john cribbs

Mother's Day is a time to acknowledge the love and sacrifice our moms have offered us all our lives, right? So it would be a bad idea to spoil the occasion by making things uncomfortable after innocently throwing on a movie for the two of you to watch together. In that spirit, here is a list of movies filled with disfunctuntional or otherwise unhealthy relationships between a mother and her child/children to specifically avoid watching with mom this May 9th. 


    MILDRED PIERCE, michael curtiz

The mother: Mildred Pierce Beragon (Joan Crawford)

The child: Veda Pierce Forrester (Ann Blyth)

The complication: Class conflict

The relationship: Housewife Mildred Pierce moves from aprons to fur coats after her husband leaves her and she opens a successful restaurant. She's a selfless mother, doing everything she can to insure happiness for her two kids, but eldest daughter Veda is an ungrateful, elitist brat who looks down on Mildred for making her way up in the world through simple hard work and dedication. However she doesn't have any problem spending mom's money, and after a while starts smoking and speaking in pretentious French phrases. Everybody sees that the daughter is poison, but Mildred assures them:"You don't know what it's like being a mother. Veda's a part of me. Maybe she didn't turn out as well as I hoped she would when she was born, but she's still my daughter and I can't forget that." Mildred ends up marrying a man she doesn't love so that Veda can maintain the kind of lifestyle she's become accustomed to.

Motherly sentiment: "Get out, Veda! Get your things out of this house before I throw them into the street and you with them! Get out before I kill you!"

One redeeming aspect: Mildred and Veda console each other after the tragic death of the younger daughter.

Special Mother's Day gift: Four bullets through the husband and a frame-up for murder.

Resolution: The husband manages to bankrupt Mildred and ruin the restaurant, AND hook up with Veda. But when he rejects her, Veda shoots him to death. Mildred tries to take the rap but the cops figure out the truth and arrest the miserable kid. The audience cheers.

(Don't) see also: The Reckless Moment (Max Ophüls, 1949), Stella Dallas (King Vidor, 1937)

    THE SIGN OF THE RAM, john sturges

The mother: Leah St. Aubyn (Susan Peters) 

The children: Grown stepkids Jane (Allene Roberts), Logan (Ross Ford) and Christine (Peggy Ann Garner)

The complication: Manipulation

The relationship: Leah, the pathological wheelchair-bound matriarch of an English family living in a great Gothic pile called Bastion on the Cornish coast, uses her physical disadvantage to cynically manipulate all those around her. Since she sustained her original injury rescuing two of her stepchildren from drowning, she holds her handicap over them using guilt and psychological domineering. With eager-to-please stepdaughter Christine as her tool, she coldly destroys Jane's relationship with a young man she's in love with, and her machinations almost drive Logan's fiance to suicide. As the family realizes what she is doing, she becomes even more calculating and mentally unbalanced.

Motherly sentiment: "I hate you; I hate your whole family!"

One redeeming aspect: Hardly any, although Leah seems to care more about the kids than the oblivious husband.

Special Mother's Day gift: A little poison in the cup of the family's suspicious secretary. 

Resolution: After being convinced by Leah to poison the secretary, Christine takes an overdose of pills in a misguided attempt to protect her stepmother. Once she and the secretary recover, she declares her intention to leave for boarding school, prompting Leah to smash a picture of her biological mother right in front of her. Shortly after, Leah throws herself into the ocean. That's so Aries!

(Don't) see also: The Little Foxes (William Wyler, 1941)

     THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, john frankenheimer

The mother: Mrs. Iselin (Angela Lansbury) 

The child: Son Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey)

The complication: Brainwashing 

The relationship: At first it seems that Sgt. Raymond Shaw's mother is merely a publicity-seeking senator's wife using her son's heroics in the Korean War to advance her husband's bid for the vice presidency. That's enough for Raymond to admit to her face that he "loathes" her, so imagine his feelings after she reveals herself as an intregal player in a Communist plot to turn him into a brainwashed assassin. Soon Raymond has unwittingly murdered his way through mom's enemy list, even killing his own wife. "Why don't you pass the time by playing a little solitaire?"

Motherly sentiment: "I know you will never entirely comprehend this, Raymond, but you must believe I did not know it would be you. I served them. I fought for them. I'm on the point of winning for them the greatest foothold they would ever have in this country. And they paid me back by taking your soul away from you. I told them to build me an assassin. I wanted a killer from a world filled with killers and they chose you because they thought it would bind me closer to them. But now, we have come almost to the end. One last step. And then when I take power, they will be pulled down and ground into dirt for what they did to you. And what they did in so contemptuously underestimating me!"

