23+ Scary Mothers: The Best and Worst Moms in Horror Movies

Moms in horror movies can be a comforting presence or a source of terror. Collected here are the best examples of horror moms from both extremes.

Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom (1994) will do anything for her family.

Mothers play one of the most important roles in anyone’s life. Moms are protectors, providers, and caregivers. They play such a vital role in the development of their children that horror movies love to explore what happens when maternal instincts go horribly wrong. Horror has a long history of evil mothers, so this list chronicles some of the very worst horror moms of all time.

Selma Blair in Mom and Dad (2017).
Bad horror moms perform everything from mental and physical abuse, to intentionally raising criminals, to attempted filicide (as demonstrated here by Selma Blair in Mom and Dad).

To balance out the bad, a secondary category is included which lists some of the very best horror moms who risk their own well-being to help their kids.

Bad Moms

Psycho (1960)

Norma Bates (voiced by Virginia Gregg, Paul Jasmin, and Jeanette Nolan)
Psycho (1960).
Norma Bates was played by Olivia Hussey in Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990).

It may be somewhat unfair to name Norma Bates as one of the worst mothers in horror history since she is not even alive to defend herself in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, but the results of her abuse are apparent. Through Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) and his imitations of his mother, we learn about the abuses his mother perpetrated which contributed to Norman’s mental issues and murderous tendencies.

Carrie (1976)

Margaret White (Piper Laurie)
Piper Laurie in Carrie (1976).
Julianne Moore plays the role of Margaret White in the 2013 adaptation of Carrie.

Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is a young woman going through changes, but her fanatically religious mother Margaret shows her no support. When Carrie has her first period as the movie Carrie begins, Margaret says her natural bodily functions are the result of sin. Margaret also has a “prayer closet” for Carrie which she locks her daughter in whenever she feels Carrie needs to atone for whatever imagined sins Carrie has committed. Their relationship fractures even further when Margaret learns of Carrie’s emerging telekinetic powers, leading to a deadly confrontation between mother and daughter. Carrie, based on the novel by Stephen King, is a horror classic, and both Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie were nominated for Academy Awards for their performances.

Mother’s Day (1980)

Mother (Beatrice Pons)
Beatrice Pons (Rose Ross) in Mother's Day (1980).
Beatrice Pons chose to be credited under the pseudonym “Rose Ross” for Mother’s Day.

In her mid-70s at the time of the release of the pseudo-slasher Mother’s Day, Beatrice Pons, at first, appears to be a kindly old woman. Viewers of this Troma classic quickly see that the old lady, referred to only as Mother, is a deranged killer raising her two sons Ike and Addley to be the same as her. Mother’s boys kidnap three women camping in a remote location in the woods, and Mother gleefully watches as her sons torture the women for her amusement. Mother’s Day is campy and comedic in many ways, but it has enough uncomfortable scenes to make it a solidly trashy horror movie as well.

Friday the 13th (1980)

Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer)
Betsy Palmer in Friday the 13th (1980).
Betsy Palmer initially hated Friday the 13th, but she eventually came to appreciate the movie and her place in horror history.

Pamela, or Mrs. Voorhees to the counselors at Camp Crystal Lake, is a devoted mother. After her son Jason supposedly drowns at summer camp while the counselors charged with watching him were making love somewhere else, Mrs. Voorhees punishes (i.e. murders) the teens she feels are responsible for her son’s apparent death. The camp is shut down, but years later Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer) intends to reopen it. Even after more than two decades, Mrs. Voorhees is still devoted to punishing the camp’s counselors, and she goes on a rampage in an attempt to kill every counselor so that camp can’t open. That is the very definition of a mother’s devotion.

Flesh-Eating Mothers (1988)

Various Mothers
Flesh Eating Mothers (1988).
Writer/director James Aviles Martin also wrote the low-budget horror comedy I Was A Teenage Zombie (1987).

Cheap and trashy, Flesh Eating Mothers is about a sexually-transmitted disease that turns a bunch of moms into flesh-eating mothers. The mothers chow down on their children (or anyone else they can sink their teeth into), and the teens who survive have to band together to save the town. There aren’t many redeeming qualities of this low-budget cannibal comedy schlockfest, but it is great entertainment for the right audience.

Dead Alive (1992)

Vera Cosgrove (Elizabeth Moody)
Elizabeth Moody as Vera Cosgrove in Dead Alive aka Braindead (1992).
Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive was originally released in New Zealand using the title Braindead.

