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03.07.2014by: Jake Dee

Top 10 Maniacal Mothers!

Maniacal mothers...the stuff of cinematic legend! Think about it, some of the most memorable characters to ever grace the screen happen to be woefully wicked matriarchs, be they in the horror genre or not. Why do you think that is? Perhaps it's the subversion of expectation. We normally associate motherhood with nurturing, caring, overprotection, life-giving and the like...so when those qualities are subverted to a point where we see cinematic mamas going postal, acting out violently, harming and killing people onscreen, children at that - yeah, that shit's about as unnerving as it gets. It's the last thing we expect...which in turn breeds shock and terror when such horrors suddenly occur. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you needn't look any further than what the great Vera Farmiga is laying down over at Bates Motel...admittedly our inspiration for this week's Top 10 Maniacal Mothers list. Proceed with caution kiddies!

#10. MAMA (MAMA)

Right there in the title, isn't it?! While not a terribly fine horror effort, we cannot front on the title character in Andres Muschietti's PG-13 rated MAMA. After-all, what she ends up doing to protect her "adopted" children is nothing short of deathly, dastardly, deplorable. I mean, the shadowy, filth-ridden mysterio will go to great lengths to crush and quash any threatening force that dares to come near the children. And that she does! Unfortunately, it's a character that happens to be far more interesting than the film as a whole, and therefore a wasted opportunity to really explore where such a fascinating creature could be taken. No word yet on a MAMA 2, but if a sequel ever gets made, let's hope it shows the kind of ingenuity the short film Muschietti (MAMA) made back in 2008.

#9. DOROTHY YATES (FRIGHTMARE)

Duking it out for our most obscure list inclusion is FRIGHTMARE (aka COVER-UP), the 1974 British exploitation sleaze-fest directed by Pete Walker. Definitely a flick worth peeping if you can track it down, as it features one of the all time memorably maniacal mothers to ever hit the lens. Dorothy Yates is the character in question, played ruthlessly by Sheila Keith, as a murderous cannibal fresh out of a 15-year asylum stint. Dorothy and her hubby Edmund are now free...free to resume their wicked ways that is, and soon Dorothy's daughter and stepdaughter are considered for the dining menu. But wait, are the cannibalistic urges genetic? Will the daughters take after their mother? See that shite and find out!

#8. MRS. WADSWORTH (THE BABY)

How many of you have still yet to see Ted Post's 1973 flick THE BABY? Well, get on that shite already! Seriously, if you want to lay eyes on easily one of the most bizarre, outlandish, utterly bananas horror pictures you'll ever see...THE BABY is it! And not only that, it features one of the most eerie onscreen mothers you'd ever want to encounter. You see, the titular tyke isn't exactly a toddler...it's a grown 21 year old man...resigned to an overgrown crib, a giant diaper and a formula-filled bottle to suckle on. Not strange enough? Here comes mama Wadsworth (played by Ruth Roman), a wacky caretaker whose instant niceties are a mere mask for her unhinged mania. Seriously, make this flick an annual must-see!

#7. MRS. ROBESON (THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS)

One of Wes Craven's most unheralded flicks is the 1991 release of THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, which features one hell of a murderous mama! Credited simply as "Woman" in the film (though she is called Mommy throughout) Wendy Robie puts forth a terrifying turn as a lady-lunatic in charge of procuring young children to prey upon. Actually, it was Robie's work (along with Everett McGill) in Twin Peaks that made Craven insistent on casting them both in the film. A wise move, no doubt. I mean, the crazy bitch brandishes a blade, cooks a girl in scalding hot water, stabs a dogs through a wall...and of course, indulges in incestuous inbreeding. Quite the role-model!

