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Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Turner) seems to be a typical Betty Crocker
suburban housewife. Unfortunately, people are dropping like flies
around her! Could this perfect mom be a serial killer?
"Serial Mom" is a ridiculously charming and clever film that never really received the credit it deserved. It is John Waters' best mainstream film, and its tongue-in-cheek portrayal of suburbia, domesticity, the media, and conventional gender roles is delightfully subversive. Kathleen Turner was criminally underrated--this was her best performance to date. The dialogue is hilarious, the murders are wickedly funny, and the overall atmosphere of the film is disturbingly bright and shiny. Co-stars Waters regulars Mink Stole, Ricki Lake, Traci Lords, and features a dynamite cameo by grunge goddesses L7. My Rating: 9/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Just last year, Roger Ebert sang the praises of the serial killer B-movie
Kalifornia, citing it -- and vastly overestimating it -- as a brilliant
character study with something intelligent to say about our culture of
violence. While that film took itself way too seriously, Serial Mom
to get Kalifornia's attempted message across by a far more successful
humor. It is a John Waters film in the purest sense, in that it's entirely
IMpure. More edgy than his last movie, Cry-Baby, but not nearly as extreme
as Pink Flamingos, Serial Mom is filled to the brim with his trademark
over-the-top gross-out humor -- but this time it has a purpose. It tells
simple story of a conservative housewife (played indelibly by Kathleen
Turner) who murders whomever is unlucky enough to get on her nerves. While
her husband (acclaimed actor Sam Waterston in a different light) and two
children (Matthew Lillard and Ricki Lake) begin to suspect her criminal
nature, the suburban town's death toll rises as more and more people make
the mistake of p***ing her off. Turner's performance does for suburbia
Al Pacino in Scarface did for the mob: it wallows in its outlandish excess
(Oscar snub, anyone?). The murder scenes themselves are so outrageous
range from stabbing a man in the back with a poker and removing some
anonymous inner organ to lambasting a woman with a pot roast) that the
can't help but NOT be taken seriously, and this is where it makes its
As Stanley Kubrick did with A Clockwork Orange, Waters rubs our faces in
own inner obsession with violence -- but unlike others who have attempted
this feat, he remembers to do more than just condemn his audience. Rather,
he exposes us for what we really are -- and shows that he wouldn't have it
any other way. While others might have stopped as soon as Turner is
Waters keeps the story moving throughout her trial -- which features the
most entertaining act of courtroom self-defense since Woody Allen in
Bananas. One of her killings involves dropping the stage lights at a
on the head of her son's friend and then proceeding to set him on fire
the audience applauds her sadism, but Waters doesn't glorify the act:
the trial, the prosecutor displays photographs of the burnt corpse, but
everyone in the courtroom is distracted by the presence of Suzanne Somers.
Critics who have attacked Waters for being gratuitous are mistaken: he
show the consequences of the corrupt acts he depicts -- but he also
the sad truth, which is that no one really cares anymore. Along with
on our culture's passion for depravity, the film also addresses our OTHER
potentially dangerous problem: repressed conservative housewives. Having
life outside of the home, Turner is so obsessed with doing the best for
family that she's willing to (permanently) get rid of anyone who gets in
way. Rather than being frightening, her killings are just examples of how
soccer-mom perfectionism can go too far. In one scene, a future victim of
hers is watching Annie and singing along to "Tomorrow" while her dog licks
her feet: now THAT'S frightening.
An uproariously witty satire on "petty" bourgeois American values, John Waters brings his own distinctive madness to the screen by focussing on cardboard cut-out caricatures of pop culture Americana.
Turning his outrageous gaze on an archetypally perfect housewife and mother from the Baltimore suburbs in Maryland, supportive to her loving husband and teenage kids and possessing a real tlent for cooking, it appears that she is everything a stable, hard-working business man could want. However, there is a slight catch. She is also a serial killer.
