Serial Mom

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Serial Mom
Serial mom.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Waters[1]
Produced by John Fiedler
Mark Tarlov
Written by John Waters
Starring Kathleen Turner
Sam Waterston
Ricki Lake
Matthew Lillard
Music by Basil Poledouris
Cinematography Robert M. Stevens
Editing by Janice Hampton
Erica Huggins
Studio Polar Entertainment Corporation
Distributed by Theatrical:
Savoy Pictures
Universal Studios (US)
Guild (UK)
Release dates
  • April 13, 1994 (1994-04-13)
Running time 93 minutes[2]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $13 million[3][4]
Box office $7,820,688[3]

Serial Mom is a 1994 American dark comedy 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. Films 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 states that it is based on a true story, but it is in fact complete fiction. The film was screened out of competition at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival.[5]


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. However, she is secretly a serial killer, murdering people over the most trivial of perceived slights, including mere faux pas.

During breakfast, two police officers arrive to question the family about the vulgar harassment of their neighbor, Dottie Hinkle (Mink Stole). After the police and her family leave, Beverly disguises her voice to make obscene phone calls to Dottie, because Dottie stole a parking space from Beverly. Later that day, Mr. Stubbins, Chip's high school 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; Beverly runs him 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 (Justin Whalin) 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's wife, Betty Sterner (Kathy Fannon), who called Eugene away to treat her husband's chronic toothache on a Saturday. She stabs Betty with scissors borrowed from Rosemary, and causes an air conditioner to fall on Ralph, who caught her killing his wife. They 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 murders of the Sterners. The church service ends in pandemonium when a suspicious sound 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 (Patsy Grady Abrams), bickers 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 the woman sings along to "Tomorrow" on her rented copy of Annie. Scotty witnesses the attack through a window, and a car chase ensues. Beverly ends up setting Scotty on fire at local club Hammerjack's, on-stage in front of a deranged crowd during the set of an all-girl band called Camel Lips (L7). 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 Beverly is not guilty by reason of insanity, but she fires him and proposes to represent herself. The judge reluctantly agrees and the trial begins. Beverly proceeds systematically to discredit every witness against her, including inciting Dottie Hinkle to contempt of court and finding a transsexual-themed magazine in Detective Gracey's trash. During a second detective's crucial testimony, the entire courtroom is distracted by the arrival of Suzanne Somers, who plans to portray Beverly as the heroine of a TV movie.

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 is wearing white shoes after Labor Day. Beverly follows her to a payphone and fatally strikes her in the head with the receiver. Suzanne 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.


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.


The film received mixed to positive reviews from critics, and currently holds a 60% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 45 reviews.[6][7] Roger Ebert awarded it an average two stars (out of a possible four) and said in his print review:[8] "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 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' 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 was a moderate success; however the $13 million film earned only slightly more than half its budget, grossing $7,820,688 in domestic box office sales.[3] The film has become something of a cult classic since its release.[9]

Home media[edit]

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.


  1. ^ "A look inside Hollywood and the movies -- FEMALE TROUBLE : Who Could Possibly Follow Divine?". The Los Angeles Times. 1992-09-13. Retrieved 2010-11-18. 
  2. ^ "SERIAL MOM (18)". Guild Film Distribution. British Board of Film Classification. May 3, 1994. Retrieved October 25, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c Serial Mom at Box Office Mojo Retrieved October 25, 2013
  4. ^ "Serial Mom (1994) - Box office / business". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved October 25, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Serial Mom". Retrieved 2009-09-02. 
  6. ^ "Serial Mom (1994)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 1 October 2013. 
  7. ^ Rainer, Peter (1994-04-13). "MOVIE REVIEW: 'Serial Mom' Good at Being Naughty : Movies: Director John Waters turns today's violence into comedy, and Kathleen Turner is furiously funny.". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-01-01. 
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Serial Mom". Retrieved 1 October 2013. 
  9. ^ Frank the Movie Guy. Hidden Gem: Serial Mom. April 23, 2007. Retrieved on June 7, 2007

External links[edit]