One redeeming aspect: At least mom's conspiracy included brainwashing other members of Raymond's squad into thinking they actually like him. 

Special Mother's Day gift: One dead muckraking journalist, one dead political opponent, and - if everything falls right - one dead presidential nominee (and most moms won't tell you exactly what to get them!)

Resolution: Able to break his conditioning with the help of the major from his squad, Raymond ignores orders to assassinate the presidential candidate and instead pops mom and stepdad before turning the gun on himself. 

(Don't) see also: Jonathan Demme's 2004 remake (it's actually decent!)

    PRETTY POISON, noel black

The mother: Mrs. Stepanek (Beverly Garland)

The child: Sue Ann Stepanek (Tuesday Weld)

The complication: Matricide

The relationship: Chain-smoking, man-hopping, slap-happy Mrs. Stepanek doesn't like daughter Sue Ann using "unladylike" words like "crud," and she doesn't like her hanging out with weirdo Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins.) She considers him a bad influence, not guessing that he's really just a convenient way for Sue Ann to get mother out of the picture for good.

Motherly sentiment: "You dumb little slut!" "You tramp!" "Sue Ann, I'm sure Mr. Pitt doesn't want to see you acting like a brat!"

One redeeming aspect: Mom makes Sue Ann pancakes, although she prefaces the request with "It's your figure!"

Special Mother's Day gift: Four bullets from a gun as mom ascends the stairs.

Resolution: Licking her teeth lasciviously, Sue Ann plugs her mother in front of a shocked Dennis. Spent, she lies down on her bed and softly hums, "She wasn't frightened at all! She just looked a little surprised. I feel like we're married now, don't you Dennis? Like, really married?" Dennis doesn't know how to respond, but Sue Ann's already gotten what she wants.

(Don't) see also: Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade (George Hickenlooper, 1993)

     THE MUSIC LOVERS, ken russell 

The mother: Mother (Maureen Pryor)

The child: Daughter Antonina Milyukova (Glenda Jackson) 

The complication: Exploitation

The relationship: In Ken Russell's nasty, sensationalistic, and loud (my wife refers to it as "the screaming movie") biopic, Nina's scheming, opportunistic mother drops by uninvited shortly after her daughter's marriage to Tchaikovsky, a loveless union that does nothing but drain the composer of his musical inspiration. When Tchaikovsky abandons his wife for life at the country home of a benefactor, the mother takes advantage of Nina's descent into grief and delusion by pimping her daughter out to men who want to boast about banging Tchaikovsky's wife. She convinces Nina that each one is a famous composer who loves her. Yikes.

Motherly sentiment: "She's a good girl, you'll see. You'll be very proud of her!"

One redeeming aspect: ...Nope, can't think of anything.

Special Mother's Day gift: It's Ken Russell, so what else? A spiral into madness and nymphomania.

Resolution: Nina goes insane waiting for Tchaikovsky to return, ending up in a filthy mental institution. Her mother visits her and is horrified to see what she's become, especially when Nina walks to a grate of lecherous, reaching hands, lifts her skirt, and allows the disgusting denizens of the asylum to have at her loins. Jesus, Ken Russell!

(Don't) see also: Tommy (Ken Russell, 1975)

     MURMUR OF THE HEART, louis malle

The mother: Clara Chevalier (Lea Massari) 

The child: Laurent Chevalier (Benoît Ferreux)

The complication: Infatuation

The relationship: Laurent, a 14-year-old French philosophy and American jazz enthusiast, is doted upon by his gorgeous, freckled Italian mother (who calls him "Renzino") to such an extent that his father scolds her and his brothers tease him. Already awkward around girls, Laurent is further upset by his mother's extramarital affairs. He develops a heart murmur and Clara takes him to a stuffy sanitarium in the country for treatment. While there, he becomes jealous of her flirting with other guys, spies on her as she bathes and dresses in her clothes while she's away.

Motherly sentiment: (playfully) "You're behaving like a husband! Worse! Your father never carried on like this. You're my prying little French husband. My bourgeois, malicious, jealous and bad-tempered little husband!"

One redeeming aspect: It's always good to have a caring mother. 

Special Mother's Day gift: His cherry.

Resolution: After spliting with the man she was carrying on an affair with, Clara is consoled by Laurent and the two spend all their time together. Returning to their room after a party they end up in bed together. The next morning she tells him "I don't want you to be unhappy, or ashamed, or sorry. We'll remember it as a very beautiful and solemn moment that will never happen again...I'll remember it without remorse, tenderly." This seems to satisfy him, and free him up sexually. And as wrong as it sounds, it's actually a touching conclusion from a narrative point of view.

