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10 Horror Films That Deal with the Death Of a Mother

Some horror films put mom in jeopardy, or look at those struggling to cope with her death. Here are 10 classic examples of dead movie moms and how they impact horror stories!

By Wade WainioPublished 3 years ago 20 min read

NOTE: There are some spoilers here and there as I discuss these films. You can't say I didn't warn you!

1. Psycho (1960)

Part of what makes Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" classic is how so many small elements blend together, and often in a deceptive way. For example, we can discuss Marion's (Janet Leigh) car, which is both an impartial tool to get to a motel and ultimately a symbol of her death. The movie's ultimately about how random circumstances can unpredictably bring people to their untimely deaths. A good viewer might notice how, had Marion Crane simply not stolen money, or found somewhere else to spend the night, she would have certainly survived. Then again, we wouldn't have a certain iconic shower death scene, would we?

Another part of this film's genius is, of course, that the "psycho" in question seems perfectly innocent throughout much of the movie. It's not like Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) is a conventional serial slasher or the type who picks up a hitchhiker just to slaughter them. In fact, and in definitional defiance of the film's title, Bates is revealed to not be totally aware of what he is actually doing. Rather than Camp Crystal Lake or Elm Street, his quaint little motel is quite unwittingly a house of horrors (though, of course, the Bates house is still iconic). Like a spider, he is driven by instinctual madness, and his victims show up at his Motel (like flies to his web).

And, of course, Norman cuts Marion up in the shower due to a guilt complex related to his mother (voiced alternately by Virginia Gregg, Paul Jasmin, and Jeanette Nolan). Sure, we don't really learn that 'til the very end, but what an end it is! Ironically, had Marion been arrested by that policeman, either for sleeping or for speeding. Through sheer dumb luck, she sacrifices her life and, by way of disappearing, almost ends up killing her boyfriend, the snooping Sam Loomis (John Gavin).

On the brighter side of Marion's death, at least she wasn't killed merely for the money in her purse, but for that great cause of warning us that danger can lurk anywhere and often is mild-mannered and seemingly harmless. On the grander side, it's also a reminder that a little proverbial sunlight needs to be let into a person's life. As they talk, Norman hints to Marion that he has a bit of a dark side to his life, although his darkness sort of outshines that of Marion, who merely stole money and potentially ruined her life (while also putting her boss in a tight corner).

There's also another obvious sad element to the story. Norman Bates would have surely loved a more genuine connection to Marion, rather than leaving her in the nearby swamp. There's never an indication that his affection for Marion was fake. Of course, many will be quick to judge Norman's intentions, failing to understand his childlike nature, or that (like many a serial killer) he was turned away from normal life by an overbearing, abusive parent. In a way, the Bates Motel is a monument to one of the most dysfunctional family relationships imaginable, with Marion another unwitting victim in a world full of mystery, horror, and polite detachment.

2. Carrie (1976)

In the second story on this list, 16-year-old Carrie White (Sissy Spacek), grows up without a father and, unfortunately, is stuck with one of the worst mother figures imaginable (Piper Laurie). To call Margaret White a fanatical woman seems like an understatement. Still, quite, unfortunately, her abusive and strict approach to Carrie's upbringing have extra complicating factors which blend together in some epic final scenes. Carrie is also a misfit in school, but she doesn't want to be doomed as a clumsy, awkward, ignorant, and child-like misfit forever.

Not only does Carrie clash with her mother's teachings (or insane ramblings, misinformation, lying by omission), but she faces the ire and wrath of Chris Hargensen (Nancy Allen) and Billy (John Travolta). It all proves to be a volatile cocktail and made all the more explosive due to Carries being blessed (or maybe cursed) with some telekinetic powers. By the end of the film, we learn it just doesn't pay to treat someone like her terribly or like someone who must be perpetually subordinated.

This is both a coming-of-age story and a unique abuse story. What seems like a mere blip of hormones on life's path permanently alters many people's lives, making this more than a serious case of precocious puberty. It's also about the disastrous ways some people might deal with such problems, as natural as the developments are. If you grow rapidly but remain uninformed, the whole experience of puberty can be a mystifying, nightmarish mess. Yes, there's the famous puberty scene, but even for boys it could potentially be troubling (voice changes, as the larynx and vocal cords are gradually elongated, and increased body odor and hairs, and all those other details).

