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Serial Mom

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Serial Mom
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Waters
Written byJohn Waters
Produced by
CinematographyRobert M. Stevens
Edited by
  • Janice Hampton
  • Erica Huggins
Music byBasil Poledouris
Polar Entertainment Corporation
Distributed bySavoy Pictures
Release date
  • April 13, 1994 (1994-04-13)
Running time
93 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$13 million[2]
Box office$7.8 million[2]

Serial Mom is a 1994 American satirical slasher film directed and written by John Waters[3][4] and starring Kathleen Turner as the title character along with 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.

Serial Mom 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.[2] The film is widely regarded as a cult classic.[5][6][7]


Beverly Sutphin appears to be an unassuming upper middle class housewife living with her dentist husband Eugene and their teenage children, Misty and Chip, in Towson, Maryland. She is secretly a serial killer who kills people over trivial slights or offenses.

One morning, Detectives Pike and Gracey question the family about the vulgar telephone harassment of their neighbor, Dottie Hinkle. Beverly is later revealed to be the perpetrator and that she is doing it because Dottie took a parking space from Beverly. Later that day at a PTA meeting, Math teacher Paul Stubbins criticizes Chip's interest in horror films. In revenge, Beverly runs over Stubbins with her car. Later, Misty is upset when Carl Pageant stands her up for a date. Beverly spots Carl with another girl at a swap meet and fatally stabs him with a fire poker.

Eugene discovers Beverly's serial killer memorabilia beneath their mattress, which includes recordings from Ted Bundy in the week of his execution. During dinner that evening, Chip tells the family about his friend Scotty's suspicions about Beverly being the killer. Beverly departs at that point. The family believe Beverly intends to kill Scotty in order to silence him. As such, they speed off to Scotty's house. Beverly, however, intends to kill Ralph and Betty Sterner for calling Eugene to treat the former's toothache on a day Eugene and Beverly planned to spend birdwatching. Beverly is also angry because they were critiquing Eugene's requests for perfect dental health. She stabs Betty with scissors borrowed from Rosemary Ackerman and pushes an air conditioner from their window onto Ralph. The rest of the family and the police arrive at Scotty's house, only to find him masturbating to a porn movie.

Police follow the Sutphins to church on that Sunday as Beverly is named as the prime suspect in the Sterners' murders. The service abruptly ends when everyone flees in panic after Beverly sneezes, during which she escapes as police attempt to arrest her. She hides at the video store where Chip is employed. Beverly follows Mrs. Jenson home and fatally strikes her with a leg of lamb as she watches Annie (because she refused to rewind the tapes upon return and insulted Chip after fining her for it). Scotty witnesses the attack nearby, but Beverly discovers him, and gives chase. Beverly immolates Scotty during a rock concert. The Sutphin family arrive as Beverly is arrested.

Beverly's trial becomes a media sensation. Beverly's lawyer claims that she is not guilty by reason of insanity, but is promptly dismissed when Beverly asks to defend herself. Beverly proves to be formidable as she systematically discredits every witness against her by exploiting their own vices or otherwise casting doubt on their testimony. The one witness who actually saw her commit a crime is too high to provide credible testimony. The courtroom is distracted by the arrival of Suzanne Somers, who has been cast as Beverly in a television film.

Beverly is acquitted of all charges. She expresses contempt at a particular juror for wearing white shoes after Labor Day. Beverly follows her to a payphone and fatally strikes her with the receiver. Somers angers Beverly into an outburst while attempting to pose for a photo op. The juror's body is then discovered.



Actresses who were considered for the role of Beverly Sutphin before Turner was cast included Meryl Streep, Kathy Bates, Glenn Close, and Julie Andrews[8] [7]

Films by Waters' creative influences, including Doris Wishman, Otto Preminger, William Castle, and Herschell Gordon Lewis, are seen playing on television sets throughout the film.[9]

The audio for Ted Bundy in one of Beverly's correspondences with the jailed killer is the voice of Waters.[10]


