Serial Mom is a 1994 American black comedy crime film written and directed by John Waters, and 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.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Waters|
|Written by||John Waters|
|Music by||Basil Poledouris|
|Cinematography||Robert M. Stevens|
Polar Entertainment Corporation
|Distributed by||Savoy Pictures|
|Box office||$7.8 million|
The film was released theatrically in the United States on April 13, 1994 to mixed to positive reviews from critics, but was a box office bomb, grossing nearly $8 million from a $13 million budget. The film is widely regarded as a cult classic.
Beverly Sutphin appears to be a typical suburban housewife living with her dentist husband, Eugene, and their teenage children, Misty and Chip, in the suburbs of Baltimore. However, she is secretly a serial killer, murdering people over the most trivial of perceived slights, including mere faux pas.
During breakfast, Detectives Pike and Gracey arrive to question the family about the vulgar harassment of their neighbor, Dottie Hinkle. After the police and her family leave, Beverly disguises her voice to make obscene phone calls to Dottie, revealed in a flashback to be retaliation for Dottie previously stealing a parking space from Beverly. Later that day, Mr. Stubbins, Chip's math teacher, becomes Beverly's first known murder victim after he criticizes Chip's interests and questions the boy's mental health and family life, as well as berating her parenting. Beverly runs Mr. Stubbins over with her car, and is witnessed by Luann Hodges, a young woman smoking marijuana nearby. The next day, Misty is upset when Carl Pageant stands her up for a date. Beverly spots Carl with another girl at a swap meet and murders him in the bathroom with a fireplace poker.
Eugene discovers that Beverly has hidden a collection of serial killer memorabilia beneath their mattress. That evening at dinner, Chip comments that his friend Scotty thinks that she is the killer. Beverly immediately leaves in her car, prompting the family to rush to Scotty's house for fear that Beverly plans to kill him; however, Beverly has actually gone to kill Eugene's patient Ralph Sterner and his wife, Betty, for calling Eugene away to treat her husband's chronic toothache on a Saturday they were supposed to spend birdwatching, and for eating chicken that reminds her of the starlings. She stabs Betty with scissors borrowed from the Sutphins' neighbor Rosemary, and pushes an air conditioner from a second-story window onto Ralph, standing on the walkway below. Meanwhile, the rest of the family and the police arrive at Scotty's house, only to find him in his room masturbating to an old porn video.
That Sunday, police follow the Sutphins to church and a news report names Beverly as the suspect in the Sterners' murders. The service ends in pandemonium when the sound of Beverly sneezing causes everyone to panic and flee the church. Police detectives confirm that Beverly's fingerprints match those at the Sterner crime scene and attempt to arrest her, but she escapes. She hides at the video rental store where Chip works, but a customer, Mrs. Jensen, argues with Chip over paying a fee for failing to rewind a videotape and calls him a "son of a psycho". Beverly follows Mrs. Jensen home and bludgeons her to death with a leg of lamb while she sings along to "Tomorrow" on her rented copy of Annie. Scotty witnesses the attack through a window, Beverly sees him, and a car chase ensues. Catching him at a local club, Hammerjack's, Beverly sets Scotty aflame onstage in front of a deranged crowd during the set of an all-female band called Camel Lips. The Sutphin family arrive, as do the police, and Beverly is arrested.
Beverly's trial becomes a national sensation. The media dub her "Serial Mom", Chip hires an agent to manage the family's media appearances and Misty sells merchandise outside the courthouse. During opening arguments, Beverly's lawyer claims that she is not guilty by reason of insanity, but she fires him and proposes to represent herself, citing various law books she has read, to her prosecutor's dismay. The judge reluctantly agrees and the trial begins. Beverly proves to be extremely skilled and formidable in defending herself, systematically discrediting nearly every witness against her by using trick questioning to incite Dottie to contempt of court by repeated obscenities; finding a transsexual-themed magazine in Gracey's trash, invoking that judging a person by what they choose to read proves nothing; badgering Rosemary into admitting she doesn't recycle; and fanning her legs repeatedly at pervert Marvin Pickles, witness to Carl's murder, whose resulting over-arousal causes him to commit perjury. The only witness she does not actively discredit is Luann Hodges, but Hodges is unable to provide credible testimony anyway, due to being under the influence of marijuana. During Pike's crucial testimony, the entire courtroom (including the judge and jury) is distracted by the arrival of Suzanne Somers, who plans to portray Beverly as the heroine of a television film.
