the length you would like the cut in the torso to be.  Notch the top by cutting V shapes fairly close together.  These allow the cardboard to curve with the shape of the waist and also allow for bending the “cut flesh” outward and creating a torn, jagged appearance.

I used hot glue to fasten the cardboard to the shrunken garbage bags.  I was quite generous in applying glue and used both hands to hold in in place until it cooled so that it would curve tightly against the form. You could use tape or another type of glue.

torso cardboard

To finish applying the garbage bags cut the bags across into four or five strips. Then, unfold the strips and cut them in half.  Cover any exposed spots on the front of the form by placing and melting the garbage bag strips, overlapping them as you go.  Continue until the entire thing is covered with four or five layers.

Be sure the plastic goes all the way to the bottom edge all around.  In areas that need extra patching, such as where the cardboard meets the plastic on the inside or around the outside seams of the cardboard, twist or fold the strips before applying them for thicker coverage.

Spray the plastic with cold water if it starts shrinking too fast or appears to be getting too hot.  This cools it instantly and freezes it in place.

Once the top and sides of the figure are covered, spray it with water and flip it over.  Cut up the middle of the back side and gently pull the melted plastic off the form so that you can reuse the form again.  If you aren’t concerned with reuse, there is no need for as many layers of garbage bags.

Laying the hollow plastic form you’ve created upside down, push on it anywhere that appears to be misshapen until you are satisfied with the shape.  Then, apply garbage bag strips to the back until you have completely enclosed the figure.  Use extra plastic on the neck if you intend to hang it.

torso gutsOnce you are satisfied with the coverage and thickness of the plastic it’s time to have fun with the details.  Create ligaments and torn skin by using a screwdriver to pull on the plastic as it melts. Alternate melting and spraying with cool water to form various size threads, chunks or ridges.

Add chucks of garbage bags along the bottom of the arms and legs to give them a torn appearance.  Roll up one of the strips and melt it in place near the left breast area to form a heart. Use the screwdriver to push it in place or tweak the shape of it.  Create other organs in the same way. For intestines, simply twist a strip and push it into place with the screwdriver as you melt it onto the form.

torso - sprayedWhen you are satisfied with the thickness, shape and texture of your creation, finish it off by painting it and adding blood.

Just a light coat of a dark read spray paint actually looks very good.  Or you can continue to detail it by making the internal organs different colors, adding skin tones in some areas and highlighting the texture with a light color.

This is an incredibly forgiving project all around.  I used very watered down acrylic paint and several shades of reds, tans and browns. I splotched them around randomly and let them run together.  After it dried I went back over it with a dry brush a light tan lightly on the highest textures.

In addition to paint I used some blood made with a version of Stiltbeast Studio’s blood recipe. Mix about a quarter cup of Elmer’s Clear Schoolhouse Glue, about an inch long string of red gel food coloring and a little drop of blue food coloring.  It is shiny and translucent, much more realistic than any paint mixture I’ve seen and cheaper than nail polish.  With the figure propped upright, I scooped up glops of the blood mixture with a large round brush and generously dribbled it over the darker red areas, particularly inside the cut and let it drip anywhere it wanted to go.

If you plan to put your eviscerated torso outside, spray or brush it with acrylic, polyurethane or some other weather resistant coating.  Marine grade polyurethane is the most durable and non yellowing option according to what I’ve read.  But, it’s also the most expensive and their are a variety of options that will work, particularly if it will be protected from the elements or outdoors for only a short time.

torso - painted

There are a lot of cool ghosts I’ve seen made by haunters and artists. While I love some of the ones created by chicken wire and cheesecloth, the packaging tape method appeared to be the easiest to create with my limited artistic abilities.  And indeed, I was very pleased with the result.

tape_ghost-main

I first started experimenting with smaller versions.  My son was so impressed with the creepy baby that resulted, he even pitched in a made one.

The first step is to find a doll and pose it in whatever position you would like your ghost baby to be in. For my life-sized figure I used a dress maker’s form, a hairdresser’s head and a friend’s arms for the forms.

forms

Next, wrap your form or model with plastic cling wrap from the kitchen. The purpose of this step is to keep the tape from sticking to your model, so you only need one layer.  Once you have completely covered your model with cling wrap, begin wrapping over it with packaging tape.  If you want to get more detail on the face or other places, use small strips of regular cellophane tape for features like eyes and lips.  I didn’t worry too much about fine details as my ghosts will be seen from a distance.