(Don't) see also: The 400 Blows (Francois Truffaut, 1959), The Tin Drum (Volker Schlondorff, 1979), The Miracle (Neil Jordan, 1990), Spanking the Monkey (David O Russell, 1994), Ma Mere (Christophe Honoré, 2004)

     CARRIE, brian de palma

The mother: Margaret White (Piper Laurie) 

The child: Carrie White (Sissy Spacek)

The complication: Jesus (who, it turns out, hates you)

The relationship: Religious supernut Margaret White disapproves of her daughter's menstrating, her dating, her "dirty pillows," her use of her telekinetic "curse" and, as it turns out, her entire existence. Any attempt on poor Carrie's part to stand up for herself leads to lots of bible thumpin' (and head thumpin' WITH bible) and trips to the closet. When she chooses to accept a popular boy's invitation to the prom, her mother goes apeshit, warning her daughter that "They're all gonna laugh at you!"

Motherly sentiment: "The first sin was intercourse. The first sin was intercourse. Repeat it! The first sin was intercourse."

One redeeming aspect: At least Margaret lets Carrie eat apple cake (even though it gives her pimples, which is the lord's way of chastising.)

Special Mother's Day gift: Flying cutlery.

Resolution: Carrie goes to the prom, which ends in a bloodbath after a cruel prank ignites her wrath upon the school. Returning home, Carrie is attacked by her mother and defends herself by causing knives and other kitchenware to fly across the room and impale Margaret to the wall in a Christ-like position. Then the house collapses around both of them. 

(Don't) see also: Ruby (Curtis Harrington, 1977), Patrick (Richard Franklin, 1978) The Ugly (Scott Reynolds, 1997)

    PSYCHO II, richard franklin

The mother: Emma Spool/Norma Bates (Claudia Bryar) 

The child: Son Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins)

The complication: A whole lotta murders

The relationship: Largely inactive at the beginning, considering Norman murdered his mother as a child and, after carrying out a murder spree while wearing her dress (see original movie), he's spent the last several years in a mental institution, her mummified corpse taken away from him. But after being released, he returns to the Bates Motel with memories of toasted cheese sandwiches she used to make for him when he was in bed with a temperature fresh in his memory. Then more people start to turn up dead, and mother starts phoning Norman to say hello.

Motherly sentiment: "Only your mother truly loves you."

One redeeming aspect: Although absent, Norman is the victim rather than the victimizer when mom's not around.

Special Mother's Day gift: A nice cup of tea.

Resolution: After learning of a plot to try and drive him crazy, Norman is approached by motel neighbor Emma Spool, who is not only the actual murderer but also Norman's actual mother! She explains how her sister raised Norman as her own while she, the real Norma Bates, was institutionalized. The reunion is short lived however: as Emma/Norma sips a cup of tea, Norman kills her with a shovel. He carries her body upstairs, already arguing with the corpse as he sets it in its proper place in the car by the window. 

(Don't) see also: Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad (Alexander MacKendrick, 1967), I Dismember Mama (Paul Leder, 1972)

   MOMMIE DEAREST, frank perry

The mother: Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway)

The child: Adopted daughter Christina Crawford (Mara Hobel and Diane Scarwid)

The complication: Perfection

The relationship: Convinced that she needs to share her "wonderful, advantaged life" with some unfortunate orphans, movie star Joan Crawford brings little Christina into her home. Although she spoils her new daughter and throws elaborate birthdays, she makes her give all her gifts away and beats her in forced races across the swimming pool ("I'm bigger and I'm faster - I'll always beat you!") Career pressures transform the doll stealing, flower massacring, forceful hair-brushing/cutting mommie dearest's anal retentiveness into full-blown psychosis. Throughout her childhood, Tina is made to eat raw meat ("for the vitamins"), get up in the middle of the night for impromptu bathroom tile scrubbing and just say no to wire hangers.

Motherly sentiment: "I'm not mad at you, I'm mad at the DIRT!"

One redeeming aspect: Tina's "I love you" is enough to bring mommie out of her darkest depression after being dumped from her Warner Brothers contract; when she goes to the hospital with abdominal cramps the first thing grown Tina does is call her mom.

Special Mother's Day gift: The tell-all biography that inspired the movie, which it alludes to with Tina's final promise to "have the last word." 

Resolution: Even as an adult, Crawford makes embarrassing attempts to show up her daughter, the funniest when she steals Christina's TV part while her daughter is in the hospital. When she dies, she leaves nothing to her two children "for reasons which are well known to them." How are they going to afford anything but wire hangers now?