Mom's tendency to take bloody revenge on any poor neighbouring housewife who fails to observe her rigid socially acceptable guidelines, like not recycling rubbish or driving too fast, is so barmy you are sure to find it absurdly and darkly funny. Kathleen Turner, alternating between dizzy, unquestioning devotion to her family and clinically cool, yet psychotic anger to offending neighbours, either appears to possess a martyr's yellow halo above her head, denoting divine lightness and freshness, or a focussed smile as she carefully contemplates her next victim.
If you are on the lookout for some perfectly vibrant, yet malicious black comedy, subscribe to "Serial Mom", one of the most ruthless, patronising skits on good manners and nosey, voyeuristic neighbours ever to hit the screen. If you like Waters' latest irreverent venture into visceral, cutting black humour, then get all his other movies, because they are all even more extreme and grotesque - "Pink Flamingos", "Hairspray", "Cry Baby" - all kitschy, underrated classics in their own right.
I saw Serial Mom for the first time as a fairly young kid, and thought
it was pretty good. I've just seen it for the first time as an adult,
and it turns out that I'd forgotten just how good this film really is!
It's certainly not to everyone's taste, and if you can't handle high
camp, you definitely don't want to see this; but if you like your films
wild and wicked, Serial Mom is a treat indeed! The film follows a
slasher plot line, but it's clear that director John Waters didn't want
to merely make a slash flick. The film is a parody of life as a
housewife, the media and modern society in general; with a heavy dosage
of sick humour and a very unique mean streak running throughout. Serial
Mom is the sort of film that puts a smile on your face, and it follows
the story of a not quite so normal American mother. While her fellow
housewives are cooking dinner and cleaning the house, Beverly R.
Sutphin is out dispatching people that have got on hers and her
family's nerves in a variety of nasty, yet hilarious, ways. Her kids
think it's cool, and her husband is duly worried...
Kathleen Turner takes the lead role, and does an excellent job of performing in a serious, yet jokey way; which does the film no end of favours on the parody front. She looks the part, acts the part...and really, I cant think of a better middle-aged actress to take the lead in this film. The support cast, which includes Matthew Lillard and Ricki Lake, is good; but it's the director that's the real star of the show. John Waters has made a name for himself by creating odd and twisted films, and although I haven't seen a great deal of them; Serial Mom is his best as far as I'm concerned. It's one of those films that constantly make you laugh (providing you've got a sick sense of humour), while poking fun at society and offending all the right people all at once! I love originality in movies, and this really is one unique film. The nineties saw the release of lots of obscure social commentaries that were lost under films like Schindler's List and Fight Club, and Serial Mom, along with Francois Ozon's 'Sitcom', is one of the best 'under the radar' films of the decade. It's not a film that everyone will like, but everyone should see it just in case!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Truly a dark comedy if there ever was one, this film won't be to everyone's
taste. I first saw it several years ago on network TV, immediately liked it,
but also realized that a fair amount of critical "flavor" had been bleeped
out of the movie due to editing it for television. So just recently I
purchased the DVD version, which gave me the opportunity to watch it in all
its unedited glory.
Kathleen Turner is awesome as mad housewife Beverly Sutphin (where DO they get these names?). I can't think of a modern actress who has such a commanding presence on the screen as Kathleen Turner, and here she uses it to full advantage. I don't know if it's her supreme confidence in the delivery of her lines, or her captivating facial expressions, or just the way she carries herself as a woman not to be trifled with, but somehow she grabs you by the ears and doesn't let go.
There is a goodly dose of carnage in the film, including a particularly gory scene where a guy gets skewered in the men's room with a fireplace poker, resulting in his liver being torn out. But in the capable hands of John Waters, plus the presence of Kathleen Turner in the scene, it all just seems so natural, and perfectly hilarious. Here I couldn't help thinking about the great film "Harold and Maude" (1971), where Bud Cort's character fakes his own suicide various times throughout the film, and by golly, he made suicide actually seem FUNNY! You get the same reaction from "Serial Mom", where Beverly Sutphin's murders come across as being somewhat on the level of laugh-inducing college pranks.
The cinematography is superb, the co-stars (Sam Waterston, Mink Stole, Ricki Lake, Matthew Lillard, Patricia Hearst, Traci Lords, et al) are spot-on well cast, the pacing is excellent, and the film wraps with a very satisfying denouement.
