As you may or may not know, Christian E. Christiansen's laughably rote new thriller THE ROOMMATE hoarded the box-office gold this past weekend like it was the last cold beer...that they didn't buy. I know our very own Arrow loved the hell out of it (PEEP HIS SCATHING REVIEW HERE), a sentiment pretty much echoed throughout most critical circles. Well, that got us to thinking. Wouldn't it be fun to call to mind some of the Best Bat-Shit Bitches to be found in the annals of cinema? Hell yeah it would! Now, that doesn't necessarily extend the canopy to just any old "female killer," we're actually more interested in highlighting the psychotically obsessive female character...whether or not they're actually driven to murder is only an added bonus. Bates, Dunaway, Close...heavy hitters here folks...so buckle up that damn chinstrap!
WARNING: MINOR TO MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW!
#10. ALICIA SILVERSTONE - THE CRUSH (1993)
No doubt riffing on Kubrick's LOLITA, Alan Shapiro's 1994 film THE CRUSH is one of the guiltiest of pleasures on this here compilation. Even so, seeing Cary Elwes completely unravel at the hands of a cunning 14 year old nubile never really gets old. Of course, said 14 year old is Alicia Silverstone in her feature film debut. Awfully precocious, both sexually and professionally, Silverstone goes to great lengths to ensure the systematic sabotage of a man's idyllic life. You know the skinny, when Elwes' Nick Eliot refuses the sexual advances of Silverstone's Adrienne Forrester, Adrienne spins a complex web of setups, frame jobs and implications that force Nick to desperately claw and scratch to prove his innocence. As febrile and sweaty and Nick becomes, the cooler Adrienne remains...a trait that goes a long way in deciding whom to believe. Not us the audience (we know Adrienne's warped), but other characters in the film.
#9. BETTE DAVIS - WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE (1962)
In what probably owes a debt of inspiration to Gloria Swanson and SUNSET BLVD., screen legend Bette Davis gives one of the cruelest and most contemptuous turns for anybody, much less a female in 1962. For those who missed this early horror great, Davis plays a former child star ("Baby Jane") who now looks after her crippled sister in a decrepit Hollywood mansion. On one hand, Jane wallows in her own disillusionment, desperately smearing on makeup as if she'll make a big screen comeback. On the other, she sequesters her poor sister upstairs and continually torments the hell out of her (beats her, serves her a dead rat on a platter, etc.). The result is a highly compelling mix of pathetic sadness and maddened menace, and you're never really sure how to feel toward Jane. Should we feel sorry for her shattered past or revile the old letch for the heinous treatment of her sister?
#8. LOUISE FLETCHER - FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC (1987)
Academy Award winning actress Louise Fletcher (aka Nurse Ratchet, who continues to work today) found herself toiling in horror/sci-fi obscurity in the 80s, and judging by her blistering performance in Jeffrey Bloom's 1987 film FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC...it may have freed her up to do some of her best work. Even in a supporting role (one that earned her a Saturn Award nod), Fletcher's icy, domineering demeanor and disturbing religious fanaticism is nothing to be trifled with. She's not quite Piper Laurie in CARRIE, but damn close. And, as fine as her performance is, it's all about the actions she's called on to perform in the story that really cut to the bone. This shite's first rate child-abuse, locking away four grandchildren in an attic and neglecting them to the point of malnourishment. Even then, it's not just the behavior. Fletcher's physical appearance, the large and lumbering frame, the bumbling gait, the pinched death-glance...it all just f*ckin' works!
#7. JESSICA WALTER - PLAY MISTY FOR ME (1971)
Outside a few subtle supernatural westerns, PLAY MISTY FOR ME may be the closest thing to a horror flick that Big Clint Eastwood has ever directed and starred in. And boy are we glad he did! In a setup somewhat reminiscent of FATAL ATTRACTION (a point of concern that yielded directorial passes from John Carpenter and Brian De Palma), Jessica Walter gives a thoroughly credible turn as a fixated fan. If you haven't seen the film (do so ASAP), it takes place in the aftermath of a fling between Eastwood, a local DJ, and Walter, an obsessed listener. What starts off as an annoying Stage Fiver Clinger becomes far more sinister when another one of Clint's hussies pops up. But enough of the plot, it's all about Walter's balanced turn, who in one scene comes off as charming seductress, then a fully enraged psychotic in the next. Her violent outbursts are jarringly unpredictable, which only adds to the tension.
#6. REBECCA DE MORNAY - THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE (1992)/MOTHER'S DAY (2011)
Since Rebecca De Mornay has all but cornered the market on bat-shit bitches in film, why not throw some love to the lady's past and future work. After-all, the woman's kept her evil side intact for two decades! I guess the question then becomes, which will be more horrifying...the vengeful caretaker she portrayed in Curtis Hansen's 1992 film THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, or the murderous matriarch she'll depict in Darren Bousman's upcoming MOTHER'S DAY. Either way, I'm damn stoked De Mornay is back! As for those who missed Rebecca's duplicitous turn as Peyton Flanders/Mrs. Mott in HRC, what works so well is her ability to simultaneously play good and evil...to the audience and to the characters. I mean, we are privy of all of her dastardly deeds, but the characters in the film aren't. So when De Mornay plays innocent to the characters in the film, she's also coyly projecting menace to us...playing to the info about her we already know. It's subtle work, but tricky to get right I'd imagine. Can't wait to see her this MOTHER'S DAY.