I found that a couple of layers of heavy duty Scotch tape sufficed for a fairly sturdy form.  But, the thicker tape popped up in a few places, so I went over the entire form a couple of more times with a cheap, thin dollar store brand of packaging tape to smooth all the edges.  On my first attempt I tried to continually wrap with the tape, but I found it was much easier to control the shape if I tore off strips of about six inches and placed them. I assume constantly overlapping these also added to the strength of the finished figure. In all, it took one roll of regular sized Scotch tape for each small doll and about six rolls for the adult figure.

Next, simply cut the tape off of your model along whatever route is easiest to maneuver.

ghost_baby-cut

You can be quite rough taking the tape off of the model as it is easy to reshape it.  Then simply tape the seams, being careful not to overlap the two sides as this makes them more noticeable.  In general it’s very easy to cover seams with just a few pieces of tape.  I even reopened mine several times as I tweaked my lights without any noticeable effect on the finished product.

One of the main reasons I opted for the packaging tape method was I liked the idea of my ghosts glowing an eerie color.  So the next step was to put lights inside of them.  After testing several methods I found the easiest for larger figures was to mount the lights with packaging tape right onto the stand.  I left about a foot and a half hanging to stuff into the left arm and taped the wire to the top of my piece of PVC.  Then I made a loop about the same size for the right arm.  The rest of the lights I looped in several circles, taping the top of each circle to the PVC.  This spread them out a bit for a more dimensional effect.  While they all look about equal at night, you can see from some of the photos that during the day the green wired lights are visible through the figure.  So I prefer using lights with white coated wire and plan to replace the green ones for next year.  Because white shows more on the ground, I wrapped the wire from the figure to the plug in black electrical tape.

tape_ghost-cords

For the small figures I opted to string multiple figures together with the lights.  As you can see by the picture, almost as much wire was outside of the ghost babies as was inside, so I had quite a bit of electrical tape wrapping to do.  Once I hung them on the tree I tried to hide as much of the wiring as possible behind the tree branches.

The small ghosts were hung using monofilament (fishing line) tied around their necks and the larger figures are just sitting on top of a piece of PVC.  For my life-size ghost I used a second shorter piece of PVC and an angled joint so she would be leaning forward a bit.  The white PVC doesn’t show at all even by daylight.  For my full sized child ghost I joined a white PVC piece that went inside the ghost to a black one to lift her off the ground.  At night the black doesn’t show.

stands

On the small one pictured above I didn’t wrap the legs.  On the adult life-sized ghost I had no legs.  Instead I gave them skirts that could blow in the wind.  These were created by cutting up the seams of clear trash bags and taping them a strip at a time around the waist. I did two layers and overlapped each strip a bit.  The second layer I started by taping the first strip between two on the first layer.

tape_ghost-dress

I used strips half the size to create a veil for the smaller figure.  But, I wasn’t totally satisfied with how it came out.  Though I think it could be improved by making the strips half the width, I opted to use cheesecloth for the larger figure’s scarf.  I taped it down everywhere the cheesecloth touched tape.  It doesn’t show and after a week her shaw is still in place.

tape_ghost-group

Mine are very simple versions of packaging tape ghosts.  If you have more artistic ability, check out examples by actual artists such as Khalil Chishtee here. Other types of tape sculpture by various artists can be found here.

All of the ghosts I looked at for inspiration can be found on my Pinterest profile in the ghost board, including the chicken wire and cheesecloth ghosts previously mentioned.

And, of course ghosts aren’t the only project for which tape sculpting can be used.  Online I saw some seamstresses using a form like mine and layering it with duct tape to create additional dress forms.  You could use these to bulk out your armatures for other types of figures in your yard haunt.  Sean Bradley has a great example of a life sized articulated mannequin he created with packaging tape on a Halo costuming site here.  It is at the bottom of the page below his tutorial on using a tape sculpture of his head and shoulders as a mold for a solid form.  He simply created the replica of his head and shoulders and then filled it with expanding foam (i.e. Great Stuff).

As I become more adept at creating these figures I would like to try something for my cemetery inspired by the cast glass sculpture by Christina Bothwell you can find here.  I may start by using one of the larger doll tape sculptures without a dress as a ground breaker ghost.  But, it would be cool if I could get it to look like it’s rising out of the dolls body as Bothwell did.