Granted, the film is not for the squeamish, nor for those who are averse to John Waters. But for those who can deal with a whimsical horror film, I would recommend seeing this and get the DVD version if possible, as the director's commentary by John Waters is worth the rental price. I actually purchased the DVD, as I want this one in my permanent video library. I only wish they would make a sequel. Perhaps, "Serial Mom joins the PTA".
This film won't be to everyone's liking, but is certainly an all-time
favorite of mine. Only a film like this can combine so many great elements
into one entertaining movie.
Kathleen Turner is just purely brilliant as sweet mother Beverly Sutphin, who would look more at home in a show like Bewitched. However, we soon learn that she's not all that she seems. I love any movie that takes a classic element (in this case the innocent housewife) and completely turns it on its head.
And so the film leads us on a journey through Beverly Sutphin's life and motivations. The film grabs on, and doesn't let go, keeping the pace until the very last scene.
In bad taste? Well, yes. Sick humor? Quite often. Good? Oh yes. If you have a dark sense of humor, don't miss it for the world.
Imagine this: the main character is a woman called Beverly Sutphin. Her
husband is a dentist and she does her best to bring up her children. In
short, she is a respectable human being with the particularity of being a
real stickler for good manners . Maybe, a little too respectable so that
when someone speaks ill of one member of her family, Beverly is ready to
kill to defend her family!
Only one filmmaker seemed designated to shot this highly entertaining black comedy: John Waters, the king of bad taste and extravagance. In "Serial Mom", most of the comical situations are structured about the two quoted characteristics. The whole is condensed in one hour and a half. You don't get bored one moment and you honestly laugh in front of all these murders. In "Serial Mom", you also recognize Waters' strong taste for bloody, gore and horror movies. Moreover, for this extraordinary director, it is the occasion to harm the model image of the American family.
All in all, a delightfully politically incorrect comedy led by a Kathleen Turner on top form.
Serial Mom has long been one of my favourite movies. John Waters once again
demonstrates his unfailing ability to tap into our fear of the gross and
disgusting, and, perversely, help us to face our fears - we may know someone
who picks his nose, but Waters gives us an obnoxious woman who lets her dog
lick her feet clean after a shopping trip. Maybe your mother caught you
jacking off when you were younger, but Waters brings a whole new dimension
of toe-curling embarrassment to the scenario in the brilliant sequence where
Scotty 'enjoys' (ahem!) a Chesty Morgan video. Waters also throws in
close-ups of people eating noisily, a dentist's drill in action, a messy
impaling (made hilarious by Kathleen Turner's flawless performance), an
ankle-nibbling rat, signed photographs of Charles Manson and Richard Speck,
respectable middle-class housewives swearing like construction workers, an
all-female rock band called Camel Lips and a Pee-Wee Herman doll - "still in
the box"! All this would mean nothing if the film wasn't incredibly funny,
and thankfully, it is. In fact, it's one of the most subversive and
inventive comedies ever to come out of a mainstream studio, and you'll be
quoting the dialogue for weeks to come. And in case you think it's improper
to laugh at serial killers, consider this - how often have you wanted to
blow away an irritating gum chewer, a teacher who gave you bad grades, a
careless driver, whoever stole your last boy or girlfriend, or pretty much
anyone who got on your nerves? Serial Mom is the perfect escape valve for
all those negative emotions, and is the perfect film to unwind with at the
end of a stressful day.
"Are those PUSSYwillows?"
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Black comedy can be a difficult genre to get right, in the cinema as
well as in the theatre. We can, I am sure, all think of films which
were intended to be gross but hilarious and ended up as simply gross.
There are too many examples to list them all, but high on my personal
list of offenders in this regard must be "The Sweetest Thing",
"Beautiful Creatures" and "Drop Dead Gorgeous". On the other hand, when
black comedy succeeds, the result can be superb. Two of my favourites
are Kubrick's "Dr Strangelove" and Scorsese's "King of Comedy", both of
which derive humour from serious subjects (nuclear war and crime) but
do so with a brilliant satirical wit.
