Happy Mothers Day! The archives of horror films are filled with great matriarchs. It’s the strongest, and often the most important relationship of our lives, and the horror genre takes full advantage of all the emotional triggers of all things mommy.
So, tell me about your mother. In horror movies, the answer can be… complicated. You get your abusive moms. Your haunted moms. Your freaked out pregnant moms. Your mom is a monster. And you get your heroic protector moms. And sometimes you get the monster protector moms! Again, complicated. But that core relationship of the devoted, and sometimes TOO devoted mother has a proud tradition in the genre.
The Freudian and Oedipal themes cut deep in horror. Where would the genre be without Jason Vorhees and Norman Bates? These weren’t the healthiest relationships. These villains would be nothing without their “special” relationships with their mothers. The same goes for the deviant clan in Mother’s Day. I love you so much mom! Let’s go kill some of the locals for you. Sound like a plan? Sometimes the love and devotion can be taken in completely the wrong way, and it doesn’t help when the mom in question is a psychopath, herself. Ah, mom issues.
Often, horror mothers get subjected to being the role of the victim having to watch horrible things happen to their families. Think about poor Chris McNeil (Ellyn Burstyn), a professional mom seeing her child become possessed in front of her. It was no small thing that Chris was a single mother in the ’70s facing this terrifying situation largely by herself. Other notable single moms having to contend with raising children with “issues” include Amelia (Essie Davis) in The Babadook and Lynn Sear (Toni Collette) in The Sixth Sense, whose struggles with understanding their boys drive them to the emotional and mental precipice.
In some cases the moms refuse to let the evil destroy their families. Think of Diane Freeling (Jo Beth Williams) who watches her children and her home get consumed by the evil Poltergeist. She takes an active rescue plan and goes full hero mode to great success. Annie Graham (Toni Collette) did not fare as well in Hereditary. Two devoted mothers struggling with madness and supernatural menace… and having two completely different results. It helps to have a family that when under siege is tightly knit and loving. Poor Annie was doomed, as the stresses were more internal than external and her family got syphoned into hell. That’s a rough go.
Contemporary trends have moms taking a more assertive protective role with their kids. The dedicated efforts of Evelyn Abbot (Emily Blunt) to protect her kids, and her soon-to-be-born baby in A Quiet Place were superhero-worthy. In Us, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) battles against vicious doppelgangers of her entire family and when pressed goes full alpha to defend her flock. It wasn’t that the respective dads were passive here either, but when momma needs to show her claws, there’s a ferocity and dedication that only a mother can bring.
Moms. Essential horror elements. Here’s an image roster of some of the great moms in horror movie history. Many of these will be very familiar, but if you listen in to the Scariest Things Podcast Episode 122, we’ll bring up a few treasures that you may not have been aware of!