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Film / Serial Mom

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Serial Mom is a 1994 American satirical Black Comedy film written and directed by John Waters. The film centers around Beverly Sutphin, a stay-at-home housewife from Baltimore who appears a sweet matriarch but in reality, is a Serial Killer who murders anyone who offends her values. The case turns into a media frenzy and Beverly becomes the object of attention by heading into trial. Hilarity Ensues.

The films stars Kathleen Turner as Beverly, Sam Waterston as her husband Eugene, Ricki Lake as her daughter Misty, and Matthew Lillard as her son Chip.

This film provides examples of:

  • Aerosol Flamethrower: Beverly uses one to turn Scotty into a Man on Fire as he attempts to flee from her onto the stage during the Camel Lips show at Hammerjack's.
  • All Part of the Show: When Man on Fire Scotty staggers onto the stage during the Camel Lips gig, the crowd thinks is part of the stage show and cheers wildly.
  • Artistic License Law: Pretty much the entire trial.
  • Asshole Victim: Most of Beverly's victims are at least fairly repugnant early on, though she is demonstrated to be insanely petty as the film progresses.
  • Author Appeal: The premise springs from Waters' personal interest in highly publicized criminal cases.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Beverly gets an acquittal after she's arrested and put on trial. She even kills one of the jurors who acquitted her on her way out. While this is discovered in front of the media, the recent events leave doubt as to whether things won't just repeat themselves, as Beverly quite visibly knows.
  • Berserk Button: The judge hates profanity in his courtroom.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Beverly has all the credentials of a saccharine suburban housewife, but in reality is a petty psychopath who obsessively torments and kills anyone who so much as acts in an uncouth tone towards her.
  • Black Comedy: The film doesn't play all the deaths as funny, but does try to find humor in the subject matter.
  • Booze Flamethrower: Beverly uses an Aerosol Flamethrower to set Scotty alight. He staggers onto the stage where Camel Lips are playing and collapses. One of the musicians swigs a mouthful of clear alcohol (probably vodka) and sprays it onto him; causing the flames to flare even more intensely.
  • The Cameo:
    • Waters provides the voice of Ted Bundy in a tape recording.
    • Suzanne Somers, who is slated to play Beverly in an upcoming TV biopic, is brought to the trial for no other reason than to distract the jury and the judge.
    • Beverly's last victim is played by Patty Hearst.
    • The band playing at local club Hammerjacks is named Camel Lips - played by the members of L7.
  • Camping a Crapper: Beverly stabs Kurt in the back with a poker while he is standing at the urinal in the men's room with his hands occupied.
  • The Can Kicked Him: Carl.
  • Car Fu: Beverly runs Mr. Stubbins over with her car after he criticizes Chip's interests and questions the boy's mental health and family life, as well as berating her parenting.
  • Caught with Your Pants Down: Scotty—usually seen with a porno mag—is caught masturbating under his blanket when Chip, Misty and their dad bust in on him, thinking he's Beverly's next victim. Followed by two detectives.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Both Beverly and Dottie during the former's prank phone calls.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: Not just Beverly, but most of the other characters either defend or idolize Beverly after she's revealed to be a Serial Killer, and show no empathy for her victims (especially in the second half of the film).
  • Death by Looking Up: Ralph manages to escape from Beverly and get outside his house, but stops immediately outside the front door to scream for help. As he does so, Beverly pushes an air conditioner down on top of him. He looks up just in time to have it smash him in the face.
  • Depraved Dentist: Eugene revels in his patients' pain, though not for sadistic or malicious reasons.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Beverly kills people for what most would consider trivial reasons. This includes one of the jurors who acquitted her, for wearing white shoes after Labor Day and contemplating on killing someone for not recycling.
  • Edible Bludgeon: Beverly follows Mrs. Jensen home and bludgeons her to death with a leg of lamb while she sings along to "Tomorrow" on her rented copy of Annie (1982).
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Despite being Ax-Crazy, Beverly loves her family and is protective of her children.
