Favorites: Mothers in Horror

Here at 25YLSite, we handle a lot of heavy lifting. Analysis, interpretation, deep discussion, introspective interviews…you name it, we’ve got it. “Favorites” takes a lighter approach to the material we normally cover. Each week, we will take you through a list of favorites—whether it’s moments, scenes, episodes, characters, lines of dialogue, whatever!—in bite-sized articles perfect for your lunch break, a dull commute, or anywhere you need to take a Moment of Zen. So, sit back and enjoy this week’s offering: Anthony Divers’ favorite mothers in horror.

A boy’s best friend is his Mother.

At least that’s what Norman Bates tells us. They care for you, feed you, keep you warm and safe. They let you wear their dresses while you stab innocent women in the shower…oh wait, that one’s Norman specific, scratch that. The point is, we all love a good mother; particularly in our horror movies. They range from protective mothers—doing whatever it is to protect their children—to psychotic mothers, trying their hardest to kill their offspring. There’s a whole world of mothers for us to explore. So join me, Anthony Divers, as I take a look at some of my favorite Horror Mothers for 25YL. Maybe I’ll even try to decide who the reigning queen mother of horror is.

Amelia in The Babadook

Essie Davis, The Babadook
Essie Davis as Amelia in The Babadook

The Babadook was an interesting film to say the least: a mysterious book, a disturbing ‘Monster’, and a mother on the verge of losing her mind. Essie Davis’ portrayal of Amelia, the constantly stressed out mother of a child she struggles to love, is both intense and relatable—and almost hard to watch. She has recently lost her husband to a violent death, and her 6-year-old son Samuel, portrayed by Noah Wiseman, appears to be getting more and more violent and unhinged, claiming a monster is coming for them and he needs to protect her. She seeks medical help and ends up medicating Samuel to ease his outbursts, which leads her to believe his nightmare of The Babadook may be more real than she originally thought.

What I love most about this film, and Essie’s portrayal, is that we start to think that maybe she is The Babadook. After the death of her husband, she has become distant to Samuel, and neglects him to deal with her own grief. In one scene, Samuel complains that he is hungry, and his mother—the only person he has in the world to care for him—advises him to eat shit. Literally…

The ‘Monster’ he is afraid of could be her failings as a mother, which ultimately terrifies her just as much as it does him. The first time I watched this film I had my usual reaction to child characters in horror films: ‘Wow, he’s annoying,’ but on a second viewing, once I understood that the mother was the monster, I could see it from his point of view, and felt guilty.

It’s an incredibly deep film if you scratch beneath the surface, and deals with something much more terrifying than monsters in the closet. It leaves the viewer uncomfortable, facing questions they’d rather not think about. What if you didn’t love your child? Chilling. And Amelia having to face this personal demon is why she made it into this article.

Favorite quote: “This is my house! You are trespassing in my house! If you touch my son again, I’ll fucking kill you!”

Chris MacNeil in The Exorcist

Ellen Burstyn, The Exorcist
Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil in The Exorcist

The Exorcist, in my opinion, is still to this day one of the most terrifying films I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched it numerous times over the years, and it still never fails to leave me feeling on edge. Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil—mother to the possessed head spinner Regan—is a great character. She shows us what it would feel like to have something so disturbing happen to your own child, and her portrayal is so genuine and memorable that I still quote her at least once a week: (Don’t tell me to be calm godammit!) She shows us a mother desperate for help in an unimaginable situation, and the emotion she portrays is palpable.

I, and I imagine billions of other viewers, have never forgotten the ‘crab walk’ scene. Regan coming down that staircase, the noise she makes as she reached the bottom, and the blood—Jesus Christ the blood. It was a lot to take in. But for me, the best part of that scene is her mother’s reaction. That wasn’t acting, that was pure terror. I get goosebumps just thinking of it. Again, this portrayal makes you question how you would react if this was happening to your child, and it’s that feeling that leaves a lasting impression after the credits roll. Chris MacNeil may not be the one with the demon inside her in this film, but to me she is definitely one of the victims. She sees her innocent and charming daughter turn into the devil herself, and she never gives up on her.

