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.