Stranger Danger is a total crock. We all know that we are statistically more likely to be maimed or murdered by someone we know (and love). In honor of the looming Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, these films offer depictions of terrible parents who help us appreciate the moms and dads in our own lives. Some of the most memorable performances in horror come from ghastly guardians who remind us that being a parent ain’t that easy. What follows is a chronological list of horror films whose parents make us think twice about “Home Sweet Home.” Thanks mom and dad for everything! (Especially, for not being skin-suit wearing psychopaths….or at least for hiding that side of things from us.)
Warning: There may be a few plot spoilers in here!
Carrie (1976): Aahhhh, what better way to start a list than with the genius of Piper Laurie as Margaret White. Good ol’ Maggs added the phrase “dirty pillows” to our vernacular and at the same time scared the bejesus out of us. I am sure this mom had the best intentions when trying to cleanse her daughter, but her misguided zeal gave us one scary shot as she snapped on Carrie while reciting the Lord’s Prayer.
The Shining (1980): Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance seems like a great dad at first. I mean he tries to whisk his family away to live in an isolated mountain getaway. Hell, living in a hotel worked out great for Eloise in all those children’s books…why wouldn’t this work out? Well, turns out that Jack is about as good at planning family events as Clark Griswold. This one blew up big time when Jack started drinking whiskey with the ghosts in the Gold Room and chasing after his family. Domestic violence reaches new heights in this 80’s gem.
Friday the 13th (1980): I guess one could argue that Pamela Voorhees is just a little over-protective. Maybe she is just suffering from survivor’s guilt, but nonetheless Pamela makes this list for being just a little cray-cray. We’ve all been a little embarrassed by our parents at some point (I’m sure we embarrass our parents countless more times), but nothing is more embarrassing than being shown up by your own mom. As the O.G. of slashers, Pamela Voorhees slices and dices her way to the top of the Freudian crisis list in this category.
Hellraiser (1987): You had to know there would be a few evil step parents in this list. Horror and Disney love a great evil step-parent. I love Clare Higgins as Julia Cotton in this film. Julia crosses so many lines in this family it is hard to figure out where to start. As the classic interloper, she is Kirsty Cotton’s worst nightmare, as the wicked unfaithful step-mother lures men from bars back to the house to feed her skinless lover.
The Stepfather (1987): I am sure this classic comes as no shock given this list. Terry O’Quinn as Jerry Blake is the classic family annihilator and all around prick. This guy makes a living of laying waste to his own family members and shows no signs of stopping. He scares off Stephanie’s boyfriend, kills her therapist, and at the first signs of disappointment, he tries to kill everyone. I mean it’s one thing to be a perfectionist, but Jerry Blake is a tad high strung…and maybe a little over-reactive.
Flowers in the Attic (1987): Yes, we could all sit here and argue that Flowers in the Attic isn’t really horror; however, it is still arguably one of the most terrifying tales to hit the screen. This film is a two-for in bad parenting because both the mother (Victoria Tennant as Corrine Dollanganger) and the grandmother (Louise Fletcher as Olivia Foxworth) offer us plenty of advice on how NOT to be a successful parent. Hell, I grew up in a WASPy family, but these folks take hiding your secrets to a whole new level. First lesson: don’t have kids with your brother because that could have avoided a whole heap of problems. These women are callous queens who show no signs of maternal instinct.
Parents (1989): Those of you who read my bits, know I love my horror comedy. This list would be a whole lot less fun without a few of my dark, comedic gems. Parents shares with us the dual horrors of suburbia and seeing your parents having sex (ugh). Little Michael is convinced his parents are cannibals and much to his chagrin they also kill his guidance counselor, chase him around the house with weapons, and try to make him eat meat sandwiches. This is a vegetarian’s worst nightmare.
Society (1989): Ever feel like an alien in your own family? Well so did Bill Whitney in the film Society. He starts to feel out of place when his sister’s ex-boyfriend gives him a tape recording of what sounds like his parents engaged in an orgy. Then he sees his parents and his sister chillin’ in some lingerie. As if that is not damaging enough, Billy walks in on his parents’ formal party which melds into something that looks like an orgy covered in silly putty with some cannibalism added.
Serial Mom (1994): Did you say pussy willows!? Hands down, this is my favorite movie on this list! More of a black comedy, but one has to appreciate this film for its homage to horror nonetheless. Who doesn’t want the bragging rights that go along with having a serial killer for a mother? However, there is a downside when she sets your friends on fire and shows her beaver to Marvin Pickles in court, but I can’t argue with her fervor for recycling. Kathleen Turner as Beverly Sutphin is absolutely astounding and I would be a total jerk if I didn’t include a link to this scene:
Frailty (2001): Back to bad dads. Bill Paxton as Dad Meiks is a horrible role model. Most dads teach their kids to play catch, but this one enlists his kids as helpers to cleanse the world of demons disguised as humans. It’s one thing to fight for what you believe in, but it’s another to slaughter people in front of the kids…that’s just parenting 101. Some things should just be done in private don’t you think?
The Others (2001): Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) doesn’t seem like a bad parent. She is a stay-at-home mother who supports and protects her kids. She even alters her life to accommodate their strange photosensitivity. She provides structure and shelters her kids when she thinks there is something awry in the house. But when we find out what happened on “that day,” we learn that Grace just isn’t mommy material.
Hide and Seek (2005): As someone who works in social services, I have seen my share of kids who hold it together better than their parents. However, Emily Callaway (Dakota Fanning) really has her work cut out for her when it comes to juggling her father’s mental meltdown after her mother’s suicide. Robert De Niro as David Callaway is not the ideal father. There is nothing worse than inconsistent parenting and, boy, Emily never knows which side of her father will rear his ugly head. Fearful of her father’s unpredictability, Emily is forced to keep her father’s secrets. In this case, an absentee father would be a welcoming thought.
The Girl Next Door (2007): Technically Ruth Chandler (Blanche Baker) is Meg and Sue’s aunt but she is the mother to the horrible children Willie, Donnie, and Ralphie—and possibly the most horrific example of a mother on this list. In short, Ruth is a vile creature devoid of emotion. Blanch Baker does such a good job in this role and I couldn’t help but hate her character. Aunt Ruth has terrible boundaries with the neighborhood kids: she lets them drink beer, cuss, and did I mention… torture people in the basement. She, too, acts out her self-loathing by lashing out at her nieces in unspeakable ways. After watching this film, I am even more eternally grateful for the parents I have.