Beverly is acquitted of all charges, stunning her family, who vow to "never get on her nerves". Throughout the trial, Beverly has been displeased that a juror (Patty Hearst) is wearing white shoes after Labor Day. Beverly follows her to a payphone and fatally strikes her in the head with the receiver. Somers then angers Beverly into an outburst by trying to pose for a picture that will show Beverly's "bad side", just as the juror's body is discovered.
The film ends with a close-up of Beverly's wicked smile and a caption stating that Beverly "refused to cooperate" with the making of the film.
- Kathleen Turner as Beverly Sutphin
- Sam Waterston as Eugene Sutphin
- Ricki Lake as Misty Sutphin
- Matthew Lillard as Chip Sutphin
- Scott Wesley Morgan as Detective Pike
- Walt MacPherson as Detective Gracey
- Patricia Dunnock as Birdie
- Mink Stole as Dottie Hinkle
- Mary Jo Catlett as Rosemary Ackerman
- Justin Whalin as Scotty Barnhill
- Beau James as Timothy Nazlerod
- Patty Hearst as Juror No. 8
- Lonnie Horsey as Carl Pageant
- Traci Lords as Carl's date
- Tim Caggiano as Marvin A. Pickles
- Jeff Mandon as Howell Hawkins
- Kim Swann as Luann Hodges
- Kathy Fannon as Betty Sterner
- Patsy Grady Abrams as Mrs. Jenson
- Mary Vivian Pearce as Book buyer
- Brigid Berlin as Mean Lady
- Rosemary Knower and Susan Lowe as Court groupies
- Suzanne Somers as herself
- Joan Rivers as herself
- L7 as Camel Lips
- Bess Armstrong (uncredited) as Eugene's dental secretary
- John Waters (uncredited) as voice of Ted Bundy
The audio for Ted Bundy in one of Beverly's correspondences with the jailed killer is the voice of Waters.
The film received mixed to positive reviews from critics, and currently holds a 64% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 50 reviews. Roger Ebert awarded it an average two stars (out of a possible four) finding some of Waters' satire effective but feeling that Kathleen Turner's decision to portray her character's mental illness with realism instead of in a campy fashion, while brave, made the character difficult to laugh at, writing, "Watch Serial Mom closely and you'll realize that something is miscalculated at a fundamental level. Turner's character is helpless and unwitting in a way that makes us feel almost sorry for her—and that undermines the humor. She isn't funny crazy, she's sick crazy."
However, other critics were more enthusiastic about the film and Turner's performance; Cosmopolitan stated in its review that "Turner has never been so over the top hilarious!", and Scene magazine called the film "Hysterically funny!".
Critics lauded Waters' style and savage satire of the US's obsession with true crime, such as when Beverly's daughter, Misty, is seen selling T-shirts outside the courthouse where her mother's fate will be decided.
The film opened on April 13, 1994 and grossed $2,040,450 in its opening weekend, ranking #11. By the end of its run on August 4, the film had grossed $7,820,688 in domestic box office sales. The film has become a cult classic since its release.
Universal Studios and Focus Features released a collector's edition DVD of the film on May 6, 2008, replacing the original HBO Home Video DVD release, which is out of print. The new DVD release features an audio commentary with Waters and Turner. The film was released as a Collector's Edition Blu-ray from Shout! Factory on May 9, 2017.
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