• Serial Mom



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: May 9th, 2017.
    Director: John Waters
    Cast: Kathleen Turner, Sam Waterston, Ricki Lake, Sam Waterson, Mink Stole, Matthew Lillard
    Year: 1994
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    The Movie:

    A twisted take on American suburban life as only John Waters can deliver, Serial Mom revolves around a housewife named Beverly Sutphin (Turner) who tends to the picture perfect home she keeps up for her caring husband Eugene (Sam Waterston) and their two children, Misty (Ricki Lake) and Chip (Matthew Lillard in his first feature film role).

    While on the surface, Beverly may appear to be a regular Joan Cleaver, it becomes clear soon after we meet her that she has a dark side. At first it seems harmless enough, she’s just making dirty prank calls to neighbor Dottie Hinkle (Mink Stole), but soon manifests into something more similar when she deliberately backs over Eugene’s math teacher after a parent/teacher interview doesn’t go the way she wants it (he rags on the kid for watching H.G. Lewis movies!). Once Beverly has had a taste of murder, those who displease her start to meet their increasingly grisly demises – the boyfriend that stands Misty up for another woman (Traci Lords) gets it, and he's not the only one.

    All the while her family seems to have no idea about her extracurricular activities. Once the cops start to figure out what’s going on and trace her fingerprints to some serial killer books and a murder weapon, however, Beverly finds the heat coming down on her pretty quickly, leading to a court battle with disgruntled neighbor Dottie.

    Made four years after Waters went ‘mainstream’ with Cry-Baby, it’s interesting to note that this picture reunites many of the cast members he used on that earlier picture (Ricki Lake, Traci Lords, Mink Stole, Patricia Hearst, John Calvin Doyle, and Susan Lowe appear in both films). Serial Mom never quite tries to reach the insane and obscene heights of Waters’ earlier pictures but it does definitely earn its R-rating. The gore isn’t particularly strong (though there is more bloodshed than you might expect from your typical comedy film) but there’s a fair bit of raunchy material here – the acerbic dialogue being one example (“Is this the Cocksucker residence?”) and then of course the scene where Chip’s friend Scotty (Justin Whalin) gets busted masturbating to a Chesty Morgan movie.

    The movie works as both a straight comedy (with some doses of horror movie standards tossed in for good measure) and a satire of America’s obsession with serial killers. By the time the court case is over, Suzanne Somers (who appears in the film as herself) has agreed to play Beverly in the soon to be made bio-pic. The movie is pretty clever in this regard, working serial killer books and memorabilia into the film as props and even working in an ‘audio recording’ of Ted Bundy into the proceedings (though it’s clearly Waters’ own voice being used here). The film also takes on the hypocrisy of certain factions of the church, best emphasized in a scene where the preacher (Colgate Salsbury) addresses his congregation from the pulpit as follows:

    “Jesus said nothing to condemn capital punishment as he hung on the cross, did he? If ever there was a time to go on record against the death penalty, wasn't it that night? Capital punishment is already the law in the state of Maryland. So what are we waiting for, fellow Christians? Let's just do it.”

    Of course, the real target here is suburbia and all the phoniness that life there can often entail. Judgement calls are made out loud when a certain character wears white after Labor Day, there’s the catty infighting between Beverly and Dottie that happens throughout the movie, nasty digs made about various neighbors when Beverly talks to the local garbage men about who does and doesn’t recycle and more. Beverly even regularly criticizes poor Scotty for not wearing his seatbelt! Quite a few interesting pop culture references here too – in addition to the previously mentioned Chesty Morgan movie and clips from the H.G. Lewis gore films, the movie features an L7 poster clearly hung on the wall in one room and then a live performance from the and themselves, dubbed here as the ‘Camel Lips’ (though playing in front of an L7 back drop). At one point a character references the dentist in Marathon Man and at another point a character tells Beverly “You’re bigger than Freddy and Jason now.” Misty tries to sell a Pee-Wee Herman doll at a flea market.