 

 

 

 

 

bookshelf-finalI’m working on adding a mad scientist’s lab to my Halloween displays and figured some good reading material would be a necessity in any lab.  This small project was created to hang on my fireplace mantel, but it could also be made as a facade in front of regular books on a shelf or is light weight enough to hang a much larger version on a wall.

To begin the project I cut my pieces of cardboard into different sizes for my books.  In this case I cut them into various widths, but left them all close to the same height so the fireplace wouldn’t show behind them.

Using a metal ruler as a guide, I scored the cardboard at even intervals about a quarter of the way through the cardboard so that the book spines could be rounded.  It’s important that the last score lines on each side are equal distances from the outer edges of the cardboard so the book sticks out evenly on both sides from the shelf.  I actually made these two cuts on all of the books first so that I could plan for various books protruding from the shelves in different amounts.

bookshelf-1-cuts

I then gathered my spine covers that I had printed and glued them to the cardboard using a brush and glue watered down 50/50.  That proportion is for Elmer’s school glue.  If you use a cheap brand, don’t water it down as it already is watered down about that much.

bookshelf-2-spines

My printed spines came from various location.  There are many sites with free printable book cover textures available to create them from scratch.  I wound up finding actual pictures of old libraries and choosing the book spines I liked the best.  Then I used Photoshop to erase the actual titles on the books (if they had them).  Using the clone stamp I filled texture back in where I had erased and then I wrote in my own titles and credit.

Since I like to incorporate horror movies into my displays whenever possible I paid tribute to some of my favorite scientists with the titles including: Robotics by Miles Dyson (Terminator), Tissue Regeneration by Herbert Best (Re-Animator), Teleportation by Seth Brundle (The Fly), Pharmakeia by Henry Jekyll (Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde), How I Did it by Victor Frankenstein (Young Frankenstein), Herbal Remedies by Hershel Greene (The Walking Dead), Genetics by Dr. Moreau (The Island of Dr. Moreau), Concerning Black Holes by Jack Torrence (The Shining), Ancient Egyptian Artifacts by Ardath Bey (The Mummy), Parasites by Warren Chapin (The Tingler), Optical Density by Jack Griffin (The Invisible Man), Comparative Alien Physiology by Leonard McCoy (Star Trek) and Homunculi by Septimus Pretorius (The Bride of Frankenstein). I actually wound up with a bit of space at the end and plan to add Body Modification by Mary Mason (American Mary) to represent the ladies.

Using the printed spines as guides I glued strips of craft foam onto my books to give them more depth.

bookshelf-3-foam

I then brushed large brown coffee filters with glue and put several overlapping layers over the foam strips to blend them into the spine.  I brushed more glue over the top of the filters to fully attach them to the spines and also to wet them enough to be able to brush out any wrinkles I didn’t want. I put a few layers of filters so that the strips of foam would appear to have rounded edges.

bookshelf-4-filters

When finished I glued a second copy of the spines over them, carefully lining it up with the first copy so that all the foam pieces would protrude in the correct places. I then squeezed by books into shape and put loose fitting rubber bands on them so that they would dry in the shape of the ends of books.

bookshelf-5-topspine

Once they dried I lined them up in the order I wanted them and measured them to create my shelf.

bookshelf-6-glueFor the backing I cut a piece of cardboard the width of my books and slightly shorter than the height of the shortest one so that it wouldn’t show.  I glued two small strips of wood to the top of it and used them to screw in eye hooks for my hanging wire.  I also added wood strips to the sides and bottom so it would lay evenly flat against the mantel.

bookshelf-10-back

Once my backing was done I measured it and cut four pieces of 1/2 inch foam insulation to create my wooden shelf.  To make the foam look like wood I used an awl to scratch some grain marks and knots into the foam. I then painted all the indentations with black paint without much worry about getting too much on.  Then I used a greyish brown paint to cover the entire pieces.  For this I used a sponge brush and painted lightly over the surface so that the black that was inside the indentations I made was not covered. I did the wood grain and paint on both sides of the foam as well as the sides and ends of each piece as some of them would be visible around the books.

bookshelf-9-foamwood

Finally, I put full strength Elmer’s glue on the sides of each book and on the bottom half of the back edges and glued them to the front of my backboard.  Around them I glued my foam pieces. The top piece is just glued to the top ends of the side foam pieces.

bookshelf-final

 

 

DIY: Tools for the torture chamber

Posted: September 3, 2014 in DIY, Projects

tool3My favorite part of my Halloween display has always been my torture chamber.  But, I grow progressively discontent with the weaponry and tools of destruction that I find in shops, so this year I decided to make a few of my own.