For Carrie's mother, this is by no means something to celebrate, but an especially evil and sinful curse and Carrie must be exaggeratedly protected from the dangers of boys getting too close to girls. To complicate things, it's not like there are no dangers. Obviously, you can have issues like sexual assault, other dating violence, unwanted pregnancy, and STDs. And you can also have bullies like Billy. Still, Carrie's mom is by no means going to help her daughter with any of these problems, and it becomes increasingly difficult to have even a little sympathy for the hysterical character.

There's another lesson in Carrie's story, too: With some people, growth is more serious an issue than others. For example, although they have a bad rap, some single mothers are perfectly competent at raising their kids, and some kids deal pretty well with a life without a father (some are never quite able to grasp this concept). However, this does not describe Carrie, as she has very little to protect herself from her mother's craziness or the bullying she faces at school.

So Carrie is not merely a horror story but has potentially relatable drama that will always transcend genre. As Carrie tries to navigate the treacherous waters of dating in high school, she has so many special hurdles that test her, and she ends up not being able to hold back her deadly potential for instant retaliation. As a bit of sore irony, the end mockingly suggests that, indeed, it would be unwise to start a "girlfriend" relationship with someone who has Carrie's special gifts. That being said, she sure knows how to close out a party!

3. Friday the 13th (1980)

Sean S. Cunningham's "Friday the 13th" kicks off with the murder of two camp counselors (Willie Adams and Debra S. Hayes),

Shortly afterward, Annie (Robbi Morgan), another counselor and a cook, is brutally murdered by a mostly unseen assailant. The trail of dead doesn't end there, of course. Ned (Mark Nelson) has his throat slit. Then Jack (Kevin Bacon) and Marcie (Jeannine Taylor), and so on and so forth.

Many corpses are discovered by survivor girl extraordinaire Alice (Adrienne King) by the time of her showdown with Mrs. Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), and we soon learn why Pam was killed. In a way, Mrs. Voorhees is a tortured soul who killed camp counselors because some of them ignored her son while he drowned. Basically, it made her blow a gasket and, ever since, anyone working around Crystal Lake is fair game for killing, by her standards anyway.

Of course, in sequels, her son Jason actually does the handiwork, flipping the original script by avenging the death of Mrs. Voorhees by Alice. Jason, much like his mother, doesn't seem to grasp that not everyone is responsible for the acts of a few. Still, what are you going to do? I have written before about the lackluster police work regarding the murders at Camp Crystal Lake but never looked much at this complicated, stupid relationship between mother and son.

Now, a lot of people speculate that Jason and his mom target people who aren't virgins. However, in my opinion, that has always been an oversimplification and, frankly, there was never a strong implication that Alice was exactly a virgin anyway. In fact, it actually seems that Alice had a relationship with Steve Christy (Peter Brouwer) that soured. Also, Alice seems to drink beer, smoke pot, and even participate in a game of strip poker (though it gets interrupted). Uncorrupted virgin?

In reality, it's far more likely animated simply by revenge, in addition to being annoyed by individual camp counselors like Ned (Mark Nelson). More to the point, Jason doesn't discriminate that much anyway. He'll kill everyone from an uptight high school teacher, Dr. Charles McCulloch (Peter Mark Richman), to the illustrious doomsayer Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney). He doesn't care what's between your legs, or even if you have use of your legs — recall he also murders wheelchair-bound Mark Jarvis (Tom McBride) in Part 2!

If you're alive and worth the effort, Jason will murder you (and all of your friends, colleagues, enemies, and attorneys). If you don't want to be murdered at Camp Crystal Lake, don't go there. Meanwhile, Mrs. Voorhees might have been the killer of Jack and Marcie, but it's really just a convenient fact they had sex shortly before being dispatched. Had she felt confident enough in her killing abilities, she surely would have slashed up the campers gathering around a bonfire in the woods? The point is, if you were to enter the F13 universe and draw a map of deaths in the area, you'd have many lines leading to the camp, and a large number of indiscriminately picked victims of opportunity and bloody vengeance.

4. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

According to fan analysis, Wes Craven's "A Nightmare on Elm Street" takes place in 1981, which is yet another detail of the series that became less mysterious in hindsight. However, when people first saw the original, they did not have that benefit, so any sort of story confusion or mind-bending plot twists would have been more bewildering. Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) was a new villain.

In a way, this simple fact might have made the original film more influential, and there certainly was less perceived Freddy fatigue, as the pop culture icon hadn't yet oversaturated the horror market (and yes, I can say that even as a Freddy fan). Freddy hadn't yet been known as the "bastard son of a hundred maniacs," just as people watching the original "Terminator" didn't originally know the significance of Sarah Connor.

Craven was inspired by many things in crafting the original Nightmare, including childhood fears, primal fear of animal claws (the Freddy glove), Eastern religions, mysterious sleep-related deaths, and parental and societal secrets. In this case, the big secret involves parents, Donald (John Saxon) and Marge Thompson (Ronee Blakley), who took part in the revenge killing immolation of filthy child murderer Fred Krueger. In fact, Marge was so involved that she apparently took Krueger's bladed glove from the crime scene where angry parents burned the accused murderer alive.

The problem is, Freddy didn't take too kindly to being burned alive and somehow managed to exact his own revenge on the parents. This revenge obviously involves his ability to invade the Elm Street children's dreams, and he goes after them in various ways.

In one case it's a bedsheet noose, in another he sees fit to simply carve a girl (Amanda Wyss) into a girl until she's a corpse, thrashing her up and down the ceiling and walls. It serves as a moral lesson that's tough to stomach: Children will inevitably face the consequences for their parent's actions. That might translate into many things. Maybe you're struggling to afford an apartment because you weren't born to rich parents. Or, in this case, maybe you're being stalked in your nightmares by a ghastly, ghostly, crispy killer that your parents destroyed.

Freddy indeed causes panic, whether he's pulling someone (Johnny Depp) into a bed and causing a blood geyser or turning a stairwell into cumbersome oatmeal (if you've seen the movie, you'll know). Freddy may be a strange man, but his revenge motive is actually somewhat understandable, no matter how horrible he is. Also, let's be honest: Freddy's kills are sometimes no stranger than those of Jason from Friday the 13th, who once had a man (Andrew Bloch) strapped to a gurney, shaved him, then took over his body, eventually leaving him to melt (it's a weird story)!

Anyway, toward the end of the original "A Nightmare on Elm Street," Freddy sees fit to slay Marge Thompson, especially after being unable to successfully kill her daughter, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp). Of course, Freddy successfully stabs Nancy in her stomach in "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors," killing her, but in the original film, Nancy gets away...sort of.

Sure, her vital signs might have lasted past the first installment, and she may have joined the staff of Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital to address Freddy's continuing reign of terror. However, Freddy definitely ruined Nancy's family. Freddy takes pleasure in it, too. Unlike a seagull that swoops in and steals a french fry from your picnic, Freddy's more like a conniving cat who plays with his kills.

5. Aliens (1986)

After the original "Alien, one might have assumed Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) was safe from alien attacks.

However, that would be ridiculous! Yes, she jettisoned the original xenomorph out into the vast vacuum of space, but there were more of them out there...many more. Now other humans are endangered, with possibly no one spared within their reach. Space colonist families, pilots, space marines, Ripley herself, and even a likable android named Bishop (Lance Henriksen). And yes, much of the story is still on the exomoon LV-426.

Though Ripley's crew seems prepared at first, they too often ignore her advice during key scenes, pretty much jeopardizing the whole operation. The story alternates between a rescue and extermination mission, but you have some "greatest hits" elements to the story, too, such as examining derelict ships. There are also some tragic aspects, such as Ripley having been in statis in an escape shuttle for 57 years, meaning she couldn't have kept up with her daughter's life (or death). Rather than leave her life for salvage, she gets a new sense of purpose in destroying the same variety of aliens that slaughtered her original crew and wrecked her life. Aliens, the film's most obvious antagonists, are still brutes, but perhaps seem more intelligently organized than the single alien from the first film.

