Serial Mom was the return of John Waters to R-Rated movie territory. His previous two features, Hairspray and Cry Baby, were nostalgic, rock and roll driven light comedies. Of course even these family-friendly, foot-tapping joyrides had moments of weirdness. Nothing like his notorious early atrocities, of course. For John to make any real money he had to tone things down a bit. He managed to do so without really compromising his trashy trademark aesthetics.

Shot in 1993 and released in 1994, Serial Mom is a forerunner to hip, self-aware '90s satires like Natural Born Killers and Scream. It's also the closest Waters has come to achieving the look of a real mainstream production. Most of John's films are intentionally campy and owe a lot to the underground films of the Kuchar Brothers. Serial Mom has the look of a slick Douglas Sirk melodrama.

The success of Hairspray allowed John to get big enough budgets to acquire Hollywood actors. Kathleen Turner is the star of Serial Mom. She is the embodiment of the maxim that serial killers appear to be normal people, but act out on a dark side of their natures.

Turner is magnificent in a role that could have been done by Divine. By appearances she is a normal Mom, but she builds up a body count of people who disappoint her. Sam Waterston is also good as her dumbfounded husband, and future Scream and Scooby-Doo star Mathew Lillard is excellent as Turner's horror-happy video store clerk son. Longtime Dreamland actress Mink Stole is great as a phone prank victim. Regular Waters actors Ricki Lake and Patricia Hearst round out the cast.

Serial Mom is a sharp satire of serial killer worship, true crime buffs, celebrity adulation, and media sensation. The entire movie is framed as a documentary. I think it's one of the best Waters movies and it is a perfect introduction to his world for people who want something a little stronger than Hairspray, but might not quite be ready for Pink Flamingos or Desperate Living.

There was a little theater in the neighborhood where I grew up in the '70s called the Beechmont Twin. I saw great movies there, like Frogs and Planet of the Apes sequels. Later I watched slasher films and other weird oddities the bigger chains wouldn't touch, like Galaxy of Terror and Up the Academy. By the mid eighties I was seeing things like Aliens, Platoon, and Psycho 3 at the Beechmont. I even dragged a couple of unhappy friends to see Bruno Mattei's Night of the Zombies/AKA Hell of the Living Dead. It was a wonderful little place that felt a lot more intimate and friendly than the big multiplexes that cut the throats of independent theaters. By 1994 the Beechmont Twin was falling apart and Serial Mom was the last movie I saw there. I was alone in the auditorium. It closed down shortly after that, but still stands today as a church. A sad shadow of its former glories as a palace of dreams and nightmares.

Written by Mark Sieber

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