The inspiration for my first round of tools came from the HalloweenForum.com user TwistedUK, who credited Alan Hopps Stiltbeast Studios when he posted his tools.  I actually hadn’t watched the Stiltbeast video until I looked up the credit for this post, but I will certainly be doing some larger weapons using some of his advice!

Both Hopps and TwistedUK used a sheet of Sintra plastic to create their tool.  I instead opted to use real metal as I’m never very impressed with metallic paints.  I was able to procure some large food service size cans from an employee of a local pizzeria.  I used metal cutters to cut the basic shapes which were modeled after several of TwistedUK’s.

tool1

Next, I pounded out the indented lines around the can using a ball pein hammer and an anvil.  The metal cutters were serrated and left little indentations around the edge of my pieces.  I was able to hammer these out, however I discovered that my fiskar gardening scissors could also cut through the metal everywhere except on the rim and seam.  So, I went around the edges with them and was able to get better, smoother curves and detail with the scissors.

I also noticed, which you can see from the picture, that the inside had a bronze colored coating on it.  I was able to get this off scrubbing it with steel wool.  After the cuts, pounding and scrubbing were complete I rewashed them all in dawn to take any oil from my hands off and leave a clean surface for the paint to better adhere to.

Once content with the results, I took twine and wrapped it around the metal to create a place to hold the instruments.  To secure it I started by smearing the metal on both sides with clear, fast dry Gorilla Glue gel.  I also laid the starting end along the metal & wrapped over it to anchor it.  On the other end I either tied it off or tucked it under & then coated it with the glue.  I actually poured some glue over the top of the twine as it seemed to make it look older.  I also added holes using a hammer and an awl in case I wanted to hang them for the display.tool2

Finally the paint job, the part I worried about being capable of doing the most.  Turned out it was easy!  I used 3 colors of acrylic tube paints: black, burnt sienna and red.  I first took a round brush that was cut flat on the top and used the brush like a stamp as you would for stenciling.  I dampened my brush and stamped on the thick burnt sienna and then the red sporadically, everywhere but concentrating along the edges that would be used for slicing into flesh.

Next, I used a large regular brush and dabbed quite a bit of water onto my pallet (a disposable paint roller tray liner) and thoroughly wet the brush.  I pulled some of the red, black and burnt sienna into my water puddle and mixed it but not thoroughly so that different places had different amounts of each color.  I brushed this solution generously all over the metal as well as blotched it on the twine handles.  As I went I added more water and held them with the cutting edges down so that the liquid mix ran over the surface and gathered on the bottom edges.  I propped them up so that they would dry like this, leaving the color thicker on the bottom and around the joints between the “handles” and the blades.

Since I wasn’t sure how well the acrylic would stick to metal, especially if they were displayed outdoors, I used spray acrylic to coat the whole thing once the paint was dry.

tool3

I was able to complete all the tools shown in one evening and was pleased with the results.  So, I’m eager to try some larger weapons using some of the ideas from Stiltbeast Sudio’s “Making Prop Weaponry” tutorial on YouTube – http://youtu.be/AZqWq5yBIBM

Finally, my top 10 picks of women who epitomize maternal relationships depicted in horror (see also #11-21; #22-33:

10. Vera Cosgrove played by Elizabeth Moody in Dead Alive (1992), directed by Peter Jackson: Henpecked Lionel Cosgrove does his best to cater to his mother. But, when she is bitten by a Sumatran Rat-Monkey while interfering with his new found relationship she becomes a zombie and Lionel really has his hands full. Despite his best efforts to sedate and care for his carnivorous mother and her victims, the undead count she creates keeps growing. Soon Lionel’s house is teeming with zombies, everything is out of control and something must be done about his unruly dead guests. Still lauded as the goriest film of all time, Dead Alive continues to hold its own among the top horror comedies.

9. Mrs. Trefoile played by Tallulah Bankhead in Die! Die! My Darling! (1965), directed by Silvio Narizzano The classic Hammer horror film starring Stephanie Powers, Donald Sutherland and the incomparable Tallulah Bankhead. When Patricia (Powers) drops in to pay her respects to her dead fiancee mother, she is imprisoned by the religious fanatic who is determined to purify her soul. As the domineering mother, controlling everyone around her, Bankhead takes her place among the matriarchs of psycho-biddy/hag-horror.
http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/282962/Die-Die-My-Darling-Original-Trailer-.html

8. Sarah Connor played by Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), directed by James Cameron: Sarah kicked butt in the first Terminator, protecting her unborn son from a cyborg monster from the future. But, she really brings it on in the sequel, leading the now teenage boy on a journey to change the future, aided by her colorful friends and pursued by a more advanced cyborg model. No mom ever was as bad-ass as Sarah Connor, so don’t mess with John!