The leader, the xenomorph Queen, kills to protect her progeny and is visibly upset when Ripley sets fire to her unhatched eggs. By the last quarter of the film, we forget that Ripley barely survived the Nostromo mission. She seems a perfect match against the alien Queen. The Queen seems to gain extra disdain for humans after this showdown, and one could imagine her dipping people in fire vats until they're liquefied and easy to slurp down.

Ultimately, the Queen gets ejected from the ship by Ripley, who should add "ejecting aliens into space" to her résumé. Oh, and also her proclivity for joining space missions inside derelict alien ships. Other skills include lengthy pod naps, combatting crewmembers who have been corrupted by greed, making damn sure no egg remains and rescuing girls like Newt (Carrie Henn). However, she's not always great at making sure a killer creature isn't still lurking somewhere nearby.

6. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

Chuck Russell's "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors" successfully builds from what Wes Craven's original "Nightmare" established. When dream stalker Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) has his way, a teenager in Springwood wakes up covered in blood, if they are to wake up at all. By this point in the series, Springwood's teens must make a home of the Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital, as the rash of unexplained killings of youths is mistaken for suicides.

The latest case, Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette), ends up at Westin Hills after her mother (Brooke Bundy) arrives home to see Kristen appear to slash her wrists. Of course, it's actually Freddy who did it, but how is mom to know? Later on, Freddy kills Kristen's mom in a simulated dream moment, though the mom character does not actually die and, in fact, returns in the elegant sequel, "A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)."

No, the movie's real mom death involves Freddy Krueger's mom, who reveals compelling details of Freddy's backstory. A nun named Amanda Krueger/Mary Helena (Nan Martin) was accidentally locked in with 100 psychiatric prisoners overnight. She had been raped and almost killed by them, but survived and ultimately spawned Freddy 9 months later. This led to one of Freddy's grand nicknames: The bastard son of a hundred maniacs.

Now, after reading that nickname, can you really say this movie has bad writing? Anyway, "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors" is one of my favorite movies of all time, and partly due to this twisted addition to Freddy's backstory, which certainly builds his mythology and the elements of the character being a curse.

The movie isn't perfect. For example, it was Patricia Arquette's first movie, so it might partly be why she's borderline mumbling her lines at times and even once says her own name wrong. Then again, this movie has a brilliant built-in self-defense system for even that critique: All of the characters are having trouble sleeping, so if they ever give a sleepy performance, there's that handy explanation! In fact, a lot of plot holes can be covered by the fact that Freddy blurs lines between reality and dreams. Under that scenario, would everything make sense? It's the psychological and the supernatural, bitch!

When Freddy's mother tells us what happened, it's not that she had a bad dream. In fact, it is emphasized in the franchise's 5th film that Amanda Krueger committed suicide (obviously not the next day, but sometime after Freddy's birth). So yes, she counts as a dead mother character, and not just from natural causes. The point is: If you ever cross paths with Freddy, it's like unwittingly playing a game of Russian roulette, and this killer has repeatedly gotten away, even after being torched to death by an angry mob! You do not want to play with Freddy (including a game of paddy cake, thanks to that bladed glove).

This movie does have some great, creepy moments, too. You have Freddy attacking Kristen as a penile snake, where he also gets reacquainted with his previous nemesis, Nancy (as discussed above). You have Phillip (Bradley Gregg) used as Freddy's literal puppet. I also like when he leaves a message to Nancy by carving into Joey (Rodney Eastman). Obviously, I could list all the great moments, but a main point is that, rather than being a letdown, "Dream Warriors" acted like a shot in the arm for the franchise, pretty much making it all better again after the somewhat lackluster "A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge" (though that film is alright, it seems most agree that it made a few bad choices).

I also love the angle that a hospital is a dangerous place for the Elm Street kids, as no one on staff initially understands what's really going on. Only when Heather shows up does Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson) learn the real problem.