    None of this would work if the performances weren’t up to par, however. Thankfully, the film scores very high marks in that department as well. Sam Waterston is great as Beverly’s husband, highlighted by a pretty hysterical scene where his wife gets in the mood and decides she doesn’t care if the kids hear them going at it. Waterson plays things pretty straight, delivering his lines with a dry sense of humor that fits in really well. Ricki Lake and Matthew Lillard are solid as the kids too. Mink Stole, not surprisingly to anyone familiar with the other films she made for Waters, steals quite a few of the scenes that she’s in and is perfectly cast as Turner’s principal foil. As to Turner herself? Well after working with Ken Russell on Crimes Of Passion it was clear to anyone paying attention that she didn’t mind taking chances with her roles. She was, however, definitely the biggest ‘star’ that had appeared in one of this films up to this point in his career. While Julie Andrews was considered for the part and Susan Sarandon also one the short list, Turner proves the perfect casting choice for the part. She not only looks the part of the all American mom next door, she’s able to pull off both the comedic aspects of the picture and the physical side of the character really, really well. She was clearly engaged in the role and gave it her all – the movie is all the better for it.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Serial Mom arrives on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and it looks good, if at times a little soft. This looks like it stems back to the elements rather than the transfer itself, however, as we definitely get noticeably more information on this release than we did on the old Universal DVD release. Skin tones look good, there’s reasonable depth and texture here and the picture is quite clean, showing only minor white specks here and there. Colors look really nice here, they’re quite bold and bright without looking oversaturated, while black levels are pretty decent.

    English language options are provided in DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo Master Audio tracks with optional subtitles provided in English only. The 5.1 track opens up the folley effects and score a bit more with some marginal rear channel activity but like the original stereo track it keeps most of the action up in the front. Regardless of which option you go for the clarity here is fine and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion.

    Extras are a mix of old and new, starting with the audio commentary track that was recorded with John Waters and Kathleen Turner for the 2008 DVD release. Carried over from the original DVD release that predates even that 2008 SE is a solo commentary featuring Waters. There is, understandably, some overlap between the two tracks but Waters junkies won’t mind. If you haven’t heard these before they’re both well worth checking out, the right balance of humor and interesting information is here as Waters basically gives us a history lesson in the making of the film.

    New to this release is ‘A Conversation With John Waters, Kathleen Turner And Mink Stole’ that runs thirty-four minutes in length. This segment is pretty great, it’s essentially a roundtable discussion between the three of them just reminiscing about the time they spent working together. Turner gives her impressions of the film, its director and her co-stars and also talks about why she wanted the part in the first place while Stole talks about her character and interacting with Turner in a few key scenes. Waters serves as the ringmaster for all of this, guiding the conversation and chiming in with plenty of amusing quips and anecdotes as the conversation calls for it. This one is a lot of fun, and quite interesting too.

    The rest of the extras again originate from the 2008 DVD release. Here we get Serial Mom: Surreal Moments, a half hour long making of featurette that includes interviews with Waters, Stole, Patricia Hearst, Ricki Lake, Matthew Lillard, casting director Pat Moran, production designer Vincent Pirano and quite a few others. Also on hand is The Making Of Serial Mom, a vintage promotional featurette that is basically a glorified EPK piece, but amusing enough to watch. The disc also includes The Kings Of Gore: Herschel Gordon Lewis And David Friedman, an eleven minute piece wherein the late duo behind the gore films featured prominently on the TV screens in Serial Mom get the chance to give viewers a quick rundown of their career and school them on creating the first American gore films.

    Rounding out the extras are the film’s original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection. It’s also worth noting that this release comes with reversible cover art and a slipcover.

    The Final Word:

    Serial Mom holds up really well, a twisted little comedy with some great performances, memorable characters and instantly quotable sharply written dialogue. Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray offers up a nice upgrade over the previous DVD edition of the film and throw in a great new featurette as well. Lots of fun to be had with this one – recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!





























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