#5. JENNIFER JASON LEIGH - SINGLE WHITE FEMALE (1992)
What with the whole fixation-to-the-point-of-inhabitation formula, THE ROOMMATE probably parallels SINGLE WHITE FEMALE the most on our list. However, as Arrow pointed out, Barbet Scrhoeder's 1992 film is far superior. First off, Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh can act circles around Leighton Meester and Minka Kelly. Secondly, SINGLE WHITE FEMALE treats its subject matter like more of an adult. It's an R-rated picture based on actual suspense...it's not an awkwardly derivative story played for a PG-13 "Gossip Girl" crowd. Furthermore, SINGLE WHITE FEMALE isn't hampered by a first time screenwriter, it's adaptation by Don Roos from John Lutz's novel is more tightly plotted than Sonny Malhi's, even at a half hour shorter. But more than that, it's the intimate interplay between Fonda and Leigh that really makes SINGLE WHITE FEMALE work. Either that, or those dueling short fire-wigs the girls were sporting. Yikes!
#4. FAYE DUNAWAY - MOMMIE DEAREST (1981)
No Wire Hangers, bitch! In what's almost akin to Kabuki theater exorbitance, Faye Dunaway's scorching portrayal of Joan Crawford in MOMMIE DEAREST is truly a sight to behold. Over-performing be damned, Dunaway swings for the f*ckin' park in the role of an overly-abusive matriarch. And she not only swings, she drills one 400 feet to dead center! In a quasi-fictionalized account of the screen legend's vastly troubling parenthood, director Frank Perry unflinchingly shows the horrific abuse she inflicts on Crawford's adopted daughter, Christina. Often taken to operatic extremes, Dunaway's work here is so dedicated it actually gets scarier as the film progresses. Frenzied, fevered, completely manic...don't let the films five Razzie Awards dissuade you from seeing one of the gutsiest, full-bore performances we've seen in the last 30 years. Better yet, if you happen to see her in public, don't even ask Faye about this film...not unless you're cool with catching a backhand plum across the grill-piece!
#3. PIPER LAURIE - CARRIE (1976)
I'll keep it real with you guys, here's my favorite list entry. Sure, Piper Laurie's Oscar nominated turn in CARRIE isn't congruent with the stranger-stalking paradigm that inspired this recollection, but who the hell cares? Laurie is flat out petrifying in Brian De Palma's CARRIE. Not only is her depiction of a religious zealot as disturbing as anything we've seen this side of Michael Parks in RED STATE, that her beliefs drive her to such odious treatment of her own daughter is the real horror. Now, this isn't a subtle performance...in fact Laurie was sure the film had to be a comedy when realizing how over the top her character was (before seeing the finished product, of course). I think what makes the performance so disturbing is how believable Laurie makes Margaret White, regardless of how excessive the character becomes. Bottom line, she's convincing. Scarily so. A belated happy birthday to Piper, who continues to work even after her 79th birthday last month.
#2. GLENN CLOSE - FATAL ATTRACTION (1987)
Before Michael Douglas got hitched to one of the finest women ever created, the dude was playing hard to get with a pair of blondes in a 5 year span of erotic thrillers. For our purposes here, we'll focus on the first, and most appropriate of the two films. Of course, I mean Adrian Lyne's 1987 chiller FATAL ATTRACTION. Honestly, I never understood why Douglas opted for Glenn Close over Anne Archer (his wife), but I won't get into the psychology of marriage. I will however, get into the warped mind-set of Close's Alex Forrest, the seductive blonde with malefic delusions of grandeur. Y'all know the gist. After a casual tryst, a woman's refusal of rejection spirals into a baleful bout of butchery. Or at least, that becomes the intention. Close nabbed an Oscar nod for her obsessive portrayal of a woman inflicted with de Clérambault's syndrome. An interesting side note, Sharon Stone was one of 50 or so actresses considered and ultimately passed over for the role of Alex (Stone would obviously go on to star in the other Douglas thriller mentioned, BASIC INSTINCT).
#1. KATHY BATES - MISERY (1990)
In a well deserved Oscar winning turn for Kathy Bates, featured in one of the most effective Stephen King adaptations, Rob Reiner's masterfully spare yet haunting look at an maddeningly obsessive fan takes a backseat to nothing. Like the most harrowing on our list, what makes Bates so damn frightening is how fairly innocuous she starts out, and how gradually insane she grows throughout the picture. We trust her early on, even feel safe. That trust soon morphs into terror...the inescapable, claustrophobic nature of the film's setup (with Jimmy Caan bound to the bed) only heightens the sense of dread. Just as there's literally nowhere to turn for Caan, there's really nowhere for Reiner to cutaway to. We can only revel in the escalating mayhem, to the point where we essentially become the Paul Sheldon character...left only to observe the merciless torture Annie Wilkes increasingly incurs. I know misery loves company, but in this case, I'm sure we have a lot of company who loves MISERY.