With him on board, Nancy and the team of "Dream Warriors" know they can't just wait for the police to save them, or anything like that. No, they must delve into the dream world and face this dream demon with their combined dream powers and charisma. Personally, I'd still be tempted to grab a revolver in my dream, to protect myself if my imagination isn't up to snuff.

7. Pet Sematary (1989)

Based on the Stephen King novel, Mary Lambert's "Pet Sematary" is brimming with sinister magic. The story asks that age-old question: What if you could bring back loved ones from the dead? It all starts off with the Creed family visiting a pet cemetery (misspelled as "Pet Sematary") near their family home. There they get to see all the forgotten dogs, cats, and other pets kids brought to the graveyard for a proper burial.

After Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) and neighbor Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne) find the Creed family cat dead, Jud foolishly

talks Louis into burying the beloved roadkill in a special place, implying that the cat can be brought back to life. As one might expect, the project is successful, but the cat (named Church) bears a startling resemblance to an evil presence.

Unsuspecting, Louis's kids treat it rather normally at first, but it seems the cat brings with it a streak of misfortune from which no one is spared (keep in mind, some superstitious people consider black cats bad luck, for whatever reason).

"Pet Sematary" is a horror movie, for sure, but it's also a portrait of a family struggling with love and loss, and how death can damage a family home. It's about discovering weakness, yet not overcoming it. Louis's wife, Rachel (Denise Crosby), is a bit annoying at times due to her fear of death as an issue, but I realize that Rachel has her own traumatic history with the death of her sister, Zelda (Andrew Hubatsek), who ostensibly died under her temporary care. Add to that a fear of something bad happening to her kids, Gage (Miko Hughes) and Ellie (Blaze Berdahl), and you're playing football with emotions all the time. So, even if one finds her overbearing at times, one can easily put themselves in her place (and the scenes with her sister Zelda are some of the creepiest moments in the film).

Rachel isn't the movie's most complex character, however. That would be Jud. It's not just that Jud suspects a sinister presence. He knows there is one, as he had experienced the dark magic of the Pet Sematary before. Still, for whatever reason, he saw fit to inspire Louis to bury Church, thus initiating the bizarre curse. In a way, Jud alternates between the role of helpful, wise town elder and a harmful village idiot, having introduced Louis to the cursed grounds that would bring so much trouble. To be fair, it's not like Jud was unaware of the Creeds' condition. He foolishly wanted to spare Ellie the pain of knowing her cat died.

When Louis makes his own poor decisions, it's out a desperate, pathetic attempt to see life return to normal. He doesn't want to lose anyone and obviously doesn't wish to live alone. However, when he buries the tragically deceased Gage, the result ultimately proves that even children can be deadly.

Upon seeing her child return, for even a moment, Rachel ends up becoming just another dead body for Louis to put in the "Sematary" he used to restore Church and Gage. Of course, Jud Crandall also pays the price for his good intentions, despite knowing that hell was so close nearby. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but in this case, it was an unpaved path to a "Sematary" where the dead speak.

8. Natural Born Killers (1994)

Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers" pretty much introduces Mickey (Woody Harrelson) and Mallory Knox (Juliette Lewis) with Mickey training his gun on rednecks in a diner. If this didn't succeed in scaring off the squeamish, some other scenes certainly could. The killer couple has a trademark where they leave one survivor behind as a witness, which started began they attacked the rednecks. Why do the characters do this? Perhaps they want viewers at home to say, “Did y’all see those jerks on the news?”

However, it all started with the first victims: Mallory's mom (Edie McClurg) and dad (Rodney Dangerfield). Mickey and Mallory gleefully take out the two of them, and Dangerfield does an unexpectedly great job at playing the sleazy, abusive father, who mostly gets taken out by Mickey. However, they both team up to tie down mommy dearest on a bed, setting her on fire, but sparing Mallory's kid brother (Sean Stone), thus seemingly establishing their semi-official tradition. Rodney Dangerfield's performance no doubt had some viewers saying “Let’s get out of here," and this excellent film is often maligned by some or celebrated by others, and "Natural Born Killers" even has a reputation for supposedly inspiring copycat crimes.