John Waters's "Serial Mom" is not quite in the same class as those two films, but is one of the better black comedies of recent years. The main character is Beverley Sutphin, a middle-aged, middle-class Middle American housewife. Beverley, happily married to dentist Eugene with two teenage children, Chip and Misty, lives in an affluent, idyllic suburb which looks as though it has been taken from a fifties sit-com. (Like most of Waters's films, this one is set in his home town of Baltimore). There is only one thing which disturbs the peace and tranquillity of the area. Beverley combines her role as a housewife and mother with a part-time career as a serial killer. Her first victim is Paul Stubbins, a teacher who makes some unkind remarks about her son at a PTA meeting, and she progresses to her daughter's unfaithful boyfriend, a couple who are rude about Eugene's dental practice and various people who commit minor social gaffes such as failing to rewind rented video tapes (the film predates the coming of DVD), failing to recycle their garbage, and wearing white shoes after Labor day. (This last is, apparently, regarded as a major fashion crime in America). Eventually she is arrested and put on trial.
Waters has the reputation of being a director to whom the notion of good taste is quite alien, and, with a plot like this, "Serial Mom" could have ended up as nothing more than horribly tasteless garbage. It is, of course, horribly tasteless and not a film to see if you are at all squeamish- Waters does not spare us sight of plenty of blood and gore- but is saved from ending up as garbage by two things. The first is an often very witty script, displaying a refreshingly cynical sense of humour, which includes some great lines such as "He killed people, mom- We all have our bad days". and "Jesus said nothing to condemn capital punishment as he hung on the cross, did he"? (the local priest is preaching a pro-death penalty sermon).
The second is Kathleen Turner's manically over-the-top performance as Beverley, alternating between a model of bourgeois domestic virtue and a bloodthirsty maniac, and playing both with equal relish. My favourite parts were the courtroom scene where Beverley conducts her own defence with great brilliance and the scenes where she makes obscene phone calls to her neighbour Dottie, a woman who can be shocked by a phrase as seemingly innocuous as "Are those pussy willows?" Turner is an actress who has somewhat disappeared from view in recent years, but in the eighties and nineties she was one of Hollywood's best known leading ladies and gave some excellent performances in films like the neo-noir thriller "Body Heat" and "The War of the Roses", another very good black comedy.
Like most good black comedies, "Serial Mom" has some serious points to make. The mores of suburbia have been fair game for satirists ever since the first suburbs were built, and here Waters is sending up the culture of middle-class conformity which all too often attaches to such places. Beverley is far from being the only all-American soccer mom who looks with horrified disfavour on her neighbours' minor deviations from accepted norms; all that distinguishes her from millions of others is the extreme lengths to which she will go to punish such deviations. The satire, however, is not just aimed at Beverley, but also at her victims, some of whom are such obnoxious individuals that it is impossible to have any sympathy for them, despite their horrific fates. There is one grotesque scene where Emma Lou Jensen (she who fails to rewind her videos) sings loudly and tunelessly along to "Tomorrow" from the musical "Annie" while allowing her dog to lick her feet all over suggesting she is, to say the least, a somewhat strange person. Stubbins, who suggests that Chip is in need of "therapy" because of his love of horror films, is the sort of arrogant, self-important teacher who thinks that he is paid not just to teach maths but also to control every aspect of his students' lives, down to their taste in films.
"Serial Mom" may not be the best cinematic satire on suburbia of recent years (that must be Sam Mendes's "American Beauty"), but it is, for all its lapses of taste, a witty and entertaining black comedy. 8/10
This movie was offensive, vulgar, shocking, and yes, mean spirited. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but isn't that was John Waters is all about? Kathleen Turner and Sam Waterston do a wonderful job of overacting (badly) in classic Waters fashion. Liver on a fireplace poker? Turner as June Cleaver making obscene and threatening phone calls? Juror 8 (Patty Hearst) wearing white shoes after Labor Day? How can you not love it? This movie ranks up there with Citizen Ruth or Heathers as one of the best black comedies ever. And it also seems to have given some inspiration to Natural Born Killers, the finest of the genre. (Although not nearly as easy to stomach.)
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