Mommie Dearest hit US theaters on September 18, 1981 with a biographical drama chronicling the relationship between actress Joan Crawford and her adoptive children. The film, based on Christina Crawford’s expose of the same name, stars Faye Dunaway as the titular character. Every aspect of this movie is hyperdramatic and baffling, from its jarring plot to its performances, specifically Dunaway’s take on Crawford. It takes a story with very serious, real-life accusations of physical, mental, and emotional abuse and unintentionally turns it into comedic fare.
Of course, this led to the movie becoming a critical failure and cult classic among viewers. Who among us hasn’t yelled “NO WIRE HANGERS!” at some point in our lives? Mommie Dearest certainly isn’t the first film to depict a terrible or downright terrifying mom. But it sits in the upper echelon of TV and film moms that you’d never want to call your own.
In honor of Mommie Dearest‘s anniversary, let’s take a look at 10 of the scariest moms to ever grace the big and small screens.
Content Warning: This article discusses content surrounding mental, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Reader discretion is advised.
Pamela Voorhees (Friday the 13th)
Pamela Voorhees is the genesis of scary modern slasher moms. Mrs. Voorhees was the original killer in the Friday the 13th franchise, going on a bloody slicing spree to avenge her son’s unfortunate death. Sure, she had a reason to be pissed with Jason’s camp counselors. But her killing spree didn’t stop there. She not only went on to kill a whole new group of counselors (and poor Crazy Ralph), but she also became her not-dead son’s murder coach and motivation. She might look like she’d bake you a pie but I wouldn’t want to be in the same state as this terrifying mother.
Mrs. Bates (Psycho)
Norman Bates’ mom manages to be frightening, even though she’s dead. She abused her son mentally and emotionally and, although not explicitly stated in the movie, possibly sexually as well. As an adult, she continues to live in Bates’ head, prompting him to continue his murderous exploits. Their unsettling (to put it mildly) connection to each other is the real horror of Psycho. Her shrill complaints and words resonate with fans of the film more than 60 years later. Why? Because what is scarier than hearing a horrifying mom’s voice in your head?
Mary Lee Johnston (Precious)
A scary mom doesn’t have to be undead or a killer. Unfortunately, some TV and film moms reflect some unsavory parents in the world. Precious’ Mary Lee Johnston is perhaps one of the most striking and disturbing moms in recent history. The mother of the film’s titular character, there is nothing redeemable or loving about this woman. She is not only cognizant of the incest that happens in her home, she resents her daughter for “taking her man.”
Mary is emotionally, verbally, and physically abusive and uses her grandkids for financial support. Actress Mo’Nique portrayed her with such shocking gravitas that she won a Best Supporting Actress award for the role.
Margaret White (Carrie)
Carrie’s mom is yet another all-too-real feeling mom, even though this story has a supernatural horror foundation. She’s so deeply entrenched in religious fanaticism that she locks her daughter up for the “sin” of having a menstrual cycle. You know, something that happens to billions of people worldwide. Oh, and she also tries to kill Carrie for being an alleged witch. This disturbing mother/daughter relationship certainly inspired many scary movie moms to follow.
Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)
I don’t care what anyone says. Lady Tremaine totally killed Cinderella’s uber-rich dad right after marrying him. She married him to get more money and then made his daughter become her maid because she was a hater. Then, when poor Cinderella wants to go to the ball, Lady Tremaine cruelly convinces her daughters Anastasia and Drizella to destroy Cinderella’s dress. And she locked Cinderella in the attic so her ugly, bigfoot kids could try on a shoe that wouldn’t fit. Truly tragic. She may not be classically “scary” like a murderous mom but she does have a Mommie Dearest vibe. An evil, manipulative, and jealous stepmother is every child’s worst nightmare.
Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones)
Almost everyone on Game of Thrones is scary and/or manipulative in some way. But Cersei is on a whole new level as a scary momma. It is impossible to list all the manipulative things she did throughout the show’s duration, but Cersei was willing to do anything for her family. Killing, lying, and everything in between was on the docket for this mother of three. Somehow, two of her three children turned out alright (we won’t discuss the evil known as Joffrey) but her games ultimately led to their deaths, too. Cersei is absolutely a momma you don’t want to cross.
Constance Langdon (American Horror Story)
American Horror Story fans know this name too well. We met Constance Langdon way back in the show’s first season surrounding the now-infamous Murder House. Constance ends up murdering her husband (who is a vile human, tbh) and feeding him to the dogs before telling her kids that he abandoned the family. She’s neglectful, at best, and often downright cruel to her children. Her rearing and influence led to a string of awful things, including shocking murders and the rise of Satan’s spawn.
Lucy Harbin (Strait-Jacket)
Well, this is certainly an interesting coincidence. Mommie Dearest herself, better known as Joan Crawford, stars as Lucy, a woman who kills her husband and his lover in front of her toddler daughter. Lucy goes to a psychiatric hospital for two decades. She gets out and killings start once again… but with a sinister twist. Crawford’s real-life persona as a mother may be up for debate but she certainly plays a killer mother well.
Debbie Salt/Mrs. Loomis (Scream 2)
Debbie’s motive to kill Sidney Prescott wasn’t ‘90s. She just wanted “good old-fashioned revenge.” You can’t have a scary moms list without Billy Loomis’ mother. (Love the reference to Nancy Loomis.) Scream 2 hit fans with a true “I didn’t see that coming” moment when it revealed that local news reporter (and Gale Weathers fan) Debbie Salt was actually Billy’s mama.
She goes from annoying reporter to vengeful mom in the blink of an eye. Being a cold killer aside, Mrs. Loomis abandoned her son after his father had an affair with Sid’s mom. And, despite her son killing people, she doesn’t blame him for his actions. Very fine parenting.
Amelia (The Babadook)
Poor Amelia. She’s technically not a bad, terrible, nor scary mother at first. She’s a widower trying to raise her troubled son Sam. But she soon becomes terrifying, although not of her own volition. She becomes a victim of the titular Babadook, spiraling into a dark, paranoid existence with increasingly violent and disturbing behavior. Thankfully, she doesn’t stay that way, which makes her an even scarier (and tough) mom.
Of course, this is only a sample of the many scary mommas. Some of them are truly disturbing in nightmarish, manipulative ways while others are willing to kill for an array of reasons. Either way, scary moms are a part of every entertainment genre and will never go away.
Featured Image: United Artists/Lionsgate/Dimension Films