Serial Mom is one of those movies that immediately brings me back to a the glory days of video rental stores, and man did I ever rent the hell out of this one when it finally came out on VHS. John Waters has made some fantastic cult films over the years, but for my money, it just doesn't get any better than the dark comedy that is Serial Mom.
The story is all about Beverly Sutphin (portrayed by Kathleen Turner), who on the surface, appears to be a happy housewife living in suburbia with her family. The truth, however, is that she has uncontrollable homicidal impulses that rise to the surface whenever anybody does something she doesn't approve of. I'm not talking about serious offenses either; I'm talking about things like chewing gum or somebody not wanting to date her daughter. It's absolutely hilarious watching Beverly descend deeper into madness as the film progresses, and you'll see exactly what I mean shortly.
While the movie is a dark comedy, that doesn't mean we can't find some useful morsels of knowledge in it too. With that in mind, join me now as I attempt to extract useful life lessons from Serial Mom, and maybe, just maybe we'll all end up learning some better manners along the way too.
KNOWLEDGE NUGGET #1:
If you constantly call somebody "pussy face", they'll lose their mind.
Near the start of the film, some detectives show up at the Sutphin family home to see if they know anything about the profane messages and prank phone calls their neighbor, Dottie Hinkle (Mink Stole), has been receiving. They show Beverly and her husband Eugene one the the ransom-like letters which reads, "I'll get you pussy face" along with a smiley face. Naturally, they deny knowing anything about it and the detectives leave.
Shortly after, we see Beverly up in her room prank calling Dottie and unleashing a tidal wave of obscenities onto her. While Dottie is clearly becoming unhinged due to the stress of these calls, Beverly can barely contain her laughter.
Towards the end of the film, Dottie appears in court as a witness against Beverly, trying to place the blame for all the prank calls on her. Beverly whispers "fuck you" to her when nobody is watching, and this pushes Dottie completely over the edge, as she yells, "Fuck you too, you whore!" The judge warns her, but she just can't hold it in any more, so the bailiffs drag Dottie out of the courtroom as she's charged with contempt of court and sent to jail.
And why did all of this happen to poor ol' Dottie? Because she once unwittingly stole a parking space from Beverly. Tit for tat.
KNOWLEDGE NUGGET #2:
The mafia is always in the market for Pee-wee Herman dolls.
I'm always happy to see a Paul Reubens cameo in any movie, even if it's as one of the old talking Pee-wee Herman dolls produced by Matchbox in 1987. Beverly's daughter Misty (Ricki Lake) tries selling things with her mom at the local swap meet on a regular basis, and this week one of her friends found a talking Pee-wee Herman doll for her. We could all use more friends like that, couldn't we?
Cut to the swap meet later on, and Beverly is approached by a shady character who is clearly supposed to be in the mafia. While I would never suspect a mafia member to be searching for Pee-wee Herman dolls at a swap meet, that's exactly what this guy is doing. He asks Beverly, "New York money good enough for you?" and forks over $50 for the doll, which was a pretty good price to get for the doll back in 1994. So there you have it - members of the mafia love Pee-wee Herman. No wonder they're called wiseguys.
KNOWLEDGE NUGGET #3:
If you murder somebody in a public restroom with a fireplace poker,
a terrified man holding a kebab will discover the body.
Look, we've all been in those situations where you just can't avoid approaching somebody who's urinating in a public restroom and stabbing somebody them the back with a fireplace poker. Happens all the time. You just need to understand that, in addition to possibly being charged with murder, you're going to ruin somebody's lunch. After all, it's perfectly normal for a guy holding a chicken & veggie kebab to finish his meal in a public restroom. I mean, is there any better place that you can think of to eat a delicious kebab? I didn't think so.
KNOWLEDGE NUGGET #4:
Stressful situations are much easier to handle if you enjoy your work.
Beverly really enjoys what she does, and she's not gonna let little things like worrying about getting the electric chair or going to prison for the rest of her life stress her out. While in the midst of a high-speed police chase, she just pops in a Barry Manilow tape and starts gleefully singing along to his "Daybreak". She's just so happy singing along with the music and clearly doesn't have a care in the world. Of course, being completely insane like Beverly probably helps with stress too. But is that so wrong if she's so completely at peace with herself? I think not. We could all learn something from Beverly's impressive methods of stress management. "But it's daybreak, if you wanna believe. It can be daybreak, ain't no time to grieve."
KNOWLEDGE NUGGET #5:
Independent video rental stores were amazing places.
Every time I see an independent video rental store in a film, it just makes me want to see them make a huge comeback. I know services like Netflix are super convenient 'n all, but damn if I didn't love walking down the aisles of local video rental stores, checking out all the killer horror movie box art (I'm looking at you, The Video Dead). As a writer, I'm in the house enough as it is, so I relish opportunities to get out into the real world, and believe me, if I had a video store like the one that Beverly's son Chip (Matthew Lillard) works at, you can bet your ass I'd be there every single day.
First off, they have a killer horror movies section, complete with a hand-drawn "horror" sign and homemade box covers printed on colored craft paper. And despite the disapproval of some of their customers, they always have R-rated horror movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre playing on the TV in the store. Rarely could you get away with that sort of thing at Blockbuster Video before the manager told you to put something family friendly on instead, but many independent video stores just didn't care or worry about that sort of thing, and that's what made them so great.
As if that's not enough, this shop even had a secret room hidden behind the horror movie shelves. That's right, just like in an old haunted house episode of Scooby Doo, the shelves actually moved to reveal a hidden room. Incredible!