#6. VERA COSGROVE (DEAD ALIVE)

"No one will ever love you like your mother!"Ah, poor Mrs. Cosgrove...only acting with the best intentions in Peter Jackson's superb 1992 horror-comedy venture DEAD ALIVE. That is, until the old hag is unceremoniously bitten by disease-ridden monkey and transmuted into a zombified, flesh-starved monster! Such a gross and icky film on one hand, yet so irreverently comedic and cartoonish on the other...the result a singular achievement that has remained so over 20 years later. Little Lionel has massive mommy issues, never so satisfyingly squashed as when he shreds, cuts and tears his way out of her belly after she swallowed him whole. Sheesh...nothing like motherly love!

#5. JOAN CRAWFORD (MOMMIE DEAREST)

Consider this a twofold, meta-tip-of-the-cap. Stay with me. Way back in 1964, screen legend Joan Crawford played a psychotic, axe-wielding mother fresh out of a mental institution in a movie called STRAIT-JACKET, directed by William Castle. Well, we could have honored that flick all by itself, but since I'm such a huge fan of Faye Dunaway, I'd be remiss if mention of MOMMIE DEAREST wasn't made. I mean, holy f*ck! In a maddening, almost Kabuki theater style bonanza...one that likely and shamefully lead to the downfall of her career...Dunaway portrays the real-life Crawford as one of the most deranged, disturbed and overbearing mothers probably ever captured on celluloid. Ever! So extreme, so unnerving, so goddamn cruel!

#4. NATALIE KOFFIN (MOTHER'S DAY)

While most of the credit really ought to go to Beatrice Pons for originating the role in the 1980 Troma flick (and Charles Kaufman for that matter), I'm really more interested in casting love to the MILF-A-Licious Rebecca De Mornay for her turn in the 2010 rehash. Bitch went bonkers! The difference of course being how hands on the homicidal harridan is in both iterations. In the OG, the mother was old, ugly and domineering over her demented sons...giving them heinous instructions of violence and degradation. In the remake though, De Mornay is younger, sexier and more vital...not to mention far more involved physically in the taunt and torment of her teenage captives. Props to both ladies and the different approaches taken!

#3. MRS. VOORHEES (FRIDAY THE 13TH)

The man-hands, the work-boots, the brute force...what a sly misdirect Mrs. Voorhees - played by the sweet-one-minute-frightening-the-next Betsy Palmer - pulled on us all back in 1980. Iconic really. Perfect casting by Sean Cunningham, even if the previously squeaky-clean Betsy wasn't exactly thrilled to be working on what she deemed a "piece of shit" at the time. Word is she hated the FRIDAY THE 13TH script and only took the part to pay for a new car. But after all these years, she wisely confesses what a good decision it was to ultimately say yes, even if the role forever supplanted her goody two-shoes image she had before uttering the famous "Kill Her Mommy, Kill Her" line.

#2. MARGARET WHITE (CARRIE)

I've said it before, yet feel the need to echo it here once more. Piper Laurie should have won an Oscar for her manically febrile turn as Margaret White in Brian De Palma's CARRIE. It's a performance that is still abjectly mortifying to this day, almost 40 years later. The mental and physical abuse she incurs on her own troubled daughter, all in the name of religious zealotry and pious fanaticism, is just about as disturbing as anything Stephen King ever wrote, and De Palma ever shot. Funnily enough, if you were to ask Piper about the role, she'll tell you she was sure it was going to play for laughs because of how over the top she goes. But somehow, just the opposite reaction is elicited. It's a tour-de-force!

#1. NORMAN BATES (PSYCHO)

I'm really not sure who we should fete here - the grotesquely desiccated skeleton Norman Bates stores as a keepsake in the attic, or the transgendered alter-ego of his that appears when homicidal handy-work must be done. Either way, I think we all knew Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO would be a top contender in terms of having a monstrous mother figure at the core of the story. Props to Anthony Perkins for pulling off such a demandingly duplicitous role. And whoa... let's not forget why we came up with this particular Top 10 to begin with...Vera Farmiga doing a bang-up job as mama Norma or A&E's Bates Motel. Now 11 episodes deep, we're being treated with a long-form exploration of what a mother's love and hate could to do her psychotic progeny.

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