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John Waters
Kathleen Turner, Sam Waterston, Ricki Lake, Matthew Lillard, Scott Morgan, Walt MacPherson, Scott Morgan, Justin Whalin, Traci Lords
Writing Credits:
John Waters

She's a fabulous, loving, caring mother, who er ... happens to be a serial killer!

Director John Waters puts a twist on the everyday mediocrity of suburban life in the hilarious satire Serial Mom. See Kathleen Turner like never before as Beverly Sutphin, the seemingly perfect homemaker who will stop at nothing to rid the neighborhood of anyone failing to live up to her moral code. Featuring a digitally remastered picture and 5.1 surround sound, Serial Mom is a killer comedy that will take you over the edge with laughter!

Box Office:
$13 million.
Domestic Gross
$7.881 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 94 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 5/6/08

• Audio Commentary with Director John Waters and Actor Kathleen Turner
• Audio Commentary with Director John Waters
• “Serial Mom: Surreal Moments” Featurette
• “The Kings of Gore: Herschell Gordon Lewis and David Friedman” Featurette
• “The Making of Serial Mom” Featurette
• Trailer


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Serial Mom: Collector's Edition (1994)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 12, 2008)

My pal Kevin and I have remained friends for more than 30 years. Obviously no one can maintain such a long relationship if they have nothing in common, and Kevin and I do share a mix of similar affections and traits. That reflects our taste in movies – to a degree. Sure, we both love the Alien films and some comedies like Quick Change, but we also disagree. Kevin tends to dig camp more than I do, which is why he delights in Valley of the Dolls, a flick I consider to be borderline unwatchable.

For years, Kevin has raved about 1994’s Serial Mom. For years, I’ve refused to see it. Kevin embraces the ultra-campy world of John Waters much more than I, and to be honest, the boy’s made me sick of the movie; he’s quoted it and referred to it so much that I can barely stand to hear its title.

Nonetheless, I decided it was time to give it a look, and this new Collector’s Edition seemed like a good reason to do so. Mom stars Kathleen Turner as Beverly Sutphin, a housewife in a Baltimore suburb who lives with her dentist husband Eugene (Sam Waterston) and kids Chip (Matthew Lillard) and Misty (Ricki Lake). On the surface, Beverly appears to be as normal and average as could be, but her Cleaver-esque exterior hides a darker side; we first see this via the obscene phone calls she makes to torment her neighbor Dottie Hinkle (Mink Stole).

Beverly’s behaviors become more serious when Chip’s math teacher (John Badila) questions his home environment. Her response? She runs him over with her car. This launches her on a homicidal rampage intended to stamp out anyone who doesn’t live up to her standards, and she becomes a cult hero in the process.

Like I said earlier, my friend and I often agree on movies – but not this time. Unlike Valley of the Dolls, I don’t actively dislike Serial Mom, but for the life of me, I can’t see why Kevin so adores the flick. It provides the occasional laugh but not much more than that.

As with many Waters films, Mom boasts a fun premise. The idea of the all-American mom who slays at the slightest provocation opens up to a myriad of possibilities, a few of which the film explores. It doesn’t seem tough to find the comedy in such a clever idea.

Unfortunately, Mom only occasionally brings out the humor. Like virtually all of Waters’ flicks, it usually seems more preoccupied with random bits of perversity, a common theme in his work. He wants to remind us that depravity lurks on every corner and the average Joe next door might hide some freaky fetish. Okay, John, we get it; you’ve flogged that dead horse for years.

That trend would reach its peak – or nadir, depending on your perspective - with Waters’ A Dirty Shame, a sporadically amusing movie that often seems like nothing more than a recitation of fetishes. Mom doesn’t focus on freaks in such a way, but it does cover some of the same territory. When it sticks with suburbia and Beverly, it does okay; when it veers into other areas, it falters.

Actually, I think the parts with Beverly work the best not because of Waters’ script but due to Turner’s performance. She’s easily the best thing about Mom, as she turns in a gleefully wicked turn as the insane housewife. Unlike most of her co-stars – since unabashed, painful overacting abounds here – Turner manages to border on camp but not get swallowed by it. She gives Beverly a broad vibe but still manages nuance in the part. She clearly had a blast in the part and its shows.

Otherwise, Serial Mom offers spotty pleasures at best. Even at a mere 94 minutes, it seems too long, and it does work better as a concept than as a film. I got a few decent laughs out of it and that was all.

The DVD Grades: Picture C-/ Audio C/ Bonus B

Serial Mom appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While I can’t say I expected anything special from this transfer, I nonetheless felt the results disappointed.

Sharpness usually seemed fine. Although the movie never exhibited great definition, I thought it was acceptably concise most of the time. A few shots came across as a bit soft, but the majority of the flick showed decent accuracy. I noticed no problems with shimmering or jaggies, but mild to moderate edge enhancement showed up throughout the film.

