It’s been a week since horror comedy Mom and Dad released on VOD and select theaters, and with it another delightfully bonkers performance by Nicolas Cage. While it’s Cage and Selma Blair’s performances as homicidal parents that really makes Brian Taylor’s latest worth the watch, it also brought the realization that there are very few horror films to feature murderous mothers and fathers. I can think of tons of horror films that pit lethal children against their parents, but not so much of the reverse. It makes sense, given that it’s considered a taboo to kill a child onscreen, and that often this subgenre of horror is used to explore the fears of being a parent. But when horror explores the frustration that comes with dealing with rearing an unruly child? That usually equates to some magic on screen, as mom and dad unleash their inner rage toward their offspring. In honor of those moms and dads that sometimes need a break from their kids, here are horror’s 10 most pushed-to-the-edge, homicidal parents:
Mommy and Daddy – The People Under the Stairs
Fool (Brandon Adams) uncovers one of the most warped families in horror when he decides to break in and steal from the landlords evicting his family from their apartment. Referring to themselves as Mommy and Daddy (Wendy Robie and Everett McGill), the Robeson’s really, really love the idea of family. There’s just one problem; their child needs to be absolutely perfect. Which is why they’ve got a basement full of discarded, imperfect children, each one missing ears, tongues, and parts for violating Mommy and Daddy’s speak no evil, hear no evil, and see no evil rules. Those kids are forced to then turn to cannibalism to survive. The longer Fool spends in the house, the more twisted Mommy and Daddy become; it turns out they’re incestuous sibling lovers! Mommy and Daddy became absolutely unhinged when Fool tried taking their new daughter Alice away, but let’s be real. They were crazy from the start.
Marie and Alan Russell – Oculus
Mike Flanagan’s horror film about an antique mirror that caused death and bad luck to any that possessed it was full of psychological mind games, courtesy of said mirror. But the film was at its most intense during the past, set 11 years prior to the film’s present, where 10-year-old Tim and his 12-year-old sister Kaylie watched their parents slowly descend into homicidal psychosis under the mirror’s sway. Mom Marie turns first, first ceasing to take care or feed her kids then attempting to murder them until dad Alan intervenes. But it doesn’t take long for Alan to want to kill his kids either. The scariest is when they discover mom chained to a wall like an animal, only to find she’s broken her teeth and reduced to her most primitive, predatory instincts. Of all of the mirror’s tricks, the scariest was turning Kaylie and Tim’s parents into murderous shells of their former selves.
Jerry Blake/Henry Morrison/Bill Hodgkins – The Stepfather
The chilling opening in which actor Terry O’Quinn’s character washes blood off himself before altering his appearance sets the tone and the character’s MO; the titular stepfather seeks out single mothers to marry in search of the perfect, ready-made family. When that new family is revealed to be less than ideal or perfect, he cuts and run. Literally. I’m sure his psychotic nature has a little something to do with it, too. Operating under the alias Jerry Blake, he marries widow Susan Maine and spends a lot of time trying to bond with skeptical teen daughter Stephanie, murdering anyone that gets in his way. But the more Stephanie behaves like a normal teen, the more irked Jerry becomes until his homicidal nature gives way to an explosive showdown.
Jack Torrance – The Shining
Before the ghosts of the isolated Overlook Hotel deteriorated Jack’s mind and fueled his rage toward his wife Wendy and son Danny, he wasn’t exactly father of the year material. A severe temper and alcoholism, characteristics Jack picked up from his own father, eventually gave way to a burst of rage where he broke Danny’s arm. Which means that Wendy gets a little side-eye too for staying with him. Nonetheless, with the trio stuck together for the duration of winter Jack’s temper rears its nasty head, and his growing hatred for Wendy and Jack crescendos into a relentless homicidal pursuit. If it weren’t for the freezing blizzard and Danny’s shining ability, Jack may have very well succeeded in murdering his family. The restless evil in the hotel did everything they could to assist.
Mom – Baby Blues
Set in the ‘80s and based on the 2001 harrowing case of Andrea Yates, this horror film is unflinching and dark. Though not particularly gory (well, mostly), it’s not for the faint of heart as the film is unafraid to show the slaughter of the children. Mom (Colleen Porch) suffers a psychotic break by way of postpartum depression instigated by her husband hitting the road once again on truck driving duty, leaving her alone with her four kids. Horrifying, tense, and heartbreaking, writer/co-director Lars Jacobson takes the bold approach by delivering a straight-forward horror devoid of humor with a very delicate subject matter.
Don – 28 Weeks Later
Though most of the film is set 28 weeks after the outbreak of the first film, the opening established Robert Carlyle’s Don as selfish coward during the initial outbreak, where he leaves his wife for dead when the infected break into the house they’ve been barricaded in. Once the infected begin to die off from starvation, widower Don is reunited with his children in a military safe zone. Don is downright shocked when his children discover their mother to still be alive. It turns out she’s an asymptomatic carrier of the virus, but it’s not something that occurs to Don when he kisses her in a guilt-stricken apology. Now infected, Don goes on a violent rampage, slaughtering anyone in his path, but it’s his children that he wants to destroy the most; pursuing them nonstop as they flee the re-infected city.
Margaret White – Carrie
Poor Carrie White. From the moment you meet her mother, you can’t help but understand and sympathize with the awkward teen. Margaret White (Piper Laurie) is a bit unhinged from the beginning, a religious zealot so strong in her fervor that her treatment and punishments of Carrie are flat out child abuse. Margaret was understandably pushed to madness thanks to a drunken husband that raped her, an act in which Carrie was conceived, but she’s held it against her daughter ever since. Though Carrie finally learns to stand up for herself, Margaret’s smiling face as she stabs her daughter is bone-chilling.
Kent McCoy – Clown
In Kent’s defense, his slaughter of children doesn’t come from mental anguish but from demonic forces. He’s a loving husband and father that just happens to don a clown resembling skin of a European demon for the sake of entertaining at his son’s birthday party. As the demon takes root, Kent directs his new-found hunger for children toward his son’s bullies. And that’s only after suicide failed. Alas, the demon slowly takes over, and the bodies begin piling up, and Kent’s son Jack becomes the most enticing thing on the menu. When it comes to demonic possession, a father’s love isn’t always enough.
Nick and Lily Laemle – Parents
Only child Michael is a strange boy that often dreams of massive pools of blood. Growing up in 1954 suburbia, his parents are the picture-perfect couple. With dad bringing home the meat, and mom cooking meals that would make Betty Crocker proud, they’re a little upset Michael refuses to eat meat. That’s probably because Michael discovers that the meat dad brings home is human meat, and his parents are cannibals. Nick just wants Michael to be a chip off the ol’ block, resorting to assertive measures to get Michael to participate in the family diet. When Michael is rebellious, well, dad doesn’t take it very well. If your kid refuses to eat people, I guess you can always start over and make another?
Grace Stewart – The Others
This World War II set supernatural thriller introduces us to Nicole Kidman’s Grace as an overbearing mom from the get-go. Living with her two children in a remote country house while her husband is away at war, she keeps the kids locked inside due to their uncommon sensitivity to sunlight. Shortly after hiring help, strange occurrences begin to take place. As they grow, she can’t tell if she’s cracking under the pressure of raising her kids alone or if her house is haunted. She even starts attacking her own children when mistaking them for strangers. Enter one of horror’s biggest twists (obvious spoiler ahead) – Grace and her children aren’t among the living, but ghosts haunting the new inhabitants of Grace’s home. Depressed and isolated, Grace snapped and murdered her children before ending her own life. Where most homicidal parents in horror fail, Grace succeeded. We just didn’t know it yet.