7. Ruth Chandler played by Blanche Baker in The Girl Next Door (2007), directed by Gregory Wilson: No psycho-mom can match the depravity of Aunt Ruth, particularly given she is based on a true story. Among the most disturbing torture-porn movies ever made, one feels dirty just watching the film about a young girl who goes to live with her aunt and cousins after her parents are killed. Before long her aunt has her chained in the cellar, allowing her young boys and their friends to repeatedly torture and rape her.

6. Grace Stewart, played by Nicole Kidman in The Others (2001), directed by Alejandro Amenábar: This throwback to old school ghost stories made more at the box office than any other Spanish film. The story centers around Grace’s obsessive efforts to school and protect her children alone in an old, isolated mansion while she awaits her husband’s return from the war. Grace maintains that the children have an extreme sensitivity to the sun and systematically keeps it from showing into the house by locking every door and covering the windows in thick drapery. But, she soon begins to suspect someone, or something else is in the house and they aren’t abiding by her rules.

5. Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin played by Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate (1962), directed by John Frankenheimer:  Eleanor Iselin set the mold for all domineering, controlling, ruthless mothers to follow. Under her direction, Raymond’s bumbling stepfather fueled a red scare that would put him on track to take over the presidency of the U.S.  Despite her later claim that she resented having to sacrifice her son to get the job done, she doesn’t hesitate to manipulate Raymond and destroy any chance for him to find happiness. While the 2004 version stands above most remakes, even the able skills of Meryl Streep don’t hold a candle to the chilling performance of Angela Lansbury.

4. Mrs. Bates Voiced by Virginia Gregg in Psycho (1960), directed by Alfred Hitchcock: The first mother to come to mind on any horror list is likely to always be Mrs. Bates, the mother from horror’s first slasher film. From then on, insanity would be closely linked to the mother/child relationship on film.

3. Constance Langdon played by Jessica Lang in American Horror Story (TV Series: 2011-present), multiple directors:  While Lang’s performance as Fiona Goode, the coven leader and daughter’s tormenter in Coven, the 3rd season of the television series; It is in the first season as Constance Langdon that Lang’s character stand out in among an outstanding parade of characters.  As the former owner of Murder House, Lang continually drops in on the new family to stir up laughs and trouble.  Her wise cracks and shenanigan’s elevate television’s most interesting foray into horror to dark comedy.  And while her inept mothering instincts and preoccupation with men and drink spawned monsters like her offspring chained in the attic or the troubled teen that massacred his schoolmates, she is willing to go to great lengths to protect her young.  She also birthed the show’s most sympathetic character, the mentally-challenged Violet who she at once spoils and abuses as she attempts to do a more successful job at fulfilling her role as mother.  It’s a daunting task for someone so completely out of their mind and carrying so much baggage.


2. Margaret White played by Piper Laurie in Carrie (1978), directed by Brian De Palma:  Piper Laurie’s over the top performance as the bible thumping, smothering mother of a young telekinetic girl created one of horror’s most memorable characters in a movie that helped launch several significant careers.  Mrs. White’s efforts to shelter her child from the sins of the world create a timid social outcast struggling to find her place.  But, taking charge of the emotional roller coaster of the teen years gets even more complicated when you’re telekinetic.

1. Edith “Mama” Brennan played by Javier Botet and Annabel played by Jessica Chastain in Mama (2013), directed by Andrés Muschietti:  The most recent addition to the list is a no brainer for top spot as the movie’s foundation is the maternal instinct. Young children Victoria and Lily are helpless in the woods for five years before their uncle finds them, surviving only because they are cared for by a wandering entity who happens upon them.  When they are found and go to live with their uncle and his girlfriend the entity is not willing to give them up.  Annabel, the uncle’s girlfriend, is full of self-doubt and asserts several times that she is not prepared to deal with raising girls with such extraordinary needs, but at every turn she rises to the occasion and does what is best for the girls.  But are the girls willing to give up the only mother they remember?  And, will she let the them?

