Monday, June 2, 2014

Serial Mom (1994)

John Waters has certainly made his fascination with true crime no secret. In addition to having a massive collection of true crime books and various items of memorabilia which includes a jar of dirt that allegedly came from John Wayne Gacy’s crawlspace (which he proudly displayed during for the camera during the episode of The Incredibly Strange Film Show UK documentary series dedicated to him), Waters has also shown his films in several Baltimore, MD jails and has admitted to being an audience member at many a trial, although he admits that came to an end once he started becoming more recognizable. In addition Waters has also been a vocal advocate over the years for the release of former Manson family member Leslie Van Houten. While the concept of criminal as celebrity was nothing new to Waters, having brilliantly utilized the idea in Female Trouble (1974), the concept for a film like Serial Mom couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. 1991 saw the debut of Court TV which meant constant trial coverage in real time and the more sensational the trial the better and sure enough thanks to the trial of the Menendez brothers ratings were through the roof and America couldn’t get enough, naturally making it the perfect fodder for Waters to lampoon. The result was 1994’s Serial Mom, one of the funniest and most spot-on parodies to come from Waters.

On the surface, Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Tuner) appears to be the archetypal suburban housewife. Loving mother to her son Chip (Matthew Lillard) and daughter Misty (Ricki Lake) and devoted wife to her dentist husband Eugene (Sam Waterston), Beverly is small town USA personified. There is however, a hidden side to Beverly, and for those who slight her family in any way or offend her high standards of decency the consequence is death and when more people turning up murdered in the Sutphin’s Baltimore suburb, Beverly becomes the main suspect, is eventually arrested and her subsequent trail becomes a media sensation drawing attention from across the nation as the public just cant get enough of “serial mom”.    

Along with sharing a kinship with the previously mentioned Female Trouble due to the celebrity criminal angle, Serial Mom could in some ways be considered Waters’ over the top riff on ideas found in films such as Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986). To go along with poking fun at America’s obsession with high profile trials Waters also satirizes so called boring suburban “normalcy” and the hypocrisy that is normally associated with such, all done with a sarcastic wink of the eye naturally. Of course this being Waters behind the camera the film as a whole is absolutely hysterical for those who share Waters deranged sense of humor and even those who haven’t seen the film should by now be well aware of the driving force behind the film, that being the performance of Kathleen Turner. Without Turner, who for lack of a better term “kills” every aspect of Beverly Sutphin, from enthusiastically singing along to Barry Manilow or bludgeoning someone to death with a leg of lamb, there would be no Serial Mom. Alongside Turner is one of the most impressive casts Waters ever assembled including the rest of the Sutphin clan, that being Sam Waterston who nails the “proper” suburban dad role, Ricki Lake and Matthew Lillard. Also making appearances are Waters regulars Traci Lords and Patty Hearst and the amazing Mink Stole who’s character of Dotty Hinkle lends herself to one of the most hilarious and quotable scenes of crank calling in all of cinema.

As if all that weren’t enough to make Serial Mom a perfect film, the great L7 even make a memorable appearance as “Camel Lips” performing “Gas Chamber”, a song the band wrote with Waters. Waters also pays tribute to H.G. Lewis by making Chip a fan of gore films and clips of Lewis’ Blood Feast (1963) are seen in the film which gives Waters an opportunity to take a jab at hyper moralists who feel horror films are a bad influence on kids. There is also an entire special feature on Universal’s fantastic DVD release of Serial Mom dedicated to Lewis and producer Dave Friedman with both men discussing their history and legacies with Waters chiming in on their influence. One of the most interesting things regarding Serial Mom mentioned by Waters on one of the features on the DVD is again, how perfect the timing was for a film like this to be made as it almost seemed to predict the fiasco that was the OJ Simpson murder trial, and there’s one particular scene in the film where which would come to resemble Simpson’s infamous Bronco chase witnessed on live TV, the irony of which was not lost on Waters. Any fan of the film should have the disc in their collection as its a more than commendable release for one of Waters’ best films. Absolutely brilliant satire from an undisputed master.


  1. its more humor than horror. pick better

    1. Guess you must have missed the "(Mostly) horror" part in the site header. Reading is a beautiful thing.