The film had a troubled post-production, marked by conflict between Waters and Savoy Pictures. In his 2019 book Mr. Know-It-All, Waters states that studio executives who viewed an early cut objected to its violence and dark comedy. They demanded the film be substantially re-edited and given a different ending, which Waters refused to do.[11]: 73–74  Acrimony between the two sides intensified following a poor test screening, which Waters believed was deliberately held before a conservative audience unlikely to enjoy the film; he contrasted it with a more receptive screening for members of the film industry in Los Angeles.[11]: 73  Turner spoke about the ordeal to gossip columnist Liz Smith, who was a friend. Smith intervened with a column entitled "Leave Serial Mom Alone", publicizing the situation, and Savoy eventually relented on its demands.[11]: 75 


The film's score was composed by Basil Poledouris, performed by the Utah Symphony and recorded in Salt Lake City, Utah.[11]: 94  The American rock band L7 appears in the film as the band Camel Lips, and performs the song "Gas Chamber", which was written by L7 with lyrical contributions by Waters.[11]: 72 [12] The film also features the song "Daybreak" by Barry Manilow.[13][14][15] To discourage its use in this film, the copyright owners of the song "Tomorrow" from the 1982 film Annie, which is heard during a murder, quoted a high royalty fee of $60,000, but the studio paid the amount.[9]


Serial Mom was screened out of competition as the closing night film at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival.[16]

Critical reception[edit]

Serial Mom holds a 63% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 56 reviews, with an average rating of 5.8/10. The consensus summarizes: "Kathleen Turner proves an ideal match for John Waters' suburban satire in Serial Mom, even if the somewhat scattershot end results often lack the expected bite."[17][18] Roger Ebert awarded it two stars out of a possible four.[19] While he found some of Waters' satire effective, he felt that Kathleen Turner's decision to portray her character's mental illness with realism as opposed to a campy fashion, while brave, made the character difficult to laugh at.[19] He wrote, "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."[19]

Other critics were more enthusiastic about the film and Turner's performance. Time Out said the film boasts "an uproariously funny, marvellously malicious performance from Turner",[20] and Peter Rainer of the Los Angeles Times called Turner "furiously funny".[18] Rainer described the film as "a jab at the supposed uplift provided by 'wholesome' TV shows and movies. With all the ruckus raised in the media about the harmful effects of on-screen violence and sex, Serial Mom weighs in for the other side: It implies that it's the antiseptic family entertainments that may have done us the real harm. The real nut cases in the movie aren't the hormonally inflamed teen-agers and avenging matriarchs. It's the suburban Baltimore do-gooders, the upright judges and deacons--you know, the pillars of society."[18] Critics also lauded the satirization of America's obsession with true crime and celebrity, such as when Beverly's daughter, Misty, is seen selling T-shirts outside the courthouse where her mother's fate will be decided, and a joke disclaimer at the beginning falsely claiming the film's events are "based on a true story".[21][18][10] In 2008, Slant Magazine critic Eric Henderson called Serial Mom "the strongest film of the post-midnight-movie chapter of John Waters's career."[22]

Later reviews suggested that the trial in Serial Mom presaged the media coverage of the 1995 murder trial of O. J. Simpson.[23]

Box office[edit]

The film opened on April 13, 1994, and grossed $2 million in its opening weekend, ranking number 11 at the US box office. By the end of its run, the film had grossed $7.8 million in the United States and Canada.[2] The film has become a cult classic since its release.[24][6]

Year-end lists[edit]

Home media[edit]

Universal Studios and Focus Features released a collector's edition DVD of the film on May 6, 2008,[27] replacing the original HBO Home Video DVD release, which is out of print. The 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.[28]