In Dead Alive, Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) is a timid man living with his elderly and overbearing mother Vera. Vera wants to keep Lionel all to herself, so when Lionel starts to becomes romantically interested in a pretty woman named Paquita (Diana Peñalver), Vera does everything she can to keep them apart. Vera’s spying leads to her getting bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey which leads to her death and revival as a zombie. Lionel still feels indebted to his domineering mother, so even in death Vera manages to overtake Lionel’s life as he tries to keep his mother hidden. And from there, things go even further off the rails in hilarious and gory ways.

House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

Mother Firefly (Karen Black)
Karen Black in House of 1000 Corpses (2003).
Leslie Easterbrook replaced Karen Black as Mother Firefly in The Devil’s Rejects (2005) due to disagreements over pay.

Mother Firefly cares for her kids like any good mother should. She protects her children from outsiders, she provides for them, and she is genuinely interested in supporting their hobbies. The problem is, her kids’ hobbies include torture and murder. Mother Firefly raised a brood of crazed murderers, and she couldn’t be more proud of them. She even joins in on the fun every once in a while.

Mother (2009)

Unnamed Mother (Kim Hye-ja)
Kim Hye-ja in Mother (2009).
Kim Hye-ja won multiple awards including Best Actress at the Asian Film Awards for her role in Mother.

Mother is a South Korean crime thriller from famed director Bong Joon-ho. In the movie, the unnamed mother played by Kim Hye-ja will do absolutely anything to help her son get out of jail for a crime she doesn’t believe he committed. Her son, Yoon Do-joon (Won Bin), is accused of a murder that everyone except his mother believes he committed. The mother takes it upon herself to clear her son’s name, even when the evidence isn’t as clear as she thought it would be. Mother is an example of a movie mom who has the best of intentions for her child, but she does too many awful things to other people to be considered truly good.

Black Swan (2010)

Erica Sayers (Barbara Hershey)
Barbara Hershey in Black Swan (2010).
In interviews, Barbara Hershey described her character as not a mother from hell, but a mother in hell.

In Darren Aronofky’s amazing psychological horror movie Black Swan, Erica Sayers is the mother of young ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman). Erica is a former ballerina herself, and she holds inside a lot of pent-up frustration at what she sees as being forced to give up her dreams of dancing in order to raise her daughter. For that reason, Erica lives vicariously through Nina while also resenting her own daughter’s achievements. Erica is overbearing and overprotective, and she gives Nina no space to live her own life. The intensely harmful effects of Erica’s actions on Nina’s mental stability are displayed throughout the entirety of Black Swan, a truly tragic and beautiful film.

Mother’s Day (2010)

Natalie Koffin (Rebecca De Mornay)
Rebecca De Mornay in Mother's Day (2010).
Director Darren Lynn Bousman says Rebecca De Mornay had concerns about the subject matter in Mother’s Day before signing on to star in the film.

Rebecca De Mornay stars as a baby-snatching, child-abusing, murderous mother in Mother’s Day. Very loosely inspired by the 1980 movie of the same name, Mother’s Day is a home invasion film in which three bank-robbing brothers take a group of partiers hostage while they wait for their mother and sister to arrive so their mom can come up with an escape plan. Natalie (De Mornay) does arrive, and she guides her children in the torture and terrorization of the hostages. This mother has a very strict set of rules she expects everyone to abide by, and anyone breaking those rules may not live long enough to disobey her ever again. Mother’s Day is a solid horror movie with a great cast including Jaime King, Shawn Ashmore, Frank Grillo, Briana Evigan, and Deborah Ann Woll.

Goodnight Mommy (2014)

Mother (Susanne Wuest)
Susanne Wuest in Goodnight Mommy (2014).
Writers/directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz wrote the script specifically for Susanne Wuest.

Goodnight Mommy is an insidious Austrian horror movie with a finale that cannot be forgotten. A mother, who remains nameless and is credited as “Mutter” (German for “Mother”), returns home to her twin sons after a stay in a hospital. The woman’s face is nearly completely obscured by bandages, and she has very little patience when dealing with her young sons. She is openly hostile towards the twins, and the boys, Elias and Lukas, begin to suspect that the woman under the bandages might not be their real mother at all. Saying any more would ruin the experience of seeing Goodnight Mommy for the first time, but it’s safe to say that the movie is an example of how a few really bad days can have a lasting impact on a family.

