Flowers, a brunch featuring eggs benedict and mimosas, an ill-fitting spring sweater — it’s Mother’s Day! Rather than bore you senseless with good movie mothers or create some awkward moments today with great movie mamas, we have compiled a list of five more of the worst movie moms. We began this endeavor a few months back with “5 Of The Worst Movie Moms,” and thanks to the holiday, we have an excuse to expand on the theme that may or may not make our mothers proud. From emotionally damaging to rising from the dead, these mothers are awful, horrible and terrifying, enough to spook you into making that dreaded weekly phone call to hear about your mother’s rhododendron and that darn squirrel that keeps eating all of the birdseed. Here’s to mothers and their ability to not turn you into a raging psychopath (we hope)!
Margaret Wycherley — “White Heat” (1949)
A very involved mother, shady Ma Jarrett (Margaret Wycherley) spawned deranged gang leader Cody Jarrett (James Cagney). Along with being a hardened criminal, Cody suffers from some pretty bad headaches, nearly debilitating him. Turning to his mother as sole confidante, Cody is egged on with a shot of whiskey and Ma toasting “Top of the world.” Rather than nurturing Cody towards a reasonable and respectable lifestyle, Ma goads him on to attempt unachievable success, through any nefarious means. Simply, this is a case of a son with special needs and a mother who makes some very bad parenting decisions. Ma knew Cody’s father died in an insane asylum, but took no precautions to make sure Cody wouldn’t turn out similarly. Her top priority all along may have been to make sure Cody didn’t end up in an asylum, but prison isn’t so far off. If all of this hasn’t made it clear that Ma wasn’t a saint, she reveals to Cody that she’s going to kill a man. Unfortunately or fortunately, Ma gets killed and the news causes Cody to go berserk, ultimately ending in a poorly botched robbery at a chemical plant. In his last moment, Cody doesn’t wring his wrists at the gods or have a brief enlightening existential moment, instead he yells to his dead mother, “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” Calling Freud, calling Freud!
Prop Mummified Corpse – “Psycho” (1960)
Like most mothers, Mrs. Bates hoped that Norman (Anthony Perkins) would heed her words, no matter how psychotic (nudge, nudge). Based on notorious serial murderer and collector of female body parts Ed Gein, Norman has an affinity for killing women and for his mother’s skeleton, adorned in an appropriate dress. Dead, though not buried, for many years, Mrs. Bates is a prominent figure in Norman’s day-to-day life, enough so that the audience and the “Psycho” diegetic universe thinks that she’s still alive and kicking for most of the film. Clearly not all was right in the Bates household and as the single parental figure in Norman’s life, all roads lead towards Mrs. Bates. Norma (yes, she named her son after herself apparently) is a textbook case of extreme bad mothering: dominating, manipulative, and hypocritically anti-sex (beyond puritanical when it comes to Norman). As a result, Norman raises her from the grave (figuratively and literally). Other than killing her son by her own hands, Norma Bates could not be a worse mother and as such, the audience actually has a small amount of sympathy for the monster Norman Bates has become (similar to the sympathy for “Lolita” pedophile Humbert Humbert). Not for the weak-hearted or weak-stomached, Norma Bates is the most creepily blood-curdling item on this list. For Mother’s Day, the morbidly inclined of you may creep up behind your mother in your best Norma Bates voice and watch a good scare, but for the rest, get Mom some flowers and remember her date night doesn’t include you.
Betsy Palmer – “Friday the 13th” (1980)
Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) is a verifiable nutbag. Being the mother of a special needs son can be difficult, but not all go on a murderous rampage and spur on their son’s killing spree into ten sequels. Due to Jason’s hydrocephalus (brain fluid-related swelling), Pamela never sent her son to school, bordering on the tad over-protective, and dooming Jason to be a wee bit awkward, in the best circumstances. After thinking Jason had drowned in Camp Crystal Lake, Mrs. Voorhees grieves and mourns as any mother would – hearing voices, killing a few camp counselors, poisoning the lake… Wait, no they wouldn’t. Pamela meets her own demise when a survivor from one of her rampages slices her head off with a machete, setting Jason off. Like mother like son, Jason takes his vengeance out on the local teenagers. Not quite resting in peace, Pamela appears in a few of the sequels – her decapitated head in a freezer in “Friday the 13th Part 2,” her corpse in the lake in “Friday the 13th Part III,” and in hell with Freddy Krueger pretending to be her to egg Jason on to kill the Elm Street kids as part of the horror mash-up “Freddy vs. Jason.” You may have some gripes about your mother, but at least she didn’t kill a bunch of teenagers in your name.
Kathleen Turner – “Serial Mom” (1994)
You can probably tell why we chose this by the title alone. “Serial Mom” is John Waters’ scathing suburban satire (doesn’t that describe every Waters movie?) about a cookie cutter mother who unbeknownst to her family is a serial killer. Unlike other mothers on this list, Beverly R. Sutphin vents her frustrations through abusing others rather than her own family. Played by Kathleen Turner, Beverly takes any small gripe against her family as an excuse for vigilante “justice.” Picture your mother going to a PTA meeting and talking to your math teacher. Cringey I know, but keep reading. That very same teacher tells your mother that you have an off-kilter interest in slasher films and suggests therapy. The guy’s a jerk, but we’ve all met that teacher along the way. What would your mother do? Shirk it off, speak with you about your gory taste affecting your school work or murder said teacher? If it’s the third one, we are very sorry for you and you should contact the authorities. This is exactly what Mrs. Sutphin does and continues to do until the cops finally catch up with her. Not the most stable of maternal figures, Beverly’s keepsakes include Ted Bundy audio and Charles Manson clippings. Although she takes her family very seriously, a general rule of thumb is that a serial killer does not a good mother make. Therefore, Beverly is a wicked Waters delight, but a truly horrible mother.
Mo’Nique – “Precious” (2009)
Mothers and daughters squabble time to time; it’s a fact. Some cross words may be exchanged, some venting of frustration, but has your mother ever tried to kill you with a television? No? Then you can see why Mary Lee Johnston (Mo’Nique), mother of Precious (Gabourey Sibide), has made it onto this list. Unfortunately, that’s only one instance in a long, long string of Mary’s poor mothering and negligence. Her abuse ranges from the physical to the emotional (“You’re a dummy, bitch! You will never know shit! Don’t nobody want you, don’t nobody need you!”). Things are only compounded when you realize that Precious’ child (Mary’s grandchild) is the offspring of her own father. Contrary to general conceptions of maternal instinct, Mary sees this as Precious’s fault and views her own daughter as the “other woman.” Rather than protecting her child, Mary attacks and harangues her. As Precious tries to make a better life for herself, her mother is there to dash any and all hope. No sympathy, no compassion, no guidance. Mary is not a mother, but a monster, made even worse by her attempts to justify herself and her actions to a social worker. Her tears, although heartfelt, are too little, too late and have no impact on her role as a mother. Be thankful this Mother’s Day that your mother hasn’t knocked you out cold with an ashtray, yet.
Any bad mamas out in cinema land that make your skin crawl? Share them with us below!