Serial Mom


Serial Mom Information

Serial Mom is a 1994 American black comedy/thriller film 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.

Plot

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. The film opens with the Sutphin family having breakfast and Beverly attentively taking care of family's needs until two police officers arrive to question the family about the mail threats and obscene phone calls to a fellow resident of the area, Dottie Hinkle. After a brief interview the family members and the police leave the house to begin their day, except Beverly who goes to the upstairs master bedroom and makes obscene phone calls by changing her voice to Dottie, revealing herself as the predator who has been bothering her. The reason for this is that Dottie stole a parking space from Beverly at the mall. Beverly's friend and neighbor, Rosemary Ackerman enters the house and surprises her as she finishes her prank call. This is so she can lend Beverly her sewing supplies and materials, including a pair of scissors.

The first murder she is known to commit occurs after Beverly attends a PTA where Mr. Stubbins (John Badila), Chip's high school math teacher, criticizes her son's morbid fascination with violent horror films and further questions the strength of family unit as well as recommending therapy for Chip. She runs him over with her car, killing him. A woman smoking marijuana witnesses the incident. The following morning, Beverly's husband, Eugene is called into the office by Betty Sterner. Misty is upset when she gets stood up by a date, Carl Pageant (Lonnie Horsey), proclaiming her desire to kill him. Beverly cautions Misty about using words she doesn't mean and subsequently sees the police investigating her trash cans and her car. Beverly skillfully deflects the cops' questions before her husband asks the cops to leave. Later, seeing Carl with another girl (Traci Lords) at a local indoor swap meet, Beverly impales him in a men's restroom with a fireplace poker that Rosemary, who came along, had purchased. Again a miscreant, a pervert, looking through a hole in one of the stalls, witnesses Beverly hiding in a toilet stall prior to the murder.

Among the first to suspect Beverly's crimes is her neighbor, Dottie Hinkle, the person to whom she had been making obscene phone calls and sending threatening letters. After both coincidentally meet at Rosemary's house one afternoon, Beverly asks Rosemary a question in a similar tone of voice she used in her calls to Dottie, making Dottie realize the person harassing her is Beverly. After being interviewed by the police at his dental office, Beverly's husband Eugene uncovers disturbing items hidden under their mattress, including an autographed beefcake photo of Richard Speck (addressed to her from Speck in prison), an audiotape of Ted Bundy (voice of John Waters), and a scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings of Jonestown and Charles Manson. After realizing her mother's role in Carl's death, Misty visits the video store where her brother works and announces to Chip and his friends, "Our mother is Charles Manson."

That evening over dinner, Beverly's son comments that his friend Scotty thinks that she is the killer. Beverly dismisses this, but promptly gets up from the table and leaves. A moment later, the family hears Beverly's car driving away and set off in pursuit, thinking she is going to kill Scotty. Beverly's husband and children go to Scotty's house and break in only to find him alive and masturbating to a pornographic movie. The police barge in as well, to Scotty's further embarrassment. Beverly, in fact, is going to kill the Sterners and after some very skillful driving evades the police car following her. Upon arriving at the Sterners' house, she spies on the Sterners who are having a chicken dinner, angering her as Beverly is an avid bird watcher. This, in concert with the fact that Betty called Eugene into the office on a Saturday morning as well as disregarding her husband's advice about not eating sweets (following the dinner, they have dessert), makes Beverly decide they must die. Beverly promptly sneaks into the house via the upstairs window in the bedroom and hides under the bed. When Betty opens the closet, Beverly stabs her in the stomach with scissors. When Ralph runs upstairs, he finds his wife dead and Beverly unsuccessfully tries to throw the same pair of scissors at him and kill him. Ralph runs outside calling for help and Beverly topples an air conditioner onto him, killing him.

When the Sutphins go to church that Sunday (followed by a fleet of police cars), they hear a news report on the car radio naming Beverly as the suspect in two more murders"?Betty (Kathy Fannon) and Ralph Sterner (Doug Roberts). The family silently come to the conclusion that Beverly is indeed the murderer. When they arrive at church, they are met with suspicion and fear by the other congregants. The church's message board announces that the day's sermon is "Capital Punishment & You". The church service ends in pandemonium when a suspicious sound causes everyone, except Beverly, to panic and flee the church, including the minister.

Police detectives confirm that Beverly's fingerprints match those at the Sterner crime scene and attempt to arrest her, but she manages to escape. She hides at the video rental store where her son works. She overhears a customer named Mrs. Jensen bickering with Chip over paying a fee for failing to rewind a videotape. After renting the film version of Annie, Mrs. Jensen calls Chip a "son of a psycho". Beverly sneaks out and follows Mrs. Jensen home, where Mrs. Jensen begins to watch the opening credits of Annie and sing along to "Tomorrow", then bludgeons her to death with a leg of lamb. She then notices one of Chip's friends, Scotty (Justin Whalin), spying from a window and begins chasing him. She tries to stab him with a knife through the car's convertible roof while yelling at him, "Wear your seat belt! It's the law!" Scotty drives off, but Beverly carjacks a passing van and follows him to Hammerjack's, where an all-girl band named Camel Lips (L7) is playing. Scotty tries to escape by running on stage, but Beverly causes a light fixture to fall on him and sets him on fire using a cigarette lighter and an aerosol can onstage in front of the deranged crowd listening to the band. Her family arrives and the police arrest Beverly, while the crowd cheer in support for "Serial Mom", as Beverly has been named by the media.