Favorite quote: “I’m telling you that thing upstairs isn’t my daughter.”

Margaret White in Carrie

Piper Laurie, Carrie
Piper Laurie as Margaret White in Carrie

Before Twin Peaks took over my life a little over a year ago, Piper Laurie was one woman, and one woman only: Margaret White, the god fearing, abusive mother of teenage Sissy Spacek character Carrie. You would think The Exorcist would make me fear religion, but it didn’t; Margaret White did. She looked crazy, she talked crazy, and she abused her daughter in such a way that I never feared Carrie; just her mother. Oh, and that creepy Jesus in the prayer closet. Laurie’s portrayal is just wonderful: you truly believe she is Margaret White, and she’s another horror mother I quote more than I should. I feel I should give Julianne Moore a mention here, as she was the only redeeming feature of the 2013 Carrie remake, but she still didn’t reach the maniacal heights that Piper Laurie did.

She is the first mother in this list who I don’t think many could relate to. She was already controlling and abusive before Carrie learned to harness her telekinetic powers, so we can’t even say it was a reaction to her daughter gaining the ‘Devil’s power’. I know the book tells us more, and that Carrie did display signs of being…”special” when she was much younger, but I still don’t think that warrants the way Margaret treats her. Margaret has always seen Carrie as her own punishment for enjoying sex with Carrie’s father. So when she did develop the power, Margaret sees this as an obvious result for her original sin. Laurie plays the character brilliantly, and that final scene with her suspended by the knives still makes me want to go to my closet and pray.

Favorite quote: “I can see your dirty pillows. Everyone will.”

Ellen Ripley in Aliens

Sigourney Weaver, Aliens
Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Aliens

So, next on my list is the absolute icon of Sci-Fi Horror, Ellen Ripley, portrayed by the one and only Sigourney Weaver. Now before you all start shouting that Ripley isn’t a mother, she bloody is, OK?! The director’s cut of Aliens tells us that she is, and that’s the story I choose to stick with. And the relationship she has with Newt is all the more upsetting when you see it as Ripley coping with the life and death of her own daughter Amanda that she missed out on whilst in cryogenic sleep. Amanda was ten years old when her mother left on the ill-fated Nostromo, the same age (ish) Newt is when Ripley lands on LV426 at the beginning of Aliens. So the last time Ripley saw her daughter, she would have been a lot like Newt, hence the instant bond she feels for her.

The whole film could be seen as a metaphor for the bond between mother and daughter. Ripley does everything in her power to save Newt and take her away from the horrors she has grown accustomed to. On the flip side, the other mother in the film, the alien queen, also looks out for her children, ordering the soldiers to back off when Ripley threatens to torch her eggs. It climaxes in a show down between two mothers, and technically Ripley could be seen as the villain, she killed all of the queen’s children; no wonder she wants to tear Newt’s face off! But she is of course our hero, and one of my favorite mother’s in horror. Fun fact, a third mother is in the film, the photo which Ripley is shown of the old age Amanda is actually Sigourney Weaver’s real life mother! It’s a total mom-fest!

Favorite quote : “Get away from her you bitch”!

Pamela Voorhees in Friday the 13th

Betsy Palmer, Friday 13th
Betsy Palmer as Pamela Voorhees in Friday 13th

Friday the 13th is one of the biggest horror franchises around, and Jason Voorhees is up there with Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger as horror icons. This is ironic, as he wasn’t even the killer in the first movie. It was his lovely mother, Pamela Voorhees. Betsy Palmer’s portrayal of Pamela was brilliant, despite only being in the last quarter of the film. She switches from sweet and friendly to crazy and lethal in an instant, and her dedication to Jason is unyielding. She gives us the ultimate revenge story, killing horny teenagers found anywhere near were her son died, Camp Crystal Lake. As crazy as she is, Pamela is another mother we can almost relate to. Her son should not have died. She was robbed of her only child, and that would obviously hurt. But maybe just kill the ones actually responsible, not everyone to ever visit the camp afterwards!