(Don't) see also: Postcards from the Edge (Mike Nichols, 1990)

   FRANCES, graeme clifford

The mother: Lillian Farmer (Kim Stanley)

The child: Daughter Frances Farmer (Jessica Lange)

The complication: Envy

The relationship: Chewed up and spit out by Hollywood, actress Frances Farmer finds herself arrested and sent to a mental health facility. Once she's released to the custody of her mother, her rights as an adult unlawfully stripped away, things become much worse. Her mother is the worst example of a person who doesn't understand why Frances would reject a seemingly glamorous lifestyle and, having lived vicariously through her daughter's success, Lillian tries to force Frances back into the spotlight. For a woman as fiercely independent as Frances, it's unbearable to be anywhere near this woman as she treats her to condescending assurances like "When you get well, you're going to thank me."

Motherly sentiment: "Selfish, selfish child!...You had to throw it all away! You had it all! Beauty, a brilliant career, a wonderful are a movie star! Just throw it away! Just throw it away and become a NOBODY!"

One redeeming aspect: You could argue that Lillian genuinely doesn't understand what she's doing and thinks it's best for Frances...but you'd be wrong.

Special Mother's Day gift: Throwing mom to the ground and threatening "I swear to god, you follow me this time I will fucking kill you!" 

Resolution: After Frances tries to run away from Seattle, Lillian commits her to an even more hellish insane asylum where she is raped by orderlies, receives regular shock treatment and is ultimately lobotomized (although it should be said that this section, like most of the movie, is hugely fictionialized.)

(Don't) see also: The better, more factually accurate Committed: The True Story of Frances Farmer (Sheila McLaughlin & Lynne Tillman, 1984), An Angel at My Table (Jane Campion, 1990)

     THE GRIFTERS, stephen frears

The mother: Lilly (Anjelica Huston) 

The child: Son Roy (John Cusack)

The complication: The film's belief that all relationships, like life, are one big grift.

The relationship: One of "car crash fascination" in the words of Anjelica Huston. Roy is a small time grifter, interested only in the "short con," while his estranged mother Lilly works hedging bets for a scary bookie at various race tracks. Their past is murky and has provided their current relationship with an uncomfortable tension further complicated by the presence of no-good Myra (Annette Bening), who happens to look at lot like Lilly.

Motherly sentiment: "Goes like anything else, Roy: you don't stand still you either go up or down, usually down, sooner or later."

One redeeming aspect: Lilly tries to buy a nurse for Roy to "fuck," but he rejects the offer. Ungrateful kid!

Special Mother's Day gift: None...which is why Roy ain't making it to next Mother's Day.

Resolution: On the run from the bookie and the law, Lilly tries to steal Roy's hard-earned cash. He catches her in the act and refuses to give her the money. After a failed seduction where she claims not to be his real mother, she kills him by swinging a suitcase at his throat while he's taking a sip of water, forcing broken glass into his neck. She moans horribly for a minute, then quickly recovers, takes the money, and descends down the (hell)evator. Incidentally this movie is so fucking good you SHOULD watch it - tell mom to take a hike.

(Don't) see also: White Heat (Raoul Walsh, 1949), Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)

    DEAD ALIVE/BRAINDEAD, peter jackson

The mother: Vera Cosgrove (Elizabeth Moody)

The child: Son Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme)

The complication: Decomposition

The relationship: Lionel lives with his mum, having taken care of her ever since his father drowned when Lionel was just a child. Mum holds a tenuous grip on her son and looks to sabotage his relationship with a young woman he's dating until she is bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey and dies, only to rise from the dead as a rabid zombie. She eats a German shepherd, sheds bits of skin into her guests' custard and turns a half dozen others into monsters. Ever the faithful son, Lionel keeps her tied up in the cellar subdued with tranquilizers

Motherly sentiment: "No one will ever love you like your mother!"

One redeeming aspect: A growling, decomposing mom is slightly more tolerable than lecherous Uncle Les.

Special Mother's Day gift: A pointy amulet through the abdomen.

Resolution:After half the town is turned into zombies and dispatched by the blades of Lionel's giant lawnmower, mom mutates into a massive creature and forces her son back into the womb. He cuts his way out and sends her hurtling back into the burning house. (On second thought, maybe you do want to watch this one with your mother. She'll enjoy it if she's cool.)

