Ho-wdy, Ho-rror Ho-mies! Happy John Waters’ 71st Birthday Day!
In ho-nor of the Pope of Trash’s birthaversary, we have a review of his Serial Mom submitted by our very own Mr. Andrew Peters! Thanks, Ho-rror Ho-mie! 🙂 xoxoxo
The ‘90s was a strange time, especially for movies. The ‘90s didn’t quite have the identity that previous decades had, especially the ‘80s and it seemed like it wanted to forget all about the ‘80s while mimicking it at the same time, making it feel lost. Movies from that time suffered the most, especially the horror and comedy genres. Horror flicks thought they were being clever by attempting to mock the films of the ‘70s and ‘80, but it had a very cynical attitude about it, especially the slasher genre. I think we got the worst slashers out of the ‘90s. Comedies didn’t fare any better. They lacked the heart and characters that carried the films of previous years and decided to focus on cliched stereotypes they felt what their audiences perceived as cool. Oh, and help us if the two genres were attempted to be combined and you know how I feel about those. It’s like nobody knew how to speak to the generation of that time or what was happening in the world.
Nobody except for John Waters, that is. He’s a fashionable man that captures the look and style of a more pop art version of the swinging ‘60s. There’s also something very sleazy and mischievous about him that you can’t help but be fascinated with. He turned everyone’s heads – and stomachs – with the 1972 bizarre trash flick Pink Flamingos that featured both someone performing oral sex and that same person, Divine, eating dog shit. It also showcases someone bending their legs to expose their butthole and open it and close it in a rhythmic fashion. I’m just giving you an idea of what kind of filmmaker John Waters is. He loves to shock you with his sense of humor, but what if you were to take that style out of the trailer park and move it into suburbia? Well, you’d get Serial Mom.
Serial Mom has that humble ‘50s and ‘60s white, wholesome family with a ‘90s aesthetic, but underneath is a sweltering, festering nest of sleaze slowly oozing out and infecting the rest of the film, but by the time you notice it’s too late. Violence and the very mild gore is meant to both disgust you and make you laugh. The film is not only a more subtle parody of the horror genre, but it’s also a very dark comedy that is far more relevant today than it was at the time. It very intelligently brings to attention just what a media circus a famous court case can be and how we over sensationalize and idolize a serial killer, turning a blind eye to the horrors they’ve caused when we shouldn’t. In a way, this movie predicted the OJ Simpson trial if you can believe it.
This isn’t just some low budget, made on the fly type of shlock. This film actually looks like a real film, meaning that the production value is high, cinematography is well done and certain things in have a soft focus to give it a very dreamy or more wholesome quality to it. Serial Mom even has a killer cast to help bring it to a more professional sense (even though it’s just a clever disguise), like Kathleen Turner in the lead role as Beverly Sutphin and Sam Waterston as her husband Eugene, with Matthew Lillard in his first role as her son Chip and Ricki Lake (yes, from The Ricki Lake Show) as her daughter Misty. Together, they appear to be the most perfect family. Mom prepares dinner and cleans the house as dad reads the paper and gets ready for work. Chip and Misty bicker before school about their seemingly important teenage lives, but when everyone leaves and Beverly is all by herself, she immediately partakes in her current favorite hobby; making obscene phone calls to her neighbor Dottie Hinkle. Just the look of pure joy that dons Beverly’s face as she asks Dottie about the pussywillows and if the Cocksucker residents live at 4215 Pussy Way. Immediately, a whiplashing tone is set that’s gonna keep juggling you back and forth. It’s like an amusement park ride; it’s gonna spin you around and make you nauseous, but dammit if it’s not fun.
Between her daughter’s unfaithful boyfriend, a neighbor that don’t recycle and her son’s friend that won’t buckle up, now she has to deal with two detectives nosing around. At first, it’s routine. The police are only digging up clues to find the culprit behind Dottie Hinkle’s phone calls, but with everyone misbehaving, Beverly has to do something about it. After the garbage men and her family wish that certain people were dead, she decides that for the good of her family, she must kill those that can’t be nice or abide by society’s rules. Like one of Chip’s teachers, for example, who believes all of the horror movies that Chip watches is affecting his mental health and that he should seek professional help and that Beverly is a poor parent for allowing him to see such garbage. Well, she’ll show him! Using her car, she runs the sucker down and drives away with no one but a stoner as a witness. Still, the witnesses story summons the police to the Sutphin residence and now they are suspicious, especially after digging through her garbage and finding books on serial killers. The suspicion is heightened when Beverly gores her daughter’s cheating boyfriend with a fireplace poker after catching him shopping around with another girl (Traci Lords in a cameo). Now the police are sniffing around long enough to catch her in the act when she goes after Chip’s friend who is ranting about her being a killer, but fortunately he’s literally caught with his pants down by the Sutphin family and is saved. For now.
That doesn’t thwart Beverly’s rampage, but she’s eventually apprehended by the police and taken to court for her heinous crimes, but like they say, innocent until proven guilty. The final act of the film is her court hearing and it has become a full blown media circus with Misty selling Serial Mom merchandise and Chip acting as her agent for the film being made about her life that will be starring Suzanne Somers who appears as herself. With nobody to defend Beverly but herself, the tables seem like they will be against her, but just wait until how she charms the judge and the jury and proves that maybe she’s not crazy… although she really is.
Scream Factory’s release of Serial Mom is to kill for. I don’t believe this is a 2K transfer, but it certainly looks as sharp as a butcher knife and it also has some killer extra features. Sick of my puns yet? Anyway, the main attraction for the features in my opinion is the feature commentary with director John Waters, who is always entertaining. He also does another new commentary with star Kathleen turner which I also recommend checking out. If you aren’t familiar with John Waters’ commentary, check out his commentary on Christmas Evil. He has nothing to do with the film, but he and the director talk about the movie and it’s pretty funny. Other features include John Waters talking with Kathleen Turner and Mink Stole about the making of the movie and there also a featurette called Serial Mom: Surreal Moments that has interviews with the aforementioned trio along with Matthew Lillard, Ricki Lake, Patricia Hearst and a few others. There’s also an original promotional featurette, The Making of Serial Mom along with The Kings of Gore that looks at the works of Herschel Gordon Lewis and David Friedman and the theatrical trailer for good measure.
Serial Mom is one of the funniest horror comedies to come of… well, ever. We seem to be hitting a wave of them now and they all seem to confuse nostalgia and homage with a half hearted attempt at long running fart jokes made of fads from the era they are supposedly paying respects to. Serial Mom is smart, hilarious and dark. It’s a perfect blend of everything you could want and although it’s not as sleazy as previous John Waters’ films, it really doesn’t need to be and I have to say it’s probably his most well made film.
Happy Birthday, John Waters! Stay filthy, you Prince of Puke! 🙂 xoxoxo