Archive for May, 2014

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.

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 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.