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MAMA’S DEADLY CLUTCH: A TOP-TEN OF BAD MOTHERS ONSCREEN!

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In conjunction with this Tuesday’s DVD/Blu-ray release of Andy Muschietti’s MAMA, we asked FANGO writer John Porter to revisit some of cinema’s most mental matriarchs.

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mamaMost people like their mothers. Oedipus liked his mother and so did Houdini. Most mothers are nurturing, they love their children and want to see them succeed in the big wide world. But there are always a few bad apples out to spoil the whole bunch.

History is full of mothers who are bad news. Like Medea. No, not Tyler Perry’s character, although that one is pretty awful on its own. The original Medea was a witch married to Jason (of the Argonauts and Golden Fleece fame) who, when Jason dumped her to marry a princess, killed their children and took off for Corinth.

See, for every June Cleaver and Carol Brady, there’s a Kate Gosselin and Octomom sucking up precious oxygen. But even before those freak shows appeared on the public conscience there were plenty of other real life train wrecks spreading their evil DNA.

Remember Countess Elizabeth Bathory? She was the most prolific female serial murderer in history and was accused of taking part in the murder of over 650 young women. After their murder, she allegedly bathed in their blood in order to stay young. This became the basis for the 1971 film COUNTESS DRACULA starring Ingrid Pitt.

Ma Barker was a real life gangster mom in the era of Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde. While her sons formed a bloody bank robbing gang, Ma was portrayed by the FBI as some sort of mastermind, but in reality she was only a cover for the gang. She was however portrayed twice by Shelley Winters, once in 1970’s BLOODY MAMA (which featured Robert DeNiro in an early role), and the other was as “Ma Parker” on two episodes of the Batman television show. If you add in her performance as the mother in LOLITA, Winters may just hold the record for portraying bad mothers.

Another real life bad mother who made the transition to the screen was Joan Crawford aka MOMMIE DEAREST. Faye Dunaway’s chilling performance and her handling of wire hangers will forever live in our collective bad mother memories.

Of course there have been many other great awful mothers on the silver screen. Remember Mary Tyler Moore in ORDINARY PEOPLE? Frostbite city. How about Angelica Houston in THE GRIFTERS or Bette Davis in THE ANNIVERSARY?

Mo’Nique deserves a whole wing in the bad mother hall of shame for her performance in PRECIOUS.

Here are a few other bad mothers that deserve to be revisited, and that’s not counting Shaft, because after all he’s a baaaad mother…shut your mouth.

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1.    Norma Bates in PSYCHO. Even though we don’t see her in Hitchcock’s original retelling of the Robert Bloch classic, the spirit of Mrs. Bates permeates the film once we see the Bates Motel. Remember, “Mother is not herself today.” Vera Farmiga is doing some pretty good work bringing the character to life in the television series BATES MOTEL.

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2.    Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) in THE OTHERS. A very cool twist on THE TURN OF THE SCREW, puts Kidman and her children in an isolated house during the latter days of World War II. Everything seems fine until the new servants arrive and strange things start happening. Kidman is not all sunshine and lollipops in this one.

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3.    Margaret White (Piper Laurie) in CARRIE. One of the cruelest portrayals of motherly affection in movie history, it’s no wonder that little Carrie goes off her rocker and messes up everybody at the prom. When her mother tells her that “They’re all going to laugh at you,” Carrie finds her own way to skewer the argument.

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4.    Mrs. Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer) in FRIDAY THE 13th. The original, accept no substitute. What those camp counselors did to her poor boy was inexcusable – and spawned an amazing number of sequels.

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5.    Beverly R. Sutphin (Kathleen Turner) in SERIAL MOM. How can you go wrong with a John Waters film about a murderous suburban mother that features Patty Hearst, Tracy Lords, and Ricki Lake along with Turner? If you haven’t seen it, add it to your list and thank me later.

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6.    Mother and Grandmother (Victoria Tennant and Louise Fletcher) in FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC. Sure, let’s just lock the kids up in the attic and generally lose interest in them. Tennant and Fletcher are Creepy and Creepier…

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7.    Mommy (Patty McCormack) in MOMMY. A little bit like SERIAL MOM but without the laughs. McCormack, who was the title character in 1954’s THE BAD SEED, has grown up and continued on her very evil ways. Worth hunting down and taking a look.

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8.    Mrs. Robeson (Wendy Robie) in THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS. Cannibals, suburban evils, deep dark family secrets, this Wes Craven movie has got all that going for it, and just a bit more. Often overshadowed by his better known titles, THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS deserves a closer look.

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9.    Momma and Mama Fratelli (Anne Ramsey) in THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN and THE GOONIES respectively. As the horrible mother and object of Danny DeVito’s derision, Ramsey becomes Billy Crystal’s target in this clever re-working of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. Mama Fratelli is the leader of a family of crooks determined to stop the Goonies from finding One-Eyed Willie’s treasure. Two wicked mothers in one terrific character actress.

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10.    Lucy Harbin (Joan Crawford) in STRAIGHT-JACKET. It’s only fitting that Mommie Dearest herself takes us out with one of her great dark roles penned by Robert Bloch and directed by William Castle. Mommie Dearest, uh Crawford, has just been released from the insane asylum when people start dying at the hands of an axe murderer…or is it murderess?

There are so many other bad mothers to consider, but these ought to keep you going for a while. And it’s a pretty good bet that none of these ladies will be receiving any Mother’s Day cards this year – or EVER.

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But just in case, here are a couple Mother’s Day cards sent in to us especially for MAMA, hitting DVD and Blu-ray this coming Tuesday May 7th:

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About the author
John Porter
John Porter is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared on National Public Radio and in a variety of magazines. When he’s not staying up late watching horror movies, he’s usually reviewing theatre, working on Time For The Blues for WCVE public radio or performing stand-up comedy. You can follow his inane ramblings at http://mondojohnny.blogspot.com/.
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