Alexander Sebastian, Notorious (1946): Despite working within the tight moral confines of the thriller genre, Alfred Hitchcock liked to sneak in a certain complexity. Case in point: While the good guys (Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant) get to fall smugly in love, their task leaves as collateral damage Claude Rains’ weirdly sympathetic ex-Nazi. Upon discovering Bergman’s love for him was an act, part of a mission for the Americans, this sexless, loveless toad seeks consolation from his mother (Leopoldine Konstantin). She then convinces him to slowly poison the woman who broke his heart.
Cody Jarrett, White Heat (1949): Under the Production Code, you could have a charismatic baddie as your protagonist as long as you made sure to punish him or her in the end. James Cagney’s cackling psycho not only gets an explosive exit, but he spends the film devoted to Margaret Wycherly’s “Ma” Jarrett, going full-on beserk when she dies. Awwwww.
Lord Bullingdon, Barry Lyndon (1975): Ryan O’Neal’s scheming social climber winds up no match for his wealthy wife’s son (Leon Vitali), a simpering, whining, sniveling little bitch who cradles his mother’s leg well into his late teens. By the end, his adoration for his mom has curdled into ruthless domination.
Michael, Burial Ground (1981): Distractingly played by a 25-year-old midget with a bad toupee, this scion of a wealthy family is so attached to the matriarch that, when he succumbs to the besieging zombies, he leans in for a breastfeeding to end all filmic breastfeedings.
Fenix, Santa Sangre (1989): Norman Bates dressed up as his mom; this circus kid turned feral nutcase in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s post- El Topo bugfuck doesn’t go quite that far. After his mom’s arms are sliced off, he becomes her lost limbs, standing behind her and helping on her gruesome murder spree. This, mind you, is the film’s least strange aspect.
Cyrus, Cyrus (2010): Well, hey, if your mom looked like Marisa Tomei, you’d be a knife-wielding, boyfriend-fucking-with sociopath, too.
Neil Barsky’s "Koch" Keeps It Light