Film Reviews:

Serial Mom

(John Waters, US, 1994)

After scoring mainstream PG rated success with Hairspray and Cry Baby, John Waters' latest movie, Serial Mom, comes as a welcome breath of fetid air. Set in the present, and sporting an 18 certificate, Waters grabs the current American fascination with all things related to multiple maniacs severely by the throat, and doesn't let up until he's throttled the subject half to death. Serial Mom recounts the tragic story of Beverly Sutphin, (Kathleen Turner in one of her finest roles), a seemingly perfect suburban housewife, always ready with a perky smile and a cheery word. She deplores swearing, and deplores the nasty horror films that obsess her son. All in all she is the perfect, all American 'mom'. Unless someone is silly enough to upset her. Then a sad, pitying frown crosses her face, and without missing a beat she becomes Serial Mom, a maniac whose reign of terror starts with hatefully obscene phone calls, and ends only after she has removed someone's liver with a toasting fork. Not that it takes a lot to antagonise her. Anything from giving her son poor grades to forgetting to rewind a rented videocassette are all valid reasons for repeatedly running a teacher over, or bludgeoning an old lady to death to the strains of 'Tomorrow', the hideous sqwarked theme song from the movie Annie.

As usual, Waters employs a colourful supporting cast which includes Patty Hearst as a juror, and porno princess Traci Lords as the girlfriend of the poor guy who gets the liver surgery in the 'Gents'. Thankfully, unlike Cry Baby, these star turns aren't intrusive, merely a fun bonus. All girl grunge group L7 make what must be the best rock cameo since the Seeds appeared with Jack Nicholson in Psych Out... and these girls are even funnier. Their scene takes the movie to its outer edge, as they lead their audience in a chant of appreciation for 'Serial Mom!' whilst helping her incinerate a hapless fan right on stage. Beverly's murders are surprisingly explicit, and amazingly, there are clips from three films currently banned by the BBFC: Blood Feast, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Chesty Morgan's Double Agent 73, the latter featuring as the masturbation fodder of a supremely sad youngster. The clips from Blood Feast are especially gory, which makes an uncut video release for Serial Mom unlikely. Perhaps the censor has a sense of humour after all? Maybe, but I doubt it. [The video release is edited - Ed.]

After Beverly's capture, Waters successfully takes the story into the courtroom, and Serial Mom becomes a counterculture icon and merchandising bonanza, typified by one sick exchange between a distraught young man and Beverly's son, now in smart suit and mobile phone and handling TV exploitation of this true life terror tale. Raging and tearful, the youngster tells Serial's son that 'Your mom killed my brother', but hate is quickly changed to gratitude, as the son smoothly suggests cutting the lad in for some of the mini series rights. The movie has a literally breakneck pace, which mostly ignores background detail and character development, merely sketching them in, preferring to go straight for the jugular. Waters take just the right tone, attacking an America obsessed with the symptoms of its own disease, mercilessly satirising as many aspects of serial killer fascination as he possibly can, from sick serial killer artwork, to murderer trading cards, porno mags and 'can we talk' TV chat shows, whilst obviously loving his country for its talent of producing such especially entertaining illness. Hey, anyone can be crazed, but American makes it fun. If you feel the current cult status of such sickies as Manson is pathetic, but equally despise attempts to blame the movies for everything going, then this is for you. A purely impure delight from the still wicked Pope of Trash.

Adrian Horrocks