Bad movie mommas

10 of the nastiest maternal nightmares we

With the release of psycho-thriller Mother’s Day this week, Rebecca De Mornay joins the illustrious, and crowded screen pantheon of malicious movie mommas. You know the kind; the selfish, mean, cruel, emotionally/physically abusive types who, let’s be honest, are far more entertaining to watch than one-note goodie-two-shoes archetypes.

On that note, here’s our guide to 10 of the nastiest maternal nightmares we’ve yet seen on screen:

*Mary Jones, Precious (2009)

A true monster, Mary, as played by a terrifying Mo’Nique, spends her life doling out the most horrible abuse of every kind to her downtrodden obese daughter Precious. Not even a final D&M with Mariah Carey can redeem her in our eyes. The scene where she asks to hold Precious’ new baby is as ominous as anything in a horror movie.

*Joan Crawford, Mommie Dearest (1981)

Faye Dunaway may have wrecked her career with this role, but she still gives a barnstorming performance in this hatchet-job biopic, based on Christina Crawford’s heavily biased and disputed account of growing up with Hollywood legend Joan as a mother. According to the daughter, Joan was a domineering, pill-popping, bed-hopping, physically abusive trainwreck, riddled with OCD compulsions that produces the movie’s most (in)famous scene involving wire clothes hangers.

*Margaret White, Carrie (1976)

As if being a bullied telekinetic loner isn’t hard enough, poor late bloomer Carrie (Sissy Spacek) must also contend with her barmy, repressive religious nut of a mother Margaret at home. Piper Laurie leaves no scene unchewed in a magnificent performance as the over-zealous tyrant.

*Eleanor Iselin/Eleanor Prentiss Shaw, The Manchurian Candidate (1962 and 2004)

One of the great bad momma roles of 20th century cinema, dear old Angela Lansbury was chilling in the 1962 original as the brain-controlling, hyper-ambitious mother who is subliminally training her own son to be an assassin. Meryl Streep has a ball in the 2004 remake, playing Eleanor as a Hillary Clinton-lookalike intent on furthering her dupe of a son’s political career at any cost.

*Mrs Bates, Psycho (1960)

Okay, to be fair, her son Norman (Anthony Perkins) gives her something of a bad name, what with the whole ‘dressing up as her and killing folk in her name’ thing. But Mrs Bates didn’t sound like any angel when she was alive either, neglecting her delicate young son for a brutish lover, gifting Norman an over-developed sense of sin, and dressing him in girls clothes because he got an erection (as revealed in Psycho IV).

*Beverly Sutphin, Serial Mom (1994)

Kathleen Turner can barely contain her glee as she rips into the uproarious role of Beverly Sutphin, suburban housewife par excellence and talented part-time serial killer, in John Water’s brilliant comedy satire. Dirty prank phonecalls, hit-and-runs, death by fire-poker and leg of lamb: it’s all in a day’s work for this bad momma.

*Mrs Lift in Throw Momma from the Train (1987)/Mama Fratelli in The Goonies (1985)

With a face like a dyspeptic bulldog chewing on Renee Zellweger chewing on a wasp, the late great Anne Ramsay was born to play bad girls. And boy did she excel at that in her Oscar nominated role as Danny De Vito’s overbearing mother in Throw Momma from the Train, and the criminal ringleader/Sloth-enslaving matriarch in The Goonies.

*Helene McCready, Gone Baby Gone (2007)

The very dictionary definition of scumbag, Helene is the scuzzy, drug addict mother of little Amanda, who has been abducted from her home in a dodgy part of Boston. She couldn’t seem to care less whether the girl returns or not; the final scene of the movie will haunt you for days. The glorious Amy Ryan was robbed of the Oscar for her performance – robbed I tells ya!

*Erica Sayers, Black Swan/ /Alice Ward, The Fighter/ Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody, Animal Kingdom (all 2011)

This has been something of a vintage year for bad movie mums, with all three of the above appearing in quick succession (the latter two competed for the Best Supporting Oscar). Barbara Hershey is all neurotic obsession as the ‘live through my child’ stage mother to Natalie Portman, while Oscar-bagging Melissa Leo is all big hair, loud mouth, and selfish decision-making as the pushy Alice. Best of all is the tiny Jackie Weaver as the kiss-my-sons-on-the-lips criminal mastermind Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody in the gripping Aussie thriller.

*Beth Jarrett, Ordinary People (1980)

Then-reigning sitcom queen Mary Tyler Moore shocked her American fans by playing the emotionally-repressed ice queen mother of a grieving family in Robert Redford’s directorial debut. Overwhelmed by the loss of her ‘favourite’ son, Beth can’t express any comfort or affection to the surviving child (Timothy Hutton), even – especially – after he tries to take his own life. Light on laughs this one, as you might have guessed. But don’t worry: in the movie, as in American life, a kind therapist is at hand to save the day.

Honorary mentions: Evil Stepmother (Cinderella); Evil Queen (Snow White); Mrs Voorhees (Friday the 13th); Lorraine Baines McFly-Tannen (Back to the Future Parts I and II); Mrs Robinson (The Graduate)

MOTHERS DAY is now showing in Irish cinemas.  

Words – Declan Cashin