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‘Serial Mom’ is a Maternal Mockery of America’s True Crime Obsession

John Waters irreverently lampoons the nuclear family in this dark comedy about the slasher mommy that could

With more and more movie streaming services popping up, it can feel impossible to keep track of what’s showing where. So to help, this October I’ll be recommending a different film every day from one such service that embodies the spooky spirit of the season. From classic Halloween movies to indie horror to campy dark comedies, this is 31 Days of a Very Chingy Halloween.

Today I’m looking at Serial Mom, John Waters’ cutting satire of the true crime genre, currently streaming on Peacock.

Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Turner) is a mother and housewife living in the suburbs of Baltimore. Along with her dentist husband Eugene (Sam Waterston) and their teenage children Misty and Chip (Ricki Lake and Matthew Lillard), the Sutphins are a picture-perfect image of upper-middle class living. But appearances aren’t what they seem, with Beverly secretly being an utter menace when she’s home alone. Starting out with vulgar prank phone calls, the homemaker quickly turns homicidal and it’s up to her family to try and keep the body count from climbing.

Written and directed by queer godfather of scumbag cinema John Waters, Serial Mom is a demented romp that irreverently lampoons suburbia and the conceit of the nuclear family. Beverly takes being a caring wife and mother to an insane level as she flies into a murderous rage over any perceived slight against her and her family, and her killings become increasingly more elaborate as a result. Over the course of the film, she goes from simply mowing down a rude teacher with her station wagon to bludgeoning an elderly woman with a leg of lamb. 

And while Beverly takes violent offense to the implication that her family is anything less than the American dream, she’s just as likely to slay based on manners, plotting a neighbor’s bloody demise because she doesn’t properly recycle. 

Turner is magnificent in this role, bringing it to life with a maternal touch that quickly turns into a childlike glee when she kills. She effortlessly switches back and forth between the two, with a scene where she heartily enjoys some bloody red gore transitioning seamlessly into a glistening red meatloaf.

Like most of Waters’ films, Serial Mom heavily satirizes elements of American pop culture, and by the end, it becomes clear he’s mocking the country’s morbid and seemingly endless fascination with the true crime genre. A joke disclaimer at the beginning even plays into this, falsely claiming the events depicted were “based on a true story.”

As it becomes increasingly clear to everyone in town that Beverly is a killer, some people become enamored with her, giving her the titular nickname “Serial Mom” and even abetting her crimes. By the time of her eventual trial, she’s a media sensation, with her children even selling the rights to a TV movie depicting her as misunderstood. But unlike the defense counsel, Serial Mom makes no efforts to convince us of Beverly’s innocence, instead letting us appreciate the homicidal matriarch for the sick puppy she is.

To see a list of each of the previous entries, check out the A Very Chingy Halloween list on Letterboxd.