The final showdown in Friday the 13th has always stuck with me. Mostly because until recently, I thought Pamela was beheaded with an oar. Turns out it was a machete, which makes much more sense. But it’s also stuck with me because of how insane Pamela looks. Her typically ‘mumsy’ outfit, paired with her maniac eyes and hunting knife work brilliantly.

When she and Alice, final survivor of the killings, are rolling around on the beach with that high-pitched score ringing in your ears, the tension builds excellently. And when Alice lunges at Pamela in slow motion, and the music builds, we are given a very satisfying end for Mrs. Voorhees. It is unfortunate that Pamela dies as I would have liked to see more of her in later films, but we do at least get to hear her voice as she talks to her wonderful son. Kill them Jason, kill them…

Favorite quote: “My special, special boy…”

Annie Graham in Hereditary

Toni Collette, Hereditary
Toni Collette as Annie Graham in Hereditary

OK. Hereditary time. Where do I start?! I know this movie had some mixed reviews. but for me, it was outstanding. The tension, the shocks, the tongue popping—for me it all blended together into one beautiful hideous creation that you feel like you shouldn’t be looking at but can’t quite bring yourself to look away. Now it could be said that I am biased towards Toni Collette. She had me at ‘Goodbye Porpoise Spit’ and I’ve never looked back. But her portrayal of Annie Graham was a milestone for me. She reached a new pinnacle of emotional acting that blew me away.

Annie’s mother, who she was never close to has died; her only daughter Charlie has been killed in a horrific accident; and her son, the person responsible for Charlie’s death. keeps looking at her with ‘That face on his face’. How do you continue to love a son who killed your daughter? It’s another horrific situation for a mother to be in, and that’s before the demonic elements take a grip on the family.

Annie’s monologue from the bereavement meeting grabbed a hold of my heart-strings and they weren’t released until the final scene. This is where we get to hear how it feels to lose a mother you did not particularly care about. We get a glimpse of how it feels to struggle with grief and guilt at the same time. Another stand out scene for pure horror was where we see her impossibly holding onto the ceiling, banging her head against the attic door at a speed and force that a human shouldn’t be able to reach. The film has already bared its demonic soul by this point, so we are aware of the kind of ride we’re on, but it still shocks because of how unnatural it is.

One more scene that stands out for me is the family dinner scene after Charlie’s death. The tension is unbearable. And when Annie does unleash her anger, she holds no punches. It leaves you feeling like you’ve just been roared at by your own mother. It’s a powerhouse of a performance and Toni Collette proved she has what it takes to get dark.

Favorite quote : “Don’t you swear at me, you little shit! Don’t you ever raise your voice at me! I am your mother!”

Donna Trenton in Cujo

Dee Wallace, Cujo
Dee Wallace as Donna Trenton in Cujo

I hadn’t seen Cujo until a few months ago; I had heard the premise and thought it sounded a little vanilla for my horror taste buds. But, I was talked into watching it and was pleasantly surprised. This isn’t just a film about an angry dog. It’s a film about an adulterous mother, a really annoying child, and the mother’s struggle to keep said child alive when trapped in their car by a rabies infected Saint Bernard. Dee Wallace is of course beautiful as always, and to see her play a role so different to the one I associate with her—the loving mother in E.T.—was both refreshing and impressive.

She’s still a loving mother in this, but she’s also cheating on her husband, and seems to find her child as annoying as I do in some scenes. It’s a simple premise for a film—dog gets rabies and attacks people—but the underlying themes help elevate the plot, and help you become more invested in the characters on-screen.

