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Serial Mom (1994)
Serial Mom is a 1994 American dark satire written and directed by John Waters, starring Kathleen Turner as the title character, Sam Waterston as her husband, and Ricki Lake and Matthew Lillard as her children. Patty Hearst, Suzanne Somers, Joan Rivers, Traci Lords and Brigid Berlin make cameo appearances in the film. Movies by Waters' creative influences, including Russ Meyer, Otto Preminger, William Castle, and Herschell Gordon Lewis, are seen playing on television sets throughout the film. The film was screened out of competition at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. Though the beginning of the movie says that everything in it is true, when questioned, John Waters said he made it up as a gag. Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Turner) appears to be a typical suburban housewife living with her dentist husband Eugene (Sam Waterston) and their children, Misty (Ricki Lake) and Chip (Matthew Lillard) in the suburbs of Baltimore. Behind her chipper façade, however, she is a serial killer, murdering people over the smallest criticism, insult or slight.
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.