  • Evil Is Petty: Beverly's motives for murder range from social faux pas (wearing white shoes after Labor Day) to mistreatment of her family (standing up Misty) to sheer pettiness (questioning her parenting).
  • Hypocritical Humor: Frequently used with Beverly, who despite her intense value of social virtues, is in reality petty, catty tempered, sadistic and in one of her juror's case, thoroughly ungrateful.
  • Jabba Table Manners: The Sterners, as seen through Beverly's eyes: ripping chicken apart with their hands, sucking flesh off the bones, juices dribbling down their chins and being wiped off with the backs of their hands...
  • Kangaroo Court: The film mocks the media's glorification of criminal stories, something Beverly swiftly manipulates to garner sympathy in the court.
  • Karma Houdini: Beverly successfully gets acquitted out of multiple murders, though the film is left on an ambiguous note when her post-trial victim is discovered. The band Camel Lips practically assisted her with her final victim prior and aren't even accused.
  • Leg Focus: Taken to the extreme when Beverly realizes one of the witnesses in the trial is fascinated with her legs and exploits that distraction to the point that he recants his earlier testimony.
  • Mama Bear: At least three of Beverly's victims are killed because they have wronged her children in some way.
  • Man on Fire: Catching Scotty at a local club, Hammerjack's, Beverly sets Scotty aflame onstage in front of a deranged crowd during the set of an all-female band called Camel Lips.
  • Mistaken for Prank Call: Beverly invokes this in the midst of her regular prank calls to Dottie Hinkle (for stealing a parking space). She calls Dottie back immediately after her last prank call, pretending to be a normal caller at first:
    Dottie: Didn't I just say fuck you!?
    Beverly: [in a different voice] I beg your pardon!
    Dottie: Who is this?
    Beverly: Mrs. Wilson from the telephone company. I understand you're having problems with an obscene phone caller?
    Dottie: Yes, I am. I'm sorry, Mrs. Wilson, but this is driving me crazy! I have my number changed twice already. I'm a divorced woman, please help me.
    Beverly: Well what exactly does this sick individual say to you?
    Dottie: I can't say the words out loud, I don't use bad language.
    Beverly: Oh well, I know it's difficult, but we need to know the exact words.
    Dottie: I'll try. Cocksucker, that's what she calls me.
    Beverly: [reverting to the original voice] Listen to your filthy mouth, you fuckin' whore!
    Dottie: Goddamn you!
    Beverly: Motherfucker!
    Dottie: Cocksucker!
  • Never Trust a Trailer: A few of the original trailers seem to be marketing the film as a comedy-thriller where it's a mystery if Beverly is actually committing the murders or if it's the work of another killer. Any mystery goes out the window in the first twenty minutes when she kills Chip's math teacher.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Beverly's family are outright terrified when she is acquitted, knowing they could very easily end up next.
    • The juror after realizing the person she acquitted is going to beat her to death. Suzanne Somers gets one after the body is discovered, very quickly figuring out the culprit is standing right next to her.
  • Pet the Dog: Beverly affectionately plays with Mrs. Jenson's pet dog moments before killing his owner.
  • Pretty in Mink: Suzanne Somers, being a successful actress, wears a couple full-length fur coats in her scenes.
  • Serial Killer: The eponymous mom kills several people.
  • Shout-Out: Waters' previous films appear as VHS tapes in the video store Chip works at.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance:
    • Beverly bludgeons one of her neighbors while the lady is singing along with "Tomorrow".
    • Beverly herself sings along with "Daybreak" while fleeing a police car in her station wagon. It's also the closing song.

  • Stepford Smiler: Beverly is a subversion.
  • Stock Scream: By the guy who finds Carl in the bathroom.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Beverly coldly bludgeons to death one of the jurors who acquitted her. For wearing white shoes after Labor Day.
  • Villain Ball: Just minutes after being acquitted, Beverly goes to commit her pettiest murder yet, only for the body to be publicly discovered. Of course, since she practically murdered her previous victim in public and still got found innocent, it's questionable whether this one will really be her undoing.
  • Villain Protagonist: Beverly, obviously.
  • You Are Fat: Misty was told by her boyfriend that if she loses a certain amount of weight, he can take her to Spring Break. Beverly and Chip are not amused.
  • Younger Than They Look: Misty looks to be in her late twenties, but acts like a boy-crazy Bratty Teenage Daughter.


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