To top it all off, if you watch closely, you'll notice a candy machine in the background of the video store in a few scenes. This is actually a "Monstor" vending machine by the Vendall corporation back in the eighties, and it makes it look like all the candies are inside the mouth of a big green monster with fierce red eyes. If you can't get on board with a candy-eating creature called "Monstor", then you should probably be reading another web site.
Did I say I would visit this independent video store every single day? Scratch that... I'd *LIVE* at this store!
KNOWLEDGE NUGGET #6:
A leg of lamb makes for an excellent bludgeoning tool.
While in the video store, an old lady by the name of Mrs. Jenson is informed by Chip that he's charging her $1.00 fee for not rewinding any of her tapes. She then calls him a "son of a psycho" and storms out of the store. What she didn't realize is that Beverly was listening in on their conversation from the aforementioned hidden room. She then follows Mrs. Jenson to her home and finds her eating a lamb sandwich while watching Annie on her VCR.
At first, her natural instinct is to grab the kitchen knife and stab Mrs. Jenson to death, but then Beverly gets an even better idea. She grabs the big leg of lamb from the kitchen and heads into the living room.
Armed with the leg of lamb, Beverly begins to bludgeon the crap out of old Mrs. Jensen. The scene is beautifully punctuated as her blows are timed perfectly with the lyrics of the "Tomorrow" song from Annie. If nothing else, this scene gave new meaning to the classic "Be kind, please rewind" slogan from the old video rental days. It also taught us to never let any food go to waste.
KNOWLEDGE NUGGET #7:
Rock bands can be accomplices to a homicide and never get arrested.
Easily one of the best scenes in the entire movie, a band called "Camel Lips" (who in actuality were really "L7") are rocking out in a club, when Beverly chases Scotty inside. You see, Scotty saw her kill old Mrs. Jensen, and even worse, he never buckles his seatbelt despite Beverly's repeated warnings. Clearly, he needs to die.
Scotty eventually finds himself being lifted up as an unwilling crowd surfing participant, eventually landing on stage with the band. One of the girls sees him and doesn't appreciate his presence, so she jabs him right in the gut with her guitar. Serial Mom then shows up and chops down some lights that were hanging from the rafters, and they come crashing down onto Scotty. But she's not done with him yet. Nope, not by a long shot.
Beverly creates a makeshift flamethrower using a a lighter and a can of hair spray, and Scotty is quickly set ablaze, flailing about on stage as the band continues to rock out. He then collapses into a smoldering heap right next to lead vocalist, Donita Sparks. Surely, that's gotta be the end of his agony, right? Wrong.
To add insult to injury, Donita raises up a bottle of booze, takes a big chug, and then spits it onto Scotty's body, which is immediately engulfed in a huge burst of flames which drives the crowd wild. The band then celebrates by rocking over his lifeless corpse while the crowd cheers them on and raises their collective lighters up in the air. And you thought the pyrotechnics at a Rammstein concert were impressive? Pfft.
The cops finally catch Beverly and haul her off, but the crowd and the band cheer her on while chanting, "Serial Mom! Serial Mom! Serial Mom!" as she's dragged out of the venue. So why didn't the cops arrest the band too? Because, when you're in a popular rock band, you're above the law, okay?
KNOWLEDGE NUGGET #8:
If you don't recycle, your testimony in a trial will be completely disregarded.
Early in the film, we see Beverly's other neighbor, Rosemary Ackerman (Mary Jo Catlett), haphazardly dumping trash into the bins in her yard... even letting lots of styrofoam fall out and blow off into the wind. Beverly, of course, is all about recycling and she and the trash collectors scowl at Rosemary for refusing to separate her bits of trash.
Well, I suppose what goes around comes around, because later in the movie, Rosemary is serving as a witness against Beverly, and has some pretty damning evidence against her. She lent Beverly her fireplace poker earlier in the film, and noticed there was some gore on it right after a boy was stabbed to death in the restroom. When Beverly cross-examines her, she eventually asks Rosemary if she recycles. When Rosemary admits that she doesn't, the entire crowd and jury shake their head in utter disappointment, and it's clear that her entire testimony against Beverly is now considered null and void. Now she's a useless witness and a disgraced member of the community. All this because she didn't recycle.
There's a lesson in there somewhere folks... but I'll be damned if I know what it is.
KNOWLEDGE NUGGET #9:
There's always time to leave your mark inside bathroom stalls.
Let's face it, if your name is Marvin Pickles, chances are you're genetically predisposed to write on the inside of bathroom stalls with a marker. Just remember, there's nothing wrong with taking time out of your busy schedule to express yourself just like Marvin does. There's no need to fight it; embrace who you are. I just hope you have something more poetic to write inside the bathroom of a courthouse than "I sniff jury's underpants"... but I'm not counting on it.
KNOWLEDGE NUGGET #10:
Wearing white after Labor Day is far more serious than you ever imagined.
After her trial for committing murder, you'd think Beverly would be playing things a bit more low key, right? Nope! She doesn't even make it out of the courthouse without killing somebody. During the trial, she notices that one of the jurors was wearing white shoes after Labor Day. A minor faux pas to most of us, but a mortal sin worthy of brutal punishment in the eyes of Beverly Sutphin. Afterwards, she corners this juror and beats her to death with the receiver of a pay phone for this grievous error in judgment. So while not wearing white after Labor Day may seem like a dated tradition to you, just know that there are people out there who will gladly kill you should you decide to ignore it.
Now those are some of the important nuggets of information I took away from Serial Mom. What about you? Is there anything else you learned from it that I didn't mention? Share your thoughts in the comments section below, or Beverly Sutphin may think you're being rude. Trust me, the last thing you want is to end up on her shit list. But hey, you don't have to take my word for it. Just ask Suzanne Somers...
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