Hereditary (2018)

Annie Graham (Toni Collette)
Toni Collette in Hereditary (2018).
Toni Collette didn’t want to do another horror film, but Ari Aster’s script was too good for her to refuse.

Annie’s mother Ellen (Kathleen Chalfant) may ultimately be responsible for the fracturing of the Graham family in Hereditary, but Annie is an awful mom herself. At times we see Annie try to make amends for past behavior towards her son Peter (Alex Wolff), but at other times she seems completely oblivious to the obvious pain her son is going through. And at other times, like in the intensely uncomfortable dinner scene, Annie is openly antagonistic towards her son. Sure, there is a lot going on in the background, and Annie has her own trauma to deal with, but Annie’s actions make an already horrific situation even worse in Hereditary.

Ma (2019)

Sue Ann Ellington (Octavia Spencer)
Octavia Spencer in Ma (2019).
Octavia Spencer accepted the lead role in Ma before even reading the script, based on the fact that she gets to be the villain.

In Ma, Sue Ann Ellington does her best to make friends with the local high-school kids. Known as “Ma” by the teens, Sue Ann buys them alcohol and lets them use her basement as a party room where they can do pretty much whatever they want. Sue Ann acts very differently towards her own daughter Genie, whom Sue Ann abuses out of sight of the other kids. Not only that, but Ma has a seriously dark ulterior motive for ingratiating herself with the teenagers of her town. Without spoiling too much, her motives involve a lot of murder.

Good Moms

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow)
Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby (1968).
Mia Farrow went through a divorce with her much older husband Frank Sinatra while filming Rosemary’s Baby.

Rosemary’s Baby may be a controversial inclusion on the “Good Moms” list considering who and what her son is, but the fact that her child is Satan’s son makes Rosemary’s commitment to being a good mother even more impressive. Rosemary is lied to, used, and manipulated by her husband and their new neighbors, but through it all Rosemary tries to do what is best for herself and her unborn child. Even when she is told her child is dead, her intuition tells her that it isn’t true. Rosemary finds her baby, and despite the child’s legitimately evil father, she chooses to raise the boy.

The Shining (1980)

Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall)
Shelley Duvall in The Shining (1980).
Jack Nicholson suggested Jessica Lange for the role of Wendy Torrance, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone other then Shelly Duvall as the character.

Wendy Torrance has to endure a lot throughout The Shining. For one, her husband Jack has a history of abuse and alcoholism, and it all comes flooding back to him during their stay at the completely isolated Overlook Hotel. Wendy’s son Danny also has some issues, both natural and supernatural, that Wendy helps him deal with. But despite everything, Wendy is able to overcome her submissive nature to fight back against Jack and save her son’s life when things get amazingly horrible in this adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel. Shelly Duvall should also be praised for enduring the notoriously harsh film shoot directed by Stanley Kubrick.

Poltergeist (1982)

Diane Freeling (JoBeth Williams)
JoBeth Williams in Poltergeist (1982).
JoBeth Williams has said that the Poltergeist film shoot was “brutal” due to the physicality of her role.

Mother of three Diane Freeling will do anything to protect her children. After her youngest daughter, Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke), disappears after making contact with the paranormal entities residing the family’s house, Diane is desperate to bring her baby back. Experts on hauntings are brought in, but Diane is the one who physically does the work to bring Carol Anne back to the world of the living. Secured by a rope, Diane enters a mysterious portal and comes back with her daughter in tow. Not only is Diane a great mother, but she likely learned to be a much better home-buyer after this ordeal.

Cujo (1983)

Donna Trenton (Dee Wallace)
Stephen King has said he thinks Dee Wallace should’ve been nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of Donna Trenton.

Donna Trenton’s marriage may be on the rocks, but her devotion to protecting her son is unquestionable. In Cujo, Donna takes her son Tad (Danny Pintauro) with her while she visits a mechanic’s home for some car repairs. The mother and son encounter a rabid St. Bernard, and their car, of course, won’t start. Donna and Tad become trapped out of fear of Cujo catching up to them if they try to run away. As the heat of the car becomes just as dangerous as Cujo, Donna is forced into action, saving her son at the risk of her own life.

Gremlins (1984)

Lynn Peltzer (Frances Lee McCain)
Francis Lee McCain in Gremlins (1984).
Francis Lee McCain said filming parts of the kitchen scene were “a bit of a nightmare.”