I love dogs, and Cujo is an adorable dog. This is fact. So for me, the main threat of the film was ‘I hope the dog survives this’. Once we do get up to the main part of the film, with Donna and her son trapped in their broken down car with Cujo trying to get in, the tension builds, and you feel the stress Wallace portrays in your bones. What would you do in that situation? How would you protect your child? Also, a dog is a man’s best friend, could you hurt it enough to stop it attacking you? I certainly couldn’t. Add to this stress the fact that your young child is screaming, and I mean screaming, in fear and also having a panic attack, just in case you didn’t have enough to worry about with the drooling crazy pooch outside.

I may be alone here, but if I was Donna Trenton I would have thrown the child out of the car as a distraction to let me escape. But Donna being the great mother that she is, does not sacrifice her child. She fights tooth and nail to protect him, ultimately prevailing, and finishing Cujo off once and for all. I learnt two things whilst watching this classic Stephen King adaptation; I could never hurt a dog, no matter how angry it was, and I never want children.

Favorite quote: “It’s not a monster. It’s not a monster. It’s just a doggy.”

Grace Stewart in The Others

Nicole Kidman, The Others
Nicole Kidman as Grace Stewart in The Others

The Others is another one of my favorite films of all time. It’s dark, moody and eerie, and it has that classic British ghost story feel that I love so much. The fact that it also has Nicole Kidman in the leading role is just a major bonus. Kidman plays the part perfectly, the strict mother of two god fearing children, living in a house where the light is controlled like water.

The whole film is so mysterious the first time you watch it, and I was genuinely surprised that this was not a M. Night Shyamalan film. That’s how tasty the twists and turns are in this gothic tale of a mother on the edge of insanity. It’s beautifully filmed, and the children act out their parts just as well as Kidman. If you haven’t seen this film, stop reading and go watch it now, as I do not want to spoil it for you. Now that they have left, let’s talk about the sting in the tail of this film that left me gagging so.

Throughout the film, we are told that Grace lives here with her two young children as her husband is away fighting in the war. We are told the children are allergic to sunlight, and it must be kept out of the house at all costs. Also we hear that her daughter has seen the ghost of a young boy, much to the distress of her younger brother. We believe all of this, particularly the haunting, when even Grace herself starts hearing footsteps in parts of the house that are empty, and seeing doors opening and closing by themselves.

There’s also the famous ‘I am your daughter’ scene, which still creeps me out to this day. We see a desperate mother, struggling to deal with these hauntings and continuing to protect her children, all whilst missing the support of her husband. In the final scene of the film we discover the heart breaking truth. Grace and her children aren’t being haunted by ghosts, they are the ghosts. And just to add a layer of sadness, it was Grace that killed them. Iconic.

Favorite quote: “No one can make us leave this house.”

So those are my favourite Mothers in horror film. There were a few other choices that didn’t quite make the cut, for example Toni Colette in The Sixth Sense, the ghost in Mama, and of course Norman Bates in his mother’s dress. Maybe I’ll talk about why I love those in another article. But for this one, I’ll leave it at these eight. And if I was forced at gun point to choose a favourite, I would have to go with Ellen Ripley. I’ve always loved her character, and if I was a kid trapped in space, hunted by vicious aliens, I would want her on my side.

But all of those mentioned here are kick arse mothers who do what they have to do in order to protect their children. I’m always drawn to mother characters in film and these are my favorite examples of them in my favorite genre of film. Thanks for reading, and be good to your mothers.


Written by Anthony Divers

Anthony Divers is a writer and social media manager for 25YL, and works as a team leader for a group of staff in a service centre. He loves gaming, horror movies and music. Living in the North East of England, he is surrounded by family, cats and his partner, who also works for 25YL. He believes he is the funniest man in England, and collects the souls of his defeated enemies in cute little jars. He has won first prize for the annual Valentine's poetry competition at his work place 3 years in a row, and also took the trophy for Best Wig in 2014*

*no one else was judged, or indeed asked to wear a wig, but a trophy's a trophy.

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