Part II of the madcap matriarchs countdown continues with #11-21 (22-33 ; #1-10):

21. Natalie Koffin played by Rebecca De Mornay in Mother’s Day (2010), directed by Darren Lynn Bousman: Inept criminal brothers escape jail and return to their childhood home not realizing their mother doesn’t live there anymore. They hold the new owners and their guests hostage as they await instructions from their mother. It turns out the captives were better off before the sadistic ring leader arrived on the scene. A remake of an 80’s movie by the same name that I have not yet seen and thus, is not included here.

20. Mary Brady played by Alice Krige in Sleepwalkers (1992), directed by Mick Garris: Mary Brady and her son have a unique relationship, in part because they are the only known members of a bloodthirsty species that feeds on people’s life-force. Their outsider status binds a close, downright incestuous relationship and mom is non too pleased when her son starts noticing other girls his own age.

19. Christine Penmark played by Nancy Kelly in The Bad Seed (1956), directed by Mervyn LeRoy: One of the great horror classics (My review here). Nancy Kelly reprises her stage role as a mother falling apart as she slowly comes to the realization that her young daughter is an emotionless serial killer. She suffers alone, amidst a parade of comedic charactures, whilst trying to figure out how to protect her little devil and the people around her.

18. Beverly R. Sutphin played by Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom (1994), directed by John Waters: An amusing horror comedy concerned with the possibility that a seemingly perfect, doting mom is in fact a serial killer.  Could she be doing people in for lapses in what she considers responsible behavior – like recycling their trash.

17. Mrs. Violet Venable played by Katherine Hepburn in Suddenly Last Summer (1959), directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz: Unhinged by the death of her momma’s boy son Sebastian, Mrs. Venable will stop at nothing to protect his good name, even if it means tricking psychiatrist (Montgomery Clift) into lobotomizing her niece (Elizabeth Taylor). This film burned quite an impression on my young mind as I suspect it did Eli Roth’s as his creepy Hostel kids are very reminiscent of Sebastian’s horde of boys. According to IMDB.com screenwriter Gore Vidal credited it’s success with a bad review which denounced it as “the work of degenerates obsessed with rape, incest, homosexuality, and cannibalism among other qualities.” Tennessee Williams wrote the original play on which it’s based.

16. Rosemary Woodhouse played by Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby (1968), directed by Roman Polanski: In Polanski’s first American film, a young woman becomes increasingly paranoid that everyone around her is involved in an evil conspiracy concerning her unborn child. The stellar cast includes John Cassavetes and Ruth Gordon.

15. Possessed Henrietta Knowby played by Theodore Raimi in Evil Dead II (1987), directed by Sam Raimi: From the moment Annie Knowby enters her parents cabin the laughs, thrills and scares are nonstop, punctuated by the intermittent, tormenting commentary from her possessed, dead mother who is locked in the root cellar. One of the best and most fun horror films of all time, with lead Ash brilliantly played by Bruce Campbell.

14. Donna Trenton played by Dee Wallace in Cujo (1983), directed by Lewis Teague: Stephen King himself is on record stating Wallace’s performance is the best in any of his films. She portrays a mother who is trapped in a Pinto with her young son while being attacked by a rapid St. Bernard. One of the few actually scary movies based on King’s novels.

13. Mommy played by Wendy Robbie in The People Under the Stairs (1991), directed by Wes Craven: A gem by horror master Wes Craven, who wrote and directed. A young boy and two burglar adults break in and become trapped inside the house of his evil landlords. They discover they are not alone. A crazed brother and sister who call themselves Mommy and Daddy have been kidnapping young kids to create the perfect family. Once the children disappoint they are locked up under the stairs and replaced.

12. Rachel Keller played by Naomi Watts in The Ring (2002), directed by Gore Verbinski: Reporter Rachel Keller discovers a tape which when watched results in the viewer’s death within seven days.  Having been careless enough to let her son have access to it, she’s now in a race to save both their lives by uncovering the truth about the mysterious little girl shown on the tape.  The only American remake of a Japanese horror film (Ringu 1998) that was as good (or better) than the original. Ringu and its remake are arguably among the most influential films in horror.

11. Ada played by Uta Hagen in The Other (1972), directed by Robert Mulligan:  This eerie, dream-like treasure tells the story of a young boy in the 1930’s who suspects his twin of being responsible for several deadly accidents in their farm community. With the recent death of his father and the loss of his mother to depression, his grandmother tries to fill the parental void by teaching the boy astral projection.  She soon fears her game has helped erode his grip on reality.