The story of Gremlins focuses on Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) and his cute mogwai Gizmo, so the role of Billy’s mother, Lynn Peltzer, is kind of thankless for most of the movie. However, Lynn gets her moment to shine in one of the film’s best scenes. After most of the furry mogwai turn into reptilian gremlins, Billy’s mom is attacked. Lynn proves to be probably the most capable character in the entire movie by killing three gremlins in quick succession with a blender, kitchen knife, and microwave oven.

Serial Mom (1994)

Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Turner)
Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom (1994).
Serial Mom is a satire of American culture, but even writer/director John Waters has said “in America you can almost not write parodies fast enough, it becomes true.”

Beverly appears to be the outdated stereotype of a perfect suburban mother. She is a devoted housewife who looks after her two children (Matthew Lillard and Ricky Lake), cares for her husband (Sam Waterston), keeps an immaculate house, and does it all with a smile on her face. Beverly also happens to be a serial killer. The thing is, Beverly only kills people who do things to harm her family or who don’t live up to the proper standards of a decent community. So yes, even though Beverly may run someone over with her car, she does it for the greater good and for her family which (arguably) puts her on the “good moms” list.

Home Sweet Home (aka The Monster, 2005)

May (Shu Qi)
Shu Qi in Home Sweet Home aka The Monster (2005).
Home Sweet Home combines drama and horror to create an entirely unique look at motherhood.

Hong Kong superstar Shu Qi stars opposite Karena Lam in Home Sweet Home. Shu Qi plays May, a young mother who is timid around strangers, but who has a strong connection with her son. After moving into a new apartment, May’s son is kidnapped by a strange woman (Lam) who lives in the walls of the apartment complex. Few people believe May about the kidnapper, so May sets out on her own to rescue her son from a dangerously unstable woman. With her fellow tenants telling her to stop acting crazy and the police actively working against her after she calls them out for not doing their job, May puts her life on the line for the well-being of her son.

Silent Hill (2006)

Rose Da Silva (Radha Mitchell)
Radha Mitchell as Rose Da Silva in Silent Hill (2006).
Silent Hill is based on the 1999 video game of the same name from Konami, though it uses a few elements from the sequel, Silent Hill 2 (2001).

Rose Da Silva fights her way through an entire town of supernatural monsters to save her adopted daughter in Silent Hill. Rose’s daughter, Sharon, has recurring nightmares about the abandoned town of Silent Hill, and when mother and daughter travel to the city to find answers, Sharon disappears. With the occasional help from police officer Cybil Bennett (Laurie Holden), Rose tracks down her daughter while avoiding nightmare creatures in a town that periodically transforms into a blood-and-metal-filled hellscape. Rose’s goodness as a mother is further highlighted by a woman she meets along the way, Dahlia Gillespie, a mother allowed her own daughter to be taken by the darkness that resides in Silent Hill.

The Last House on the Left (2009)

Emma Collingwood (Monica Potter)
Monica Potter in The Last House on the Left (2009).
Eleanor Shaw (credited as Cynthia Carr) plays the role of Estelle Collingwood (which Emma Collingwood is based on) in the 1972 original.

This remake of Wes Craven‘s The Last House on the Left is similar to the original in many ways, and in both movies the mother is quick to resort to murder as revenge for what is done to her daughter. In the 2009 film, Emma Collingwood, along with her husband John (Tony Goldwyn), discovers that the group of strangers staying at their house violently attacked her daughter. While trying to find a way to get her daughter Mari (Sara Paxton) to a hospital, Emma and John get bloody revenge on the attackers. Unlike the mother in the original though, Emma surprisingly shows compassion for one of the people involved in the attack.

Halloween (2018)

Karen Nelson (Judy Greer) and Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis)
Judy Greer, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Andi Matichak in Halloween (2018).
Some fans were disappointed that Danielle Harris (who played Laurie’s daughter in an alternate Halloween timeline) wasn’t considered for the 2018 film.

You can take your pick of good mothers in this legacy sequel / requel to John Carpenter’s original Halloween from 1978. Although, neither Karen nor Laurie appear to be great moms when the movie begins. Laurie has alienated her daughter Karen over years of paranoia and preparation for the return of Michael Myers, and Karen is beginning to alienate her own daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) over apprehension about letting Allyson and Laurie get too close. In the end though, mother, daughter, and granddaughter come together as a family, protecting each other from The Shape and beginning a process of reconciliation.

