Mothers cradle us. They provide pacifiers. They load our shrieking, red-faced mugs into family vans for calming midnight drives. Nothing can rattle them. Not mustard-yellow diaper-dung, fecal finger-painting, or mucoid nose-drippings.

As infants become adolescents, moms attend our softball games, wrestling tournaments, and school band assemblies. They apply band-aids to bruised knees. Years later, they might even bail us out of jail.

Is it any surprise that after all of this thankless effort, many onscreen mothers are crazy, spiteful, twisted, neurotic, and cruel? Maybe it’s vicarious payback for changing one too many dirty diapers.

Halloween’s Grim Reaper will soon come calling. What better time of the year to celebrate the cauldron stirring, broom-riding witches and b*****s of cinema history?

Forget Oedipus Rex. The following Monster Matriarchs are T-Rex times ten.

Julianne Moore in Boogie Nights

10.) Julianne Moore as Amber Waves in “Boogie Nights”: This one was a tough call. Amber is blue-movie matriarch to a hedonistic “family” of fellow adult film stars, indulging in two distinctly different kinds of blow. She’s also the biological mother of an unseen son. The devastating scene in which Amber is denied child custody is one of cinema’s most agonizing breakdowns. We feel her pain even as we question her decisions.  

9.) Billie Whitelaw as Violet Kray in “The Krays”: Billie Whitelaw is denial personified as the lovey-dovey mum of gruesome twosome Ronnie and Reggie Kray. Fawning, doting, and encouraging, she’s oblivious to the violence her gangster spawn have wrought across London. Not a bad mother if you’re Ronnie or Reggie. Her lousy, laissez faire style of permissive parenting is lethal for the hapless recipient of the brothers’ trademark Chelsea Smile (an ear-to-ear flesh-brand created via sword-in-mouth).

Amy Ryan in Gone Baby Gone

8.) Amy Ryan as Helen McCready in “Gone Baby Gone”: Her four-year old daughter goes missing. Is this a surprise? Amy Ryan masterfully plumbs the dysfunctional depths of Helene McCready, a drug tootin’, bar-hoppin,’ trash-talkin’ wench. Oh, yeah – she’s a parent, as well. Meanwhile, her closest confidantes are dealers, drinkers, dopers, and the occasional pedophile. Look up Bad Choices in the dictionary to find McCready’s weathered, bitter face staring straight back at you.

7.) Eleanor Audley as Lady Tremaine in Walt Disney’s “Cinderella”: Eleanor Audley provided the haughty, arrogant words of an evil, stuck-up snoot. Lady Tremaine’s gray, beehive hairdo might as well be a rack of devil’s horns. An enabler for spoiled-bitch daughters Anastasia and Drizella, she’s also a sadistic spirit breaker, condemning stepdaughter Cinderella to a life of perpetual drudgery. Yeah, it’s an animated Disney flick from the fifties…but there’s no greater onscreen moment than when our studly prince fits long-suffering Cinderella’s tiny foot into that damned glass slipper. Screw you, Stepmother!    

6.) Jacki Weaver as Janine “Smurf” Cody in “Animal Kingdom”: Grandma Smurf sports a perpetual Joker’s grin and the subtle cunning of a chess master. Not quite a hag, and smarter than white trash, she’s the creepy puppeteer behind a family of murdering male miscreants. Playing sons, grandkids, and cops against each other, she’s the Last Woman Standing when the bloodshed finally ends. And she’s quite a kisser, especially when it comes to smooching her sons with a bit too much tongue. Yuck.

Piper Laurie in Carrie

5.) Piper Laurie as Margaret White in “Carrie”: This shrill, delusional redhead might spout scripture, but she’s a devil of a mother to Sissy Spacek’s “Carrie.” A teenaged outcast, Carrie is shut out of high school social circles, and a shut-in at home. To control “The Curse of Blood,” Ma condemns her menstruating daughter to an extreme form of chastity – forced solitary confinement served in a cramped closet. This heaven-obsessed helicopter mom soon meets her maker, courtesy Carrie’s telekinesis and a few fast-flying kitchen knives.

4.) Beatrice Pons as Mother in “Mother’s Day”: Squeal! Think of the deviant “Deliverance” Mountain Men returning home, after a full day’s worth of moonshining and roughing up river-runners. Come home for din-din, boys! And while you’re at it, practice our unique set of Family Values: torture, assault, and strangulation. “Thank you for sharing,” she thoughtfully acknowledges to a doomed nubile, before choking her with bony, arthritic fingers.

Elizabeth Moody in Dead Alive

3.) Elizabeth Moody as Mum (Vera Cosgrove) in “Dead Alive”: There’s something diseased about Cosgrove’s bullying widow even before she’s mauled by a Sumatran rat-monkey and turned undead leper. We can almost smell the stench of her rancid perfume as this aging, entitled prima-donna denounces Lionel, her timid son. As Vera slowly succumbs to zombie-itis, she serves up ear-lobe porridge and castrates cemetery hoodlums. Devoted son Lionel vainly attempts to keep Mum at bay with animal sedatives, before the film’s piece de resistance. Vera literally splits down the middle and pulls Lionel back into the womb, before her son, armed with a new love interest and boosted sense of self-esteem, escapes through a nauseatingly gooey re-birth.  

2.) Mary Tyler Moore as Beth in “Ordinary People”: Ordinarily perky Marty Tyler Moore owns “Ordinary People” as a passive-aggressive human refrigerator. Moore might have warmed hearts as a T.V. anchorwoman, but Beth’s psychological neglect of a suicidal son makes blood run cold. Watch this self-conscious social climber tear into her husband for disclosing their son’s sorrows at a dinner party. She’s all about keeping up appearances, but there’s not much to clean beyond her thin surface. That she has her own tragic cross to bear keeps her from the top of the list. Even so, these waters run cold… and shallow. 

Mo'Nique in Precious

1.) Mo’Nique as Mary in “Precious”: Getting her groove on in front of the television, Mary gyrates through a ghastly aerobic workout. Her lurid physical fitness regimen also includes heaving frying pans and television sets at victimized daughter Precious. Rather than defend this damaged child from evil, she nurses a displaced sense of jealousy and joins in to inflict further damage. Maybe actress Mo’Nique does her job too well. She plays this noxious creature with so much convincing rage, character and actress will forever be intertwined in the minds of appalled moviegoers.

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  1. Don’t forget that mother from Hell, Ann Savage in “My Winnipeg.”

  2. KJ Doughton says:

    Great list, Phil. Lansbury should be WAY up there. Others suggested “Psycho” and “The Wall.” I thought that “Mommie Dearest” was too easy.

  3. Phil Hall says:

    Some other mothers that could have included: Gladys Cooper in “Now, Voyager,” Jo Van Fleet in “East of Eden,” Angela Lansbury in “The Manchurian Candidate,” Ethel Merman in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” Faye Dunaway in “Mommie Dearest” and Monte Collins (in drag) in the Three Stooges short “Cactus Makes Perfect.”

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