Her trial becomes a national sensation. Having already been dubbed "Serial Mom", a TV movie about the case starring Suzanne Somers is planned. Chip hires an agent to manage the family's media appearances, while Misty and her new boyfriend, a reporter for The Baltimore Sun, sell merchandise about their mother's trial outside the courthouse.

During opening arguments, Beverly notices that a member of the jury (Patricia Hearst) is wearing white shoes after Labor Day, a fashion faux pas, during the whole trial. When Beverly brings this to the attention of her own attorney, he dismisses the comment, and claims that Beverly is not guilty by reason of insanity. She asks that her lawyer be fired and that she be permitted to represent herself. The judge reluctantly agrees and the trial begins.

Beverly proves to be quite formidable defending herself at trial. When Dottie Hinkle testifies that Beverly is her prank phone caller, Beverly's courtroom antics cause Dottie to explode in a cursing fit, destroying her credibility and the judge holds her in contempt of court. When Rosemary Ackerman takes the stand, Beverly destroys her credibility by revealing that it was Ackerman's magazine which was the source for the nuisance letters to Dottie Hinkle, Ackerman's firepoker (which she purchased at the same swap meet where Carl was killed), which was used to kill Carl Pageant, and Ackerman's scissors (which Beverly "borrowed") that were found at the Sterner murder scene. Beverly gets Ackerman to admit she doesn't recycle, which provokes exaggerated disgust from the jury. During the testimony of Marvin Pickles (Tim Caggiano), who had seen her through a peephole in the restroom stall with the poker just before Carl's murder, Beverly fans her legs, sexually arousing the man and confusing him into to saying he had lied and never saw Beverly in the stall. Lu-Ann Hodges, the stoner who saw Beverly's car drive over Mr. Stubbins is discredited by her intoxicated demeanor, only recalling a blue car rather than a blue station wagon. Beverly questions Detective Gracey about the merits of judging her by her reading materials, which he obtained by searching her garbage, bolstering her own argument by displaying a porno magazine, Chicks with Dicks, which she claims was found in the detective's trash by her garbage man friends (Bus Howard and Alan J. Wendl). During the second detective's testimony, the entire courtroom is starstruck and distracted from crucial evidence by the sudden appearance of Suzanne Somers, who would be portraying Beverly as the heroine of a television movie.

When the verdict is read and Beverly is found not guilty on all charges, she laughs and announces "Oh, I'm coming home!" to her family, who are clearly stunned and unnerved by her acquittal, they vow to "Never get on her nerves". During the post-trial interviews, Beverly follows the juror wearing white shoes to a pay phone in a conveniently empty ladies' room. After lecturing the juror on the folly of wearing white after Labor Day and refusing to accept her apologies, Beverly kills the juror by striking her in the head hard with the payphone receiver. She joins her family just as Somers wants to have a picture taken with Beverly, who doesn't want to. Beverly gets increasingly angry at Somers' insistence before yelling at her "Suzanne Somers! This is my bad side!" At that moment someone discovers the juror's body and begins screaming. Somers realizes what Beverly's family already knows: that the woman Somers pretentiously labeled a "feminist heroine" is indeed "Serial Mom". The film ends with a close-in on Beverly's face, as her lips quiver into a small but diabolical smile and a screen appears displaying the message that Beverly "refused to cooperate" with the making of the film, further playing on the premise of the film's reality.

Cast

  • 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
  • Traci Lords as Carl's Date
  • Tim Caggiano as Marvin A. Pickles
  • Jeff Mandon as Howell Hawkins
  • Kim Swann as Luann Hodges
  • Suzanne Somers as herself
  • Joan Rivers as herself
  • L7 as Camel Lips
  • Bess Armstrong (uncredited) as Eugene Sutphin's dental secretary.
  • Kathy Bates (uncredited) as a woman outside courthouse.
  • John Waters (uncredited) as voice of Ted Bundy.
During the pre-film casting discussions, Waters suggested other actresses for the role of Beverly including Meryl Streep, Kathy Bates and Glenn Close, before ultimately choosing Turner.

Reaction

The film received a mixed response from critics, and currently holds a 64% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert awarded it an average two stars (out of a possible four) and said in his print review: "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 their review "Turner has never been so over the top hilarious!" said, and Scene magazine called the film "Hysterically funny!".

Critics lauded Waters' style and savage satire of the US' obsession with true crime, such as when Beverly Sutphin's daughter, Misty, is seen selling T-shirts outside the courthouse where her mother's fate will be decided. The film was a moderate success, however the $13 million movie earned only slightly more than half its budget, grossing around $7.8 million in domestic box office sales. The film has become something of a cult classic since its release.

DVD release

Universal Studios Home Entertainment 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.




This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "Serial_Mom" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.
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