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Feature


Beverly Sutphin (Kathleen Turner) is the perfect mother of two perfect kids, and she’s married to the perfect husband. She lives on a perfect street in a perfect neighbourhood, where she cooks perfect meals in her perfect kitchen. But there are threats to Beverly’s perfect life everywhere, and she’s not going to take it lying down—she’s going to make a difference, she’s going to kill those that trespass against her, her family, and common decency.

I like John Waters in theory more than practice. I’m happy he’s here, I’m happy he’s making movies, and I happy he’s got his fans. I’m especially happy he’s got the time to be interviewed for so many documentaries. Unfortunately I don’t really like watching John Waters movies, but there are two exceptions— Hairspray and Serial Mom.

Serial Mom: Collector's Edition
Serial Mom is clever film that mixes and mingles John Waters’ favourite elements—gross out humour, raw language, celebrity worship, and all the little idiosyncrasies of Americana. Here the filth obsessed writer/director deals with the American obsession with celebrity trials, tasteless talk shows, and serial killers, while making heartfelt statements about tolerance and hypocrisy. Waters is also an expert fan of gory horror films (he’s almost like a historian, actually), and Serial Mom is really the only horror homage in his collection. Waters includes both scene specific homage, and several scenes of characters watching scenes from his exploitation favourites. The only thing missing here is Devine.

“Chip, you know how I hate the brown word”

Serial Mom is wonderfully sarcastic without a shade of subtlety. There isn’t an honest image in the piece, yet there’s an honest charm to the tone. Waters samples the insidious perversions David Lynch’s suburban nightmares, and the colourful, pleasant oddness of Edward Scissorhand’s neighbourhood, then cranks the knob up to Pink Flamingos. Ok, not that far, but we’re talking a few clicks beyond Hairspray. It’s hard to put my finger on what makes the film successful where other Waters films have failed, but it probably has something to do with Kathleen Turner’s peachy keen performance.

Serial Mom: Collector's Edition
I mean, there’s never been much doubt that Turner was awesome, but Serial Mom is likely the finest and funniest thing she’s done since Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Beverly Sutphin is a nuanced yet theatrical, and plenty odd enough to find an easy place in Water’s repertoire. Turner takes it over the top, but her performance is never numbing or obnoxious. And her smile is positively infectious. The actors around her are pretty good too, but more in keeping with Water’s studio average, and mostly played as purposefully arch.

“I saw blood, but it was brown, not red like the horror movies, but real!”

Serial Mom is a partial homage to the sometimes purposeful humour of Hershel Gordon Lewis, but Waters actually keeps the gross out gore humour to a minimum (he actually seems to be making a point of it sometimes), though there is a great gag involving an unceremoniously removed liver. Some of the better gags are at the expense of the status quo and conservative treatment of less than traditional lifestyles, which sticks it warmly in tune with the rest of Water’s comedies. Some of the verbal humour is flat and childish (also in-keeping with Water’s filmography), but there are some frightfully quotable one-liners. The best joke is probably the fact that most of Turner’s non-homicidal parenting is actually textbook perfect. No, I take that back, the best joke is the part where Beverly condemns her neighbour in court by making her admit under oath that she doesn’t recycle.

Serial Mom: Collector's Edition

Video


“Chip, the only ‘cereal’ I know anything about is Rice Crispies”

This new disc suffers from a case of what I like to call ‘ Robocop Syndrome’. It’s great to have the film anamorphically enhanced, but the previous R1 release was presented in the original and correct aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Real, nitpicky criticism becomes a frivolous tug of war. Can anyone really tell the difference? I’m not the best judge of comparison in this case because it’s been so very long since I rented the original release. This presentation is a bit rough around the edges, but overall a satisfactory video transfer considering the source material. Cinematographer Robert M. Stevens saturates the screen in suburban pastels, and bright whites. The colours are a bit muddy, and tend to bleed a bit (especially red lip stick, for some reason), but maintain a pretty solid hue without too much blocking. Edge enhancement is a distinct problem throughout, as is some general compression noise.

Audio


Do we need Serial Mom in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround? Probably not, but it doesn’t hurt. For the most part this is a Pro Logic track, with centred dialogue and not a whole lot of wacky stereo or surround effects, but there are a few snippets of aural aggression. The biggest surround enhanced sequence is an early breakfast scene featuring a particularly loud fly buzzing about the dinner table, which still mostly dances through the stereo speakers. Basil Poledouris’ workman like, but effective and occasionally endearing score is a little low on the track, but it does sound pretty clean and warm. Missing most obviously from the whole 5.1 track is the .1, as the bass is actually less punchy then some 2.0 tracks.

Serial Mom: Collector's Edition

Extras


Is it time for fans to dump that old release, fans? Mmmaybe.

Things start with two commentary tracks. The first track is Waters solo, which was available with the original release. Waters, being one of the best and most personal public speakers you’ll ever hear (that’s why he’s in so many documentaries). The director covers the making of and inspirations of the film, but also lets us in on his personal life and past, and that of his best friend, the late Devine. The second commentary features Waters again, but this time with the support of Kathleen Turner, and an unnamed moderator. Waters repeats himself quite a bit, but his personal stories and tastes are beautifully contrasted. There’s plenty of deep exploration of the film’s irony and social significance, as well as some chat about Court TV change to TruTV this last year, which is sort of a key indicator of the end of the public’s interest in court cases. This is a very charming commentary, one which unfortunately kind of negates the need for the Waters solo track.

“Wear your seatbelt! It’s the law!”

The featurettes begin with ‘Serial Mom, Surreal Moments’ which is a series of interviews with Waters, his crew, and his actors. The focus isn’t razor sharp, but the information is lovingly and intelligently stated. There’s a lot of talk about the coup like casting of Kathleen Turner, which pretty much got the film made, some specific chat about the visually anti-Waters nature of the film, and the social points Waters so blatantly makes. There’re also some fun stories about celebrities visiting the set (Sandra Day O’Connor, Patty Hearst, who actually has a bit part), and specific talk with and about L7 (Donita Sparks, I love you!), so even at a rather brisk thirty minutes this is a tasty morsel.

Serial Mom: Collector's Edition
‘The Kings of Gore: Hershel Gordon Lewis and David Friedman’ is a miniature documentary about the original splatter films and their makers. Lewis’ films (produced by Friedman) are credited as being the first films in history to exploit graphic violence as their only redeeming qualities, and are actually worth seeing if you hold the correct sensibilities. If you haven’t seen Two Thousand Maniacs, you haven’t lived, my friends. John Waters is apparently sort of credited with focusing a decent sized cult status on Lewis through his writing. The featurette features interviews with Waters, Lewis (he’s so bright), Friedman, and an array of fans and experts. Unfortunately it appears that Universal didn’t contact the Something Weird people, because the only images from any of Lewis’ films are seen in clips from Serial Mom.

‘The Making of Serial Mom’ is standard EPK, featuring some behind the scenes footage, and interviews from the set. The Tim Burton comparisons aren’t particularly subtle, as part of the score from Beetlejuice is used as a backdrop. Things come to an end with the original trailer.

Serial Mom: Collector's Edition

Overall


Any film featuring an extending L7 concert sequence is a-okay by me. The fact that Serial Mom was actually in the can before the OJ Simpson trial started really says something about John Waters’ precognitive pop culture sensibilities. This movie was a head of its time, and I frankly forgot how good it is. Fans will probably want to re-buy it for the decent extras and anamorphic enhancement (I’m not seeing a Blu-ray release in the near future), and non-fans will want to give it a rent, or re-rent if need be.


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