By the time Mickey and Mallory ride out of a given town, it's likely they've left a trail of dead, and continue their spree somewhere down the road. We only catch brief glimpses of the twisted memories taunting Mickey, but if you wanna take a ride, it's still harder to get that much wilder than "Natural Born Killers."

Lastly, it should be noted that Quentin Tarantino himself was quick to distance himself from the film, for which he wrote the script. It's hard to say exactly why he says “Nah" to the end results, but he insists his script was trying to do something else. Nevertheless, it still does contain a few standard Tarantino moments, including some animated sequences (which Tarantino did with "Kill Bill"), and having characters getting crazy in a diner, which is something he also used in "Pulp Fiction." Though I tend to respect Tarantino, this is still a film where I'll tell the harsh critics “Take a hike."

9. Scream (1996)

More self-aware than "Halloween," less supernatural than "A Nightmare on Elm Street...it's "Scream! If you were attacked by the mysterious killer, commonly called Ghostface (Roger L. Jackson), you would likely have no understanding why. Well, in this perplexing story, it turns out many must die due to the promiscuous behavior of Maureen Prescott (Lynn McRee), and Maureen herself is not spared in the mass murder spree. The fictional town of Woodsboro, California gets immersed in this violent crime spree where almost everyone is a suspect.

A smart director, Wes Craven knew he had to branch out and offer slightly different horror films, and "Scream" reminds us he was a master of horror because he was fully in charge, knowing just what he wanted to do with the film, while also allowing the actors some freedom (Matthew Lillard improvised the famous line, "My mom and dad are going to be so mad at me").

Although "Scream" has its detractors, others spring to its defense as revitalizing the horror genre, as well as being one of the best examples of self-aware horror (technically, some earlier movies were "meta," though this one surely stands out). "Scream" also stars David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich, and Drew Barrymore.

10. Audition (1999)

Takashi Miike's "Audition" features a man named Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) who lost his wife (Miyuki Matsuda), After his son, Shigehiko (Tetsu Sawaki), suggests his dad is now old and lonely. Feeling pathetic, Mr. Aoyama decides enough is enough and crafts a somewhat deviant plan to hold an audition for a new mate, under the guise of a movie audition. Sure, one might defend his behavior by saying he was just a lonely, unmarried man experimenting with ways to get dates, but it's definitely a comment on the whole "casting couch" legacy.

Aoyama's love interest, Asami (Eihi Shiina) ends up as a rival in totally unexpected ways, despite charming him during the audition and stealing the part (that is, stealing Mr. Aoyama's heart). However, that is not all Asami seems capable of stealing. In addition to a heart, could she steal a tongue, some fingers, other assorted limbs? We catch glimpses of Asami's tortured past, complicating our perception of her after she spent the night with Aoyama in a hotel room.

Though it's easy to judge Aoyama as a sleazy guy, he is not exactly a villain, either. When he sets up the dates with Asami, he wishes to claim her as his new love, and he wants to be more of a complete man and father. It does not seem he wishes to see her seriously hurt, and he certainly does not consider ways in which he could be hurt.

If Asami was to tell her of her previous abuse, and how she had run away from it, he might have admired her ability to survive hardship. He most certainly wanted to become a husband and avoid anything that causes the marriage to fail. In fact, he appeared to be loyal to his wife during her stay in the hospital, and for some time after she died.

Ultimately, "Audition" is sort of a twisted family drama about how, rather than trying to resolve the issues, characters can be deeply disturbed by them and hold them as secrets. It's like Aoyama collides with an oncoming train, but he only sees it as a possible future wife. Oh, and it should be said that this film may fill you with disgust if you are the type who finds it to be disturbing to watch others get tortured. It happens here. Don't say I didn't warn you.

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About the Creator

Wade Wainio

Wade Wainio writes stuff for Show Snob, Undead Walking, Pophorror.com, Vents Magazine and Haunted MTL. He is also an artist, musician and college radio DJ for WMTU 91.9 FM Houghton.

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