Other Notable Moms in Horror Movies

Charlotte Gainsbourg in Antichrist (2009).
Antichrist (2009) by Lars Von Trier depicts a depressingly horrific look at motherhood and loss.

Sometimes horror moms don’t play a huge role in the movie they’re in, and sometimes a mom isn’t completely good or bad. Here is a brief list of a bunch of other memorable mothers from horror movies who deserve recognition.

  • Alice Sweet Alice (1976) – Linda Miller plays a divorced mother doing her best to help her rebellious (and possibly murderous) daughter Alice after her youngest daughter Karen (Brooke Shields) is found dead.
  • The Brood (1979) – Samantha Eggar plays a woman whose own mother’s abuse caused her to have mental issues, and who is now the mother of multiple murderous children in this David Cronenberg classic.
  • Mommie Dearest (1981) – Even though the movie isn’t horror, it would be a mistake to leave off one of the most notoriously horrible movie moms: Joan Crawford (played by Faye Dunaway). “No wire hangers!
  • Pieces (1982) – In the opening scene of this lurid Spanish slasher, an angry mother yells at a young boy which, apparently, contributes directly to the boy becoming a psycho killer.
  • Sleepaway Camp (1983) – Desiree Gould gives a performance for the ages as the aunt and mother of Angela and Ricky (respectively) who thoroughly destroys Angela’s (Felissa Rose) sense of identity.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – Most of the parents on Elm Street are awful, but Nancy’s mother Marge (Ronee Blakley) is truly the worst. She took part in the vigilantism that created Freddy, she’s always drunk, and she actively works against her own daughter’s safety.
  • Child’s Play (1988) – At first, Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) doesn’t believe her son Andy when he says his Good Guy doll is a killer, but after she discovers he’s telling the truth, Karen does everything she can to save her son from Chucky.
  • The House on Tombstone Hill (1989) – A dead old woman comes back from the grave to brutally murder a group of people attempting to renovate her and her daughter’s home. Also known as The Dead Come Home and Dead Dudes in the House.
  • Scream 2 (1997) – Spoiler: In the climactic scene, it is revealed that the character played by Laurie Metcalf is the mother of one of the killer’s from the first movie, Billy (Skeet Ulrich). We now see where Billy gets his charming personality from.
  • The Others (2001) – Nicole Kidman is Grace Stewart, a mother with strict rules who seems to go back and forth between good and bad when dealing with her children.
  • Ju-On: The Grudge (2002) – Kayako and Toshio form a Japanese mother-and-son ghost team who take out their rage at their wrongful deaths on anyone who enters their former home.
  • The Ring (2002) – Naomi Watts stars in this remake of the J-horror classic as an inattentive mother inadvertently puts her son in mortal danger by bringing a cursed VHS tape into their lives. Bonus bad mom points: Samara’s mother pushed her daughter down a well.
  • Antichrist (2009) – Charlotte Gainsbourg plays a mother whose inattentiveness while having (very graphic) sex with her son’s father (Willem Dafoe) leads to the toddler’s death. And that’s just the first scene of the movie.
  • Coraline (2009) – Coraline’s real mother is inattentive at best, and her “other mother” wants to trap her and sew buttons onto her eyes.
  • Mama (2013) – The “Mama” in this supernatural horror movie is a ghost who is overly protective of two young girls.
  • The Babadook (2014) – This effective psychological horror movie stars Essie Davis as a mother dealing with grief in a monstrous form.
  • The Witch (2015) – The mother in Robert Eggers’ witchcraft movie is maybe worse than the actual witches, driving her own daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) away with her constant accusations.
  • Mother! (2017) – Darren Aronofsky’s dream-logic psychological horror movie features Jennifer Lawrence in an allegory about Mother Earth.
  • Mom and Dad (2017) – Selma Blair stars alongside Nicolas Cage as a mom and dad who are overcome by a mysterious mass hysteria that compels parents to kill their children.
  • Run (2020) – Sarah Paulson plays an overprotective mother who keeps a dark secret from her wheelchair-bound daughter.
  • Umma (2022) – Sandra Oh stars as a mother who is haunted by her own mother’s spirit.
  • You Are Not My Mother (2022) – This psychological horror movie follows a daughter’s attempts to discover if the woman who calls herself her mother is telling the truth about her identity.

Further Reading

Meet The Author

Chris Catt

Chris has a degree in film studies at Temple University’s campus in Tokyo, Japan. He is a renowned expert on horror cinema.