From soul-eating doppelgangers to ladies who lunch on psychotrauma, these mums are just plain awful
We’ve all been there: your mum goes into hospital for a spot of routine facial reconstruction surgery, comes back swaddled in bandages and subsequently turns out to be not your mum at all, but some sort of demonic impostor-mum with an unseemly habit of snacking on cockroaches. The trailer for Austrian chiller Goodnight Mommy (2015), released next month in the US, was widely dubbed “the scariest film ever” when it surfaced online last week. It’s not the first film to tap into our parental anxieties by presenting us with a hellraising mother figure, though. Here's our tribute to the on-screen mums not even a mother could love.
Scary it may be, but Goodnight Mommy will have its work cut out topping Coraline, another film concerning the sudden appearance of a counterfeit mum in an unsuspecting child’s life. A seriously creepy animated feature adapted from Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name, the plot hinges on our titular heroine’s discovery of a door in her new home leading to an alternate reality, where she is confronted with a vision of her mum with – it’s somehow more terrifying than it sounds – buttons for eyes. The woman explains that she is Coraline’s ‘other mother’, but conveniently neglects to mention that her hobbies include eating children’s souls. That can’t be good, can it?
ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013)
When you bring your new girlfriend along to meet your mother for the first time, it’s kind of an unspoken rule that your mum is allowed to embarrass you a little. And sure, unfavourably comparing the size of your penis with that of your murdered elder brother is stretching goodwill a little, but then again, Crystal (Kristin Scott-Thomas) isn’t a matriarch to abide by the rules. When the homicidal, probably-incestuous parent in Nicolas Winding Refn’s oedipal crime flick asks said son, played by Ryan Gosling, to avenge the death of his terribly well-endowed brother, he demurs, correctly pointing out that “he raped and killed a 16-year-old girl”. Mum's response? “I’m sure he had his reasons.” Okay, mum.
ANIMAL KINGDOM (2010)
As criminal overlord mums with vague leanings towards incest go, Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody is a slightly more subtle beast than Crystal. Restricting her extra-filial displays of affection to the odd lingering kiss on the mouth, she rules over her roost of armed-robber sociopath sons with an iron fist concealed in a velvet glove. The scene where she blackmails a cop into helping orchestrate a hit on her own grandson is standout-creepy, especially for the way actress Jacki Weaver makes her threatening patter sound so innocuous.
WILD AT HEART (1990)
Dianne Ladd’s turn in David Lynch’s darkly comic road movie is a glossy soap opera villain turned up to 11. As Marietta Fortune, a small-town vamp with criminal connections, she orders the killing of her daughter's BF after he spurns her advances, and generally acts like a grade-A nutter – the scene where she makes a hysterical phone call with her face smeared in red lipstick is Lynchian nightmare fuel to rank with the best of them. Interestingly, in Jungian psychology, the ‘devouring mother’ archetype seeks to smother its offspring and deny their independence – which is kind of cute, when you consider that Ladd’s teenaged child in the film is played by real-life daughter and former showbiz kid Laura Dern.
MEAN GIRLS (2004)
Q: What could be worse than your mum discovering you having sex in your bedroom? A: Your mum, upon discovering you having sex in your bedroom, breezily enquiring: “You guys need anything? Some snacks? A condom?” Mrs George, you see, is a self-described ‘cool’ mom, trying to slip alcohol to her underage daughter’s friends when she isn’t doling out squeaky hugs on account of her hideous boob job. Amy Poehler does a great job nailing a distinctly modern phenomenon in this role.
THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL (2015)
OK, so she’s by no means the worst offender on this list. But a more nuanced take on the ‘cool mom’ trope comes with Charlotte Worthington (Kristen Wiig), a self-involved baby boomer whose lax approach to parenting extends to snorting coke in front of her two kids while reminding them what a great piece of ass she was in high school. What she doesn’t realise is her eldest daughter, 15-year-old Minnie (Bel Powley), is secretly carrying on with her boyfriend.
THE BLACK SWAN (2010)
All Erica Sayers (Barbara Hershey) wants for her daughter (Natalie Portman) is for her to enjoy the success as a ballet dancer she never had. Instead, she projects her monstrous fear of failure on to her, leading to a cataclysmic psychic rupture that perversely sets the scene for her career’s crowning achievement. So, er, if we’re talking results-based mothering here, I guess that qualifies as a win?
THE BROOD (1979)
In David Cronenberg’s underrated early gem The Brood, Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar) gives birth to a batch of homicidal rugrats after undergoing an experimental form of psychotherapy which encourages patients to manifest their psychic trauma in physical form. In the immaculate conception hall of fame, hers has to be up there with Jesus, Annakin Skywalker and storks with blankets. Look out for an absolutely demented birth sequence at the end of this one.
SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER (1959)
Katharine Hepburn is in diabolically regal form as aristocrat Violet Venable in this pleasingly overcooked Tennessee Williams adaptation, making her magnificent entrance from a throne-like lift in her first scene with Montgomery Clift. Unwilling to accept the fact of her late son’s homosexuality, Violet will go to any lengths to prevent the truth about his death from coming out – up to and including arranging to have her niece (Elizabeth Taylor) lobotomised. Nice lady!
SERIAL MOM (1994)
Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Turner) commits murders like most people check off items on a grocery list, cheerily ending lives over video store fines, inappropriate footwear, or perceived slights on her skills as a parent. That she enacts such terrible crimes while wielding, say, a lambchop and singing along to “Tomorrow” from Annie should give you a big clue that this is a gleefully silly suburban satire from John Waters. Does she get away with it in the end? Of course she does!