Serial Mom

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Serial Mom
Serial mom.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Waters
Written byJohn Waters
Produced by
  • John Fiedler
  • Mark Tarlov
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 black comedy crime film written and directed by John Waters,[3][4] and starring Kathleen Turner as the title character, Sam Waterston as her husband, along with Hairspray star Ricki Lake and Scooby-Doo actor Matthew Lillard (in his film debut) 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 archetypal 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 trivial perceived slights.

During breakfast, Detectives Pike and Gracey 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 as retaliation for Dottie having taken a parking space from Beverly. Later that day, Mr. Stubbins, Chip's math teacher, criticizes Chip's interest in horror films, believing they are affecting his mental health; and questions Beverly's parenting. Subsequently, Beverly runs Stubbins over with her car, killing him; the act is witnessed by Luann Hodges, a marijuana user, 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 fatally stabs him with a fire iron.

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; fearing for Scotty's life, the rest of the family head for his house. Unbeknownst to them, Beverly actually intends to kill Eugene's patient Ralph Sterner and his wife, Betty, for calling Eugene to treat her husband's chronic toothache on a day they were supposed to spend birdwatching. She stabs Betty with scissors borrowed from the Sutphins' neighbor, Rosemary; and pushes an air conditioner from the Sterners' window onto Ralph. Meanwhile, the rest of the family and the police arrive at Scotty's house, only to find him in his room masturbating to Deadly Weapons.

That Sunday, police follow the Sutphins to church as a news report names Beverly as the suspect in the Sterners' murders. The service abruptly ends when Beverly sneezing causes everyone to flee in panic, during which she escapes as police attempt to arrest her. She hides at the video rental store where Chip works, while a customer, Mrs. Jensen, argues with Chip over paying a fee for failing to rewind a videotape, calling him a "son of a psycho". Beverly follows Jensen home and fatally strikes her with a leg of lamb as she watches Annie. Scotty witnesses the attack through a window; Beverly spots him and pursues him after carjacking a passerby. Following him to Hammerjack's, Beverly sets Scotty aflame onstage during a performance by all-female band Camel Lips. The Sutphin family arrive as the police arrest Beverly.

Beverly's trial becomes a media sensation. She is dubbed "Serial Mom", Chip hires an agent to manage the family's media appearances and Misty sells merchandise outside the courthouse. During the opening arguments, Beverly's lawyer claims that she is not guilty by reason of insanity, but she fires him and, citing law books she has read, proposes to represent herself, to which the judge reluctantly agrees. Beverly systematically discredits most 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; goading Rosemary into admitting she does not recycle; and deliberately arousing Marvin Pickles, witness to Carl's murder, who unknowingly commits perjury. Only Hodges is not discredited, as she is unable to provide credible testimony under the influence of marijuana. During Pike's testimony, the courtroom is distracted by the arrival of Suzanne Somers, who has been cast as Beverly for a television film.

Eventually, Beverly is acquitted of all charges. Throughout the trial, Beverly 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 attempting to pose for a photo op as the juror's body is discovered. The film closes on a shot of Beverly's wicked smile and a revelation that she "refused to cooperate" with the making of the film.



During pre-production, Waters suggested other actresses for the role of Beverly including Meryl Streep, Kathy Bates and Glenn Close, before Turner was cast.[8]

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.

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


The film was screened out of competition as the closing night film at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival.[9]

Critical reception[edit]

The film received mixed to positive reviews from critics, and currently holds a 64% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 50 reviews.[10][11] 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,[12] "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.

Box office[edit]

The film opened on April 13, 1994 and grossed $2,040,450 in its opening weekend, ranking number 11 at the US box office. By the end of its run, the film had grossed $7,820,688 in the United States and Canada.[2] The film has become a cult classic since its release.[13]

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, 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.


  1. ^ "Serial Mom (18)". British Board of Film Classification. May 3, 1994. Retrieved October 25, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d "Serial Mom (1994)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. August 4, 1994. 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. Retrieved November 18, 2010.
  4. ^ Katzman, Jason (September 28, 2006). "10 great dark comedies". Retrieved October 18, 2017.
  5. ^ Coffel, Chris (February 1, 2017). "Zap! Scream Factory to Release 'Serial Mom' on Blu-ray!". Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  6. ^ "'Serial Mom': John Waters and Kathleen Turner Look Back on Their Comedy Classic". Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  7. ^ Trunick, Austin. "John Waters on his 1994 cult classic "Serial Mom"". Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  8. ^ Trunick, Austin (August 8, 2017). "John Waters on his 1994 cult classic Serial Mom". Under the Radar. Retrieved July 10, 2020.
  9. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Serial Mom". Retrieved September 2, 2009.
  10. ^ "Serial Mom (1994)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  11. ^ 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. Retrieved January 1, 2011.
  12. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Serial Mom". Retrieved October 1, 2013.
  13. ^ Frank the Movie Guy. Hidden Gem: Serial Mom. April 23, 2007. Retrieved on June 7, 2007
  14. ^ Craft, Dan (December 30, 1994). "Success, Failure and a Lot of In-between; Movies '94". The Pantagraph. p. B1.
  15. ^ Armstrong, Douglas (January 1, 1995). "End-of-year slump is not a happy ending". The Milwaukee Journal. p. 2.

External links[edit]