When they used to make serial killer movies, the serial killers were guys. When they used to make serial killer movies, the serial killers used an axe or a chainsaw. When they used to make serial killer movies, the serial killers weren't happily married with children.
Hey, things change, and change is good.
Serial Mom is a serial killer so different from the norm that you have to laugh out loud. Sure, its got enough gore to satisfy any horror fan, but it also has a nice satiric edge to it, one that will make anyone with a dark sense of humor laugh.
Taking a stab (sorry, couldn't resist) at the golden age of television, you have Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Turner), who appears to be a nice mother on the surface but inside is a completely deranged serial killer. The motives for her crimes are silly breakings of social convention (cutting people off in the parking lot of Jo-Anne's fabric, standing a girl up at a flea market, eating chicken, wearing white shoes after labor day, etc.), to which she responds with a viscous psychopathic murder spree (is there any other kind?).
Her son is obsessed with horror movies, her husband a mild mannered dentist. Her daughter is a social reject, and she is a pillar of the community.
The film goes incredibly fast, displaying the time periodically at the bottom of the screen, so as you are constantly aware of how quickly the story is progressing in the scary world that the movie creates. As she kills, evades police officers, and goes on car chases, Beverly acts as if it was all a game (she's smiling and giggling all the time).
Almost a precursor to Scream (which ironically also featured Matthew Lillard), Serial Mom also picks on horror movies. A trio of teenagers is always watching them, and the movies are what initially piqued Beverly's fascination with gore. Of course, she only likes gore in the movies. When the time comes that she has to remove a bodily organ from the end of a fire poker, she's all "ewww."
A warning for potential viewers of this film: you must have a dark sense of humor. I'm not talking pseudo-dark. I'm not talking "I thought Scream was funny" dark. I'm talking laughed like Robert De Niro in Cape Fear during Very Bad Things dark. You've got to be able to find humor in the most pessimistic of situations, while keeping your mind open to the general gist of the movie (the McCarthy era was that of complete repression, which has potentially insane side effects), and that's very tough.
Another warning, this film is not for the weak of stomach. It's got gore all through, and has enough violence to generate a lobbyist feeding frenzy.
This film should also probably be seen as a warning against those that are fascinated and deify the violence on the screen. A highly comedic and strangely moral story, Serial Mom is a film that makes every other horror movie you have ever seen seem tame in comparison. It can function as a raw horror movie, but can only be truly appreciated outside of the realm of campy teenage viewing. Half of the jokes are too old for most teenagers to get, anyway.
Kathleen Turner shines as the psychopath, giving one of the most memorable performances as a villain in the 90s. Sam Waterson crawls out of his usual Law & Order shell as the husband of a serial killer. Mathew Lillard reminds me of Nicole Kidman's character in To Die For: someone willing to ride the hype wave of a murder for all that its worth. Ricki Lake actually gives a half decent performance, but she's under the skillful direction of John Waters (Pecker).
If you're not weak of stomach, heart, or mind, go see Serial Mom. If you are weak in any one of these three aspects, the film will murder you.
Run time: 95 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 13th April 1994
Distributed by: HBO Video
Production compaines: Savoy Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 60%
Fresh: 27 Rotten: 18
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: John Waters
Screenwriter: John Waters
Starring: Kathleen Turner as Beverly Sutphin, Sam Waterston as Eugene Sutphin, Ricki Lake as Misty Sutphin, Matthew Lillard as Chip Sutphin, Mink Stole as Dottie Hinkle, Traci Lords as Carl's Date, Suzanne Somers as Herself, Justin Whalin as Scotty, Tim Caggiano as Marvin Pickles, Scott Morgan as Detective Pike, Walt MacPherson as Detective Gracey, Patricia Dunnock as Birdie, Lonnie Horsey as Carl, Mary Jo Catlett as Rosemary Ackerman, John Badila as Mr. Stubbins, Kathy Fannon as Mrs. Sterner, Doug Roberts as Mr. Sterner, Jeff Mandon as Howell Hawkins, Colgate Salsbury as Father Boyce, Patsy Grady Abrams as Mrs. Jenson, Richard Pilcher as Herbie Hebden, Beau James as Timothy Nazlerod, Stan Brandorff as Judge, Kim Swann as Lu-Ann Hodges, Bus Howard as Gus, Alan J. Wendl as Sloppy, Patricia Hearst as Juror #8, Nancy Robinette as Jury Forewoman, Peter Bucossi as Rookie Cop, Loretto McNally as Policewoman, Wilfred E. Williams as Press A, Joshua L. Shoemaker as Court TV Reporter, Rosemary Knower as Court Groupie A, Susan Lowe as Court Groupie B, John Calvin Doyle as Carl's Brother, Mary Vivian Pearce as Book Buyer, Brigid Berlin as Mean Lady, Jordan Brown as Police Officer, Anthony 'Chip' Brienza as Vendor, Jeffrey Pratt Gordon as Flea Market Boy, Shelbi Clarke as Flea Market Girl, Nat Benchley as Macho Man, Kyf Brewer as Dealer, Teresa R. Pete as Baby's Mother, Zachary S. Pete as Church Baby, Richard Pelzman as Doorman, Chad Bankerd as Kid A, Johnny Alonso as Kid B, Robert Roser as Kid C, Mike Offenheiser as Joe Flowers, Lee Hunsaker as Girl, Michael S. Walter as Burglar A, Mojo Gentry as Burglar B, Gwendolyn Briley-Strand as Mrs. Taplotter, Jennifer Mendenhall as Reporter, Joan Rivers as Joan Rivers, Catherine Anne Hayes as TV Serial Hag, Susan Duvall as Lady C, Valerie Yarborough as Press, Jordan Young as Kid, L7 as Camel Lips, Jennifer Finch as Camel Lips, Suzi Gardner as Camel Lips, Demetra Plakas as Camel Lips, Donita Sparks as Camel Lips, John A. Schneider as Husband A, Lyrica Montague as Court Clerk
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