  1. ^ "Serial Mom (18)". British Board of Film Classification. May 3, 1994. Archived from the original on July 15, 2023. Retrieved October 25, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d "Serial Mom (1994)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. August 4, 1994. Archived from the original on June 6, 2014. Retrieved June 5, 2014.
  3. ^ "A look inside Hollywood and the movies -- Female Trouble : Who Could Possibly Follow Divine?". The Los Angeles Times. September 13, 1992. Archived from the original on November 3, 2012. Retrieved November 18, 2010.
  4. ^ Katzman, Jason (September 28, 2006). "10 great dark comedies". Today.com. Archived from the original on October 18, 2017. Retrieved October 18, 2017.
  5. ^ Coffel, Chris (February 1, 2017). "Zap! Scream Factory to Release 'Serial Mom' on Blu-ray!". Bloody Disgusting. Archived from the original on November 27, 2019. Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  6. ^ a b "'Serial Mom': John Waters and Kathleen Turner Look Back on Their Comedy Classic". EW.com. May 10, 2017. Archived from the original on November 27, 2019. Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  7. ^ a b Trunick, Austin (May 8, 2017). "John Waters on his 1994 cult classic "Serial Mom"". undertheradarmag.com. Archived from the original on November 27, 2019. Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  8. ^ Jacobs, Matthew (April 28, 2023). "Kathleen Turner Answers Every Question We Have About Serial Mom". Vulture. Archived from the original on May 17, 2023. Retrieved May 17, 2023.
  9. ^ a b Abrams, Simon (May 9, 2017). "Defense for the Damned: John Waters on "Serial Mom" | Interviews". RogerEbert.com. Archived from the original on May 17, 2023. Retrieved May 17, 2023.
  10. ^ a b Mirabal, Marisa (April 12, 2019). "Satire In The Suburbs: 25 Years With SERIAL MOM". Birth.Movies.Death. Archived from the original on May 17, 2023. Retrieved May 17, 2023.
  11. ^ a b c d e Waters, John (2019). Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0374214968. Archived from the original on July 15, 2023. Retrieved July 11, 2023.
  12. ^ Sherman, Dale (2019). John Waters FAQ: All That's Left to Know About the Provocateur of Bad Taste. Applause Books. p. 268. ISBN 978-1-4950-7665-7. Archived from the original on July 6, 2023. Retrieved July 6, 2023.
  13. ^ "Stereo Review". Stereo Review. Vol. 59, no. 1. 1994. p. 94. ISSN 0039-1220. Retrieved July 12, 2023.
  14. ^ Persall, Steve (April 15, 1994). "'Serial Mom' is a real killer". Tampa Bay Times. St. Petersburg, Florida. p. 6. Archived from the original on July 6, 2023. Retrieved July 5, 2023 – via Newspapers.com.
  15. ^ Henderson, Eric (May 10, 2017). "Blu-ray Review: John Waters's Serial Mom Joins the Shout! Factory". Slant Magazine. Archived from the original on July 6, 2023. Retrieved July 5, 2023.
  16. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Serial Mom". festival-cannes.com. Archived from the original on October 5, 2012. Retrieved September 2, 2009.
  17. ^ "Serial Mom (1994)". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on October 22, 2022. Retrieved June 16, 2024.
  18. ^ a b c d Rainer, Peter (April 13, 1994). "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. Archived from the original on August 4, 2020. Retrieved January 1, 2011.
  19. ^ a b c Ebert, Roger (April 15, 1994). "Serial Mom". RogerEbert.com. Archived from the original on September 16, 2020. Retrieved October 1, 2013.
  20. ^ "Serial Mom". Time Out. May 3, 2011. Archived from the original on May 17, 2023. Retrieved May 17, 2023.
  21. ^ Nea, Chingy (October 21, 2021). "'Serial Mom' is a Maternal Mockery of America's True Crime Obsession". MEL Magazine. Archived from the original on May 17, 2023. Retrieved May 17, 2023.
  22. ^ Henderson, Eric (May 6, 2008). "Review: Serial Mom". Slant Magazine. Archived from the original on May 17, 2023. Retrieved May 17, 2023.
  23. ^ Banks, Taunya (2009). "Troubled Waters: Mid-Twentieth Century American Society on "Trial" in the Films of John Waters". Stetson Law Review. 39. Gulfport, Florida: Stetson University College of Law: 153, 179–181. ISSN 0739-9731. Retrieved May 2, 2024.
  24. ^ Frank the Movie Guy. Hidden Gem: Serial Mom. April 23, 2007. Retrieved on June 7, 2007
  25. ^ Craft, Dan (December 30, 1994). "Success, Failure and a Lot of In-between; Movies '94". The Pantagraph. p. B1.
  26. ^ Armstrong, Douglas (January 1, 1995). "End-of-year slump is not a happy ending". The Milwaukee Journal. p. 2.
  27. ^ "Serial Mom: Collector's Edition". DVD Talk. May 21, 2008. Archived from the original on May 17, 2023. Retrieved May 17, 2023.
  28. ^ "Serial Mom [Collector's Edition]". Shout! Factory. Archived from the original on May 17, 2023. Retrieved May 17, 2023.

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