Since before Norman Bates told us “A boy’s best friend is his mother”, mothers have been granted a special place in horror.  Some sacrifice themselves to protect evil spawn or innocents while others drive their offspring mad through overbearing manipulation, ridicule and abuse.  Not an easy list to narrow with so many great options: (see also #11-21; #1-10)

33. Laura played by Belén Rueda in The Orphanage (2007), directed by J.A. Bayona: Produced by Guillermo del Toro (who appears as an ER doctor), The Orphanage is a creepy, suspenseful ghost story revolving around Laura’s search for her missing son.  But, Laura’s motherly instincts are as misfocused as her childhood memories, making her ill equipped to follow clues from beyond.

32. Nola Carveth played by Samantha Eggar in The Brood (1979), directed by David Cronenberg: A psychologist’s (Oliver Reed) therapy leads his patient to manifesting her anger in the form of mutant children.

31. Lady Haloran played by Eithne Dunne in Dementia 13 (1963),  directed by Francis Ford Coppola: The matriarch of Haloran Castle interfers in her sons’ relationships, forcing them instead to center their lives on their sister who drown as a child on the estate. But she may be out manipulated by the murderous wife of one of them. An eerie classic that plays like a ghost story until someone very human starts wielding an axe. But, it’s hard to say who is doing what with so much madness in the gene pool.

30. Grandmother played by Louise Fletcher in Flowers In The Attic (1987), directed by Jeffrey Bloom: A repentant mother returns home and follows directives from her mother to start her life over in the way she had been expected to, even though it means erasing the three children from her unapproved marriage by locking them in the attic.


29. Ma played by Yvonne Decarlo in American Gothic (1988), directed by John Hough: A fun, campy, slasher about unsuspecting friends who find themselves trapped on an island with a demented family headed by over the top isolationists Ma & Pa played to the hilt by Yvonne Decarlo (Lily Munster) and Rod Steiger.


28. Mrs. Wadsworth played by Ruth Roman and Ann Gentry played by Anjanette Comer in The Baby (1973), directed by  Ted Post: Social Worker Ann Gentry fights overbearing mother Mrs. Wadsworth for her 21 year old son who still wears diapers and acts like a child.  While overall, probably the worst movie on this list,  it’s odd enough to keep you wondering what in the world might happen next, and with this wacky group of women it’s not generally anything expected.


27. The Woman played by Pollyanna McIntosh and Peggy Cleek played by Lauren Ashley Carter in The Woman (2011), directed by Lucky McKee: Peggy Cleek seems alarmed when her husband brings home a feral woman and ties her in the shed as a family pet.  But, her protective instincts for her children and compassion for the captive are overpowered by her obedience to her husband, causing her daughters to form a bond with The Woman.


26. Henrietta Stiles played by Elsa Lanchester in Willard (1971), directed by Daniel Mann: Long after she was the Bride of Frankenstein, Elsa Lanchester was nagging poor Willard to do something about the rats.  He finds his first friend in the smartest one and learns to control an army of them.  But he soon finds out he’s not the one in charge after all.  Willard launched the early Michael Jackson hit Ben, the name of the rat who challenges his authority.  Crispin Glover is great as Williard in the remake but the mother is less memorable in the 2003 version.


25. Wendy Torrance played by Shelley Duvall in The Shining (1980), directed by Stanley Kubrik: Wendy Torrance seems ill equipped to deal with what little she notices of what’s going on around her.  But, she somehow manages to come through when her son is threatened by his psychotic father and the ghosts of the Overlook hotel where the family are snowbound caretakers for the winter.


24. Lucy Harbin played by Joan Crawford in Strait-Jacket (1964), directed by William Castle: One of the more memorable attempts late in Crawford’s career to repeat the magic of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.  In this cult classic from horror’s master of gimmicks, Lucy Harbin returns to rebuild her life and relationship with her daughter after 20 years in an asylum for murder.  Immediately her sanity become questionable.


23. Claudia Hoffman played by Sigourney Weaver in Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997), directed by Michael Cohn: Sigourney Weaver is wickedly spectacular as the stepmother trying to recapture her beauty and eliminate the object of her jealousy.


22. Mabel Chilton played by Miriam Margolyes in Ed and his Dead Mother (1993), directed by Jonathan Wacks: Steve Buscemi takes an offer to reanimate his recently dead mother in this horror comedy.  The dead are never as cooperative when they return as they were in life and, Ed’s mum is no exception.

