Violet Weston, August, Osage County (2013)
Imagine seeing a woman physically attack her mother; as they fall to the ground in a storm of kicks, punches, and screams, imagine cheering for her; imagine wanting the older, sick, mother to get the crap beaten out of her. That’s the place this movie takes you to. It’s not pretty.
Violet Weston is so monstrous she not only screws up her family, you’ll be traumatized just watching her. Despite being seriously ill, she makes sport of causing pain, of ripping open wounds she has inflicted. She drinks up the pain in her children like fine wine. The depth of venom and hate must have been draining to play, but Meryl Streep is, as usual, flawless. Even when Violet shares a terrible story of emotional cruelty that her own mother inflicted on her, it’s impossible to forgive her. A monster.
Mrs. Henry Vale, Now, voyager (1942)
If you haven’t seen Now, Voyager (1942), you should. In spite of the Momster, it’s a beautiful and empowering love story that is timeless. And that cigarette scene. Swoon.
Charlotte Vale is one of Bette Davis’ most sublime performances. She is restrained and heart-breaking as the repressed, anxious, awkward, “spinster” daughter of a prominent Boston family. Charlotte’s emotional state is entirely due to her domineering and abusive mother, played by Gladys Cooper. Not only does her mother treat her like crap, she expects Charlotte to be glad to take care of her for the rest of her life. It’s no wonder that Charlotte secretly smokes and vents her anger by carving intricate ivory boxes alone in her room.
Rescue comes in the form of a psychiatrist recommended by her sister-in-law. One look and the good doctor knows he has to get her out of there and into his private clinic. Not only does Charlotte thrive and blossom, she falls head over heels in love, which gives her the confidence to finally go home and confront Mother. Mother doesn’t take it well.
Mrs. Collins, The Sixth Sense (1999)
You probably don’t remember Mrs. Collins because although she’s one of the worst Momsters on this list, she has what amounts to a bit part in the Sixth Sense. You know, the movie with Bruce Willis and the “I see dead people,” kid. If you’ve seen this film, you know it has a major twist at the end. Before that twist, there’s one involving our Mrs. Colliins.
One of the dead people who keeps appearing to the kid (Haley Joel Osment) is Kyra Collins, a ghost on a mission. After appearing several times, Cole attends her funeral reception with Dr. Malcolm Crow, the Willis Character. The house is filled with grieving friends and family of the dead girl, but Cole makes his way upstairs to the girl’s bedroom, where he retrieves a box with a videotape from under the bed. Downstairs, he gives it to Kyra’s father, telling him that Kyra wanted him to have it. Mystified, he plays the tape in front of the roomful of mourners. It’s footage from a hidden camera showing Kyra ill in bed while her mother (Angelica Page) poisons her food before giving to her. Cut to everyone in the room gaping at Mrs. Collins in horror.
Mallory’s Mom, Natural Born Killers (1994)
This is Oliver Stone’s blood-soaked masterpiece. Micky and Mallory Knox (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) are a hot young couple who go on a killing spree and become a media sensation. Mickey rescues Mallory from an abusive home where her father (Rodney Dangerfield) rapes her regularly while her sweet as molasses Momster pretends not to notice. It’s hard not to cheer when they drench her in lighter fluid and light the match.
Mary Lee Johnston, Precious (2009)
A lying, violent, emotionally and sexually abusive bitch — Mary (Mo’Nique) is a horror of a Momster. We first get wind of her not as herself but as the blow she delivers to Precious’ (Gabourey Sidibe) head with a frying pan. She lies cheats and steals and is literally the darkness over Precious’ existence. When she’s not beating Precious, Mary’s favorite pastime is squashing every dream Precious ever has.
Eleanor Shaw Iselin, The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Before Angela Lansbury portrayed the lovable sleuth Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote, she played one of the worst mothers in the history of film. She is so heinous in this film she’ll make your skin crawl.
Married to a spineless politician (John Gregory) whom she ruthlessly manipulates, she also uses her son (Laurence Harvey) for her own twisted agenda. Lansbury’s performance burns up the screen but as a mom? She’s a nightmare.
Margaret White, Carrie (1976)
To be fair, Margaret White (played by Piper Laurie) probably suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and isn’t inherently evil. But the abuse and neglect (and that knife!), that she inflicts on the awkward Carrie makes her Momster material. She fails to teach Carrie the most basic information about her body (other than that it’s sinful) to prepare her for womanhood. When Carrie’s period arrives while she’s in the shower after gym class she has no idea what’s happening and is petrified. Her classmates laugh at her and pelt her with tampons and maxi pads. Lovely. So what does Mom do? She spouts pseudo-religious crap about being sinful and dirty. Then Mom locks her in a closet to pray for forgiveness. Thanks, Mom. It goes downhill from there.
Norma Bates Psycho, (1960)
Probably the best-known Momster on this list, even though she’s only n two scenes of director Alfred Hitchcock’s classic thriller Psycho. Norma’s presence and personality permeate every frame of this movie thanks to her son Norman’s inability to cut the apron strings. Really, he can’t let go of her. Due to his attachment to her, we get to know a lot about her. And we know even more about the effect she had on Norman, which is the true measure of a Momster. We know that she poisoned herself and her lover because he was about to leave her, and left her son behind. Strike one. We know she bullied and verbally abused Norman from the sound of her disembodied voice when she speaks to him. Strike two. Strike three? The uh, shower thing.
The Mom, The Road (2009)
This film is devastating and then you find out, via fragmented flashbacks, what exactly is up with the Mother and why she’s not traveling with the family. Daaaaamn.
Selyse Baratheon, Game of Thrones (2011 -2016)
Spoilers, ok? You have to be really horrible to beat Queen Cersei in this category, and even though Cersei blew up a church full of people in last season’s finale, she wasn’t trying to kill her (last remaining) son. Unforeseen consequences. Anyway, Selyse always hated her only daughter Shireen, because of a facial disfigurement that wasn’t her fault. Even so, it was a special kind of low to agree to burn the girl at the stake as a sacrifice to the gods in order to get her husband Stannis (worst dad list) on the Iron throne. And no, she doesn’t get points for realizing what a heinous thing she’s agreed to half way through.
An earlier version of this post appeared on the MsLake blog.
Image: Screenshot of final scene, edited.