(Don't) see also: Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (Sam Raimi, 1987), Ed and His Dead Mother (Jonathan Wacks, 1993)

   HEAVENLY CREATURES, peter jackson

The mother: Honora Parker Rieper (Sarah Peirse) 

The child: Daughter Pauline Parker (Melanie Lynskey)

The complication: Intimate friendship

The relationship: Initially tolerant but ultimately ill at ease with her daughter Pauline's intense relationship with schoolmate Juliet Hume (Kate Winslet), Honora, her husband and Juliet's parents try to keep the two apart. Pauline's frustrations transition into hatred for her mother, and when the Humes announce they're switching continents the girls plot to kill Honora in a futile attempt to stay together.

Motherly advise: "You're rude . . . rude and insolent! I don't see why I should keep a horrid child like you at school a minute longer...You go out there and get a job and you damn well pay your own way!"

One redeeming aspect: Pauline insists her mother "treat herself" with an extra tea cake, her last meal, before taking her out to the woods.

Special Mother's Day gift: A brick to the head.

Resolution: Pauline and Juliet brutally murder Honora on a remote path. Not surprisingly, it doesn't solve anything. (Peter Jackon's really has mother hang-ups, doesn't he? Frighteners also features a domineering mother. But the hobbits didn't have moms, did they? Weird.)

(Don't) see also: The Young Poisoner's Handbook (Benjamin Ross, 1995)

   MOTHER'S DAY, charles kaufman 

The mother: "Mother" (Rose Ross)

The children: Sons Ike (Holden McGuire) and Addley (Billy Ray McQuade)

The complication: Nothing - their relationship is perfectly healthy!

The relationship: Ike and Addley live to please their mother, mainly by terrorizing, assaulting and murdering anyone who happens upon their neck of the woods. Participating in horrific rape role playing scenarios like "Park Bench" and "The Shirley Temple" to appease their neck brace-wearing mom and make her "proud," the boys spend their non-killing time sharing a bunk bed with a Big Bird alarm clock and eating breakfast out of slop buckets. Despite living in a rundown house with graffiti-covered walls and a tattered John Travolta poster, she still makes them wipe their feet before coming in.

Motherly sentiment: "A hounddog that comes home with nothing in its mouth should keep it closed!"

One redeeming aspect: There's a genuinely touching scene where mom forgives Ike for failing to recapture the escaped women that actually sets you up quite nicely to almost sympathize with these horrible people just before they get what's coming to them.

Special Mother's Day gift: Three young women, abducted while camping nearby.

Resolution: The two surviving friends return to the house, hatchet Addley to death and drop a TV on Ike's head. Mild-mannered Abbey, further prompted by thoughts of her own nagging, needy mother, smothers mom to death with a giant set of inflated plastic breasts.

(Don't) see also: The upcoming remake. Make sure to avoid that one, with mom or without.



The Alien Queen in Aliens - If the Alien trilogy is in fact based on the three sections of Beowulf, as it has been suggested, you couldn't ask for a better Grendel's Mother than the big-headed, egg-pooping queen herself. She cares about all her acid-bleedin' babies, so much so that she stops at nothing to take vengeance on the petty human who flame-broiled all her eggs. Of course the irony is that her terrorizing of Ripley makes HER a better mother to the captive Newt...but I doubt she'd agree that it was worth it.

Madame Anna Sebastian (Leopoldine Konstantin) in Notorious - You remember her as sinister and murderous, but dude that's only towards American spy Ingrid Bergman, whose ultimate goal is to put her Nazi son (Claude Rains) behind bars! She obviously thinks that convincing Rains to slowly poison Bergman is going to save him from his fellow collaborators, and besides isn't Bergman a dirty lying double agent who infultrated HER house?



Rome Open City - Screw Meryl Streep! Whereas Sophie gave up her kid to the Nazis, Anna Magnani's Pina runs into the street to chase the Gestapo car taking her resistance-friendly fiance and is shot down like a dog. The image of Pina's son weeping over his mother's body is an iconic image of Italian Neo-realism.

Sansho the Bailiff - You don't have to be the former son of a disgraced governor torn away from his mother and sold into slavery while she finds herself forced into a life of prostitution and misery to feel for the unfortunate souls in Kenji Mizoguchi's tale of humanity. Their bittersweet reunion is one of the most memorable endings in all of Japanese cinema.

Aparajito - I believe the English title of this film was "Hey Dipshit, Quit Being An Asshole and Hang Out with Your Mom!" Seriously, you will want to call your own mother right away and tell her you love her through rivers of tears after the devastating final scenes of this second part in Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy. But snap out of it after affirming, "I'll be there for ya ma, I'm no pond of fireflies!" - otherwise you'll freak her out. 


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