The big surprise this Christmas was happening upon a body horror film that the whole group, including those who were not horror fans, enjoyed – American Mary.  It’s very unusual for the uninitiated to be drawn to movies from exploitation subgenres such as body horror and rape/revenge. American Mary certainly falls squarely into these groups, yet one guest deemed it “tastefully done”.  That perception is quite an accomplishment for a film from such highly criticized subgenres of horror.

American Mary tells the story of a smart, sexy medical student whose financial struggles lead her to perform underground body modification operations.  Though initially Mary Mason’s only interest is a financial quick fix, she accepts it as a new vocation after being disillusioned by the mentors she once admired and quitting medical school.  Like David Cronenberg’s Crash (James Spader, Holly Hunter, Rosanna Arquette), the film concerns itself less with debating the ethics of such practices than portraying the perceived benefits to its proponents. But, like any mad scientist centered tale, dismissing the potential repercussions of messing with nature can have unforeseen consequences.  When her first client remarks “I don’t think it’s really fair that God gets to choose what we look like on the outside”, Mary doesn’t give it much thought.  She knows after all, she’s capable of performing the procedure and it is what the client wants.  Unlike most mad scientists though, Mary is steered by her circumstances rather than delusions of grandeur and is both surprised and unaffected by the celebrity status she earns.

Most body horror films are a sort of visual slapstick that pique the interest of only the most hardcore splatter fans.  But, American Mary has a developing story and unusual, damaged characters who fascinate the viewer.  One can’t help but recall Todd Brownings Freaks (1932) when watching the film. Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) delivers a strong lead as Mary.  Jen and Sylvia Soska (Twisted Twins Productions), who wrote and directed the film, had her in mind when they wrote the part. According to an interview with Mad Mike at Maven’s Movie Vault of Horror, they were introduced to her work in Ginger Snaps after being teased at school and called the Fitzgerald sisters.  They rented the film to see what their bulliers meant. Isabelle manages to nail it, portraying a woman who is both hero and monster, displaying strength and weakness, compassion and viciousness and creating a believable, sympathetic, albeit morally ambiguous character.  The character, who dons a black apron, gloves and heels during surgery is reminiscent of the lead in Audition (1999).

While Mary’s first bouts with illicit surgery leave her physically ill, her attitude changes as she learns more about the unethical arrogance of the surgeons she once aspired to be like.  When they invite her to a private party where she is drugged and raped, any line between mainstream surgical practice and the underground she has discovered disappear.  She captures her attacker for use in practicing and documenting procedures she is willing to perform including: genital alterations, amputation, teeth grinding and various other body revisions.  Soon, through the internet she becomes a revered celebrity, known as Bloody Mary,  for the body modification crowd.

The Soska sisters appear in the film as twins requesting some particularly extreme modifications, including the exchange of their left arms.  Mary’s other clients are freakish curiosities obsessed with expressing their inner selves through their physical appearance.  Mary becomes their savior through her willingness to do anything someone assures her they want.

A fascinating parade of clients is featured.  Reportedly, no computer effects were used in the film, which instead relied on makeup and actual body modification images and practitioners.  As Mary approaches her work as a professional, blood and gore is minimized, giving the film more the feel of a psychological suspense piece than a gore fest despite the subject matter.  However, the entire film is visually striking, seeped in deep reds and black.  I would assume that the twisted sisters were fans of Dario Argento (Suspira).  Whether consciously or not, certainly the masters of Japanese and Italian horror impacted the look of this film.

What is most horrific is the realistic obsession with body image the characters hold.  Beatrice, the sweet and likeable woman who has undergone over a dozen surgeries to make her look as much like Betty Boop as possible particularly stands out both for her performance and her chilling visage.

According to the Soska sisters, American Mary came about after they sent their first film Dead Hooker in a Trunk (2009) to their favorite directors and got a response from Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel) who wanted to see more scripts.  Though they didn’t have anything prepared they told him about several ideas and he requested seeing the one about the surgeon.  American Mary was written in just a couple of weeks and sent to him.  It was later filmed in only 15 days.  American Mary is the second of what the sisters call their “coming of age/adolescent triology” between Dead Hooker in a Trunk and Bob.  Stylistically they claim Bob will have more of a monster and reverse rape/revenge vibe with equal parts hilariousness and vulgarity.  Can’t wait!