Colors appeared ordinary. The flick went with a natural palette that rarely seemed quite as vivid as it should be. At times I thought the tones looked sufficiently dynamic, but they usually tended to be a tad tepid. Blacks were reasonably deep, while shadows seemed somewhat dense, as they didn’t show great clarity.

Source flaws were another concern. They started during the opening credits and continued through the flick’s conclusion, as it witnessed examples of specks, debris, marks, nicks and other defects. I didn’t think they appeared overwhelming, but they created more than a few distractions. All of this left Serial Mom as a “C-“ transfer.

Matters didn’t improve much with the ordinary – and occasionally flawed - Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Serial Mom. The soundfield failed to boast much ambition and came with some problems. Localization was erratic. Some elements popped up in the right spots, but others showed looser placement; speech and effects might bleed to the sides, or they might even pop up on the wrong side. Music offered good stereo imaging, and most of the effects appeared in the correct spots, but enough exceptions occurred to create distractions.

Surround usage was insubstantial. If the rear speakers added anything to the presentation, I didn’t notice it. The back channels may have bolstered the front in a minor way, but I thought they didn’t do much.

Audio quality was acceptable. Speech seemed natural and concise, without edginess or other problems. Music showed nice life and seemed reasonably robust. Effects fell into the same range, as those elements were clean and distinctive. The soundfield was too messy to make this more than a “C” mix, unfortunately.

This 2008 “Collector’s Edition” packs in a pretty good roster of extras. We find two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director John Waters and actor Kathleen Turner, both of whom sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They discuss how Turner came onto the project, other cast and performances, problems with the studio, locations and shooting in Baltimore, influences, and anecdotes from the production.

This commentary comes with high expectations, and it occasionally lives up to them. Waters and Turner interact well and provide a mix of good notes about the flick. However, the track sags on occasion and never becomes quite as much fun as one might hope. I think it’s a worthwhile listen and an above-average commentary; it’s just not as terrific as anticipated.

We also get a commentary from director John Waters all on his own. This running, screen-specific piece repeats from the 1999 DVD release of Mom. In it, Waters discusses inspirations and the film’s connection to his other works, sets and locations, cast and performances, and a few other topics.

It should come as no surprise that a fair amount of information appears during both commentaries. Actually, it’s not a gross overstatement to say that they’re essentially the same. Each one includes a little unique information but not a ton.

And neither seems to work better than the other. The Waters solo track is less disappointing, but it’s not necessarily superior to the Waters/Turner chat. Both are good commentaries with a reasonable amount of useful information, and Waters proves enjoyable and funny much of the time. I’m not sure it’s worth your time to listen to both tracks, though, since so much redundant material appears. I’d pick this one as the better of the two; how often do you hear a director speculate about whether Monica Lewinsky rimmed President Clinton?

In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, the CE presents three featurettes. Serial Mom: Surreal Moments runs 29 minutes, four seconds as it mixes movie clips, archival elements and interviews. We hear from Waters, production designer Vincent Peranio, cinematographer David Insley, casting director Pat Moran, columnist/film critic Dennis Dermody, and actors Susan Lowe, Mink Stole, Patricia Hearst, Ricki Lake, Matthew Lillard, Sam Waterston, and Donita Sparks. “Surreal” looks at Waters’ early career and aspects of his production company, getting backing for the flick and pulling it together, casting and performances, set design and costumes, music, thoughts about the cult of the serial killer and “court hags”, and reflections on the end product.

As a documentary, “Surreal” tends to be a bit all over the place. It jumps around its different subjects in a somewhat random way that can be a little distracting. Nonetheless, it offers some interesting information and good perspective, especially in the way it places the flick in the Waters roster. The Kings of Gore: Herschell Gordon Lewis and David Friedman runs 11 minutes, 26 seconds and features Dermody, Waters, filmmaker/entrepreneur Herschell Gordon Lewis, Grindhouse Film Festival’s Eric J. Caidan and Brian Quinn, and entrepreneur/producer David Friedman. The piece examines the origins of gorey drive-in movies and the creation of Blood Feast, a flick featured prominently in Serial Mom. It alternates between memories of drive-in days and thoughts about the movie in a good manner that makes it entertaining.

Finally, The Making of Serial Mom goes for six minutes, 10 seconds. Another piece also found on the 1999 DVD, this one uses Lake, Waters, Turner, and Waterston. The featurette offers a bland promotional look at the film that doesn’t give us any real info about the flick.

Maybe someday I’ll understand why my friend Kevin so adores Serial Mom, but today I remain perplexed. I don’t think it’s a bad movie, but it’s too often a dull one; its laughs come too infrequently to make it more than a random success. The DVD presents erratic and lackluster picture and audio but boasts some fairly good supplements. If you’re part of the John Waters cult, I’m sure you’ll like this disc, but I don’t know if it’ll do much for the uninitiated.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.25 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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