Serial Mom: Our Movie Mascot, and the Psychology of the Death Penalty

Intro by Maria

This next movie is one of my favorite films of all time. It’s the John Waters film Serial Mom. The movie is from 1994, which as I explain during the episode, is apparently the defining movie year for me, your host—or one of your hosts—Maria Milazzo, and really a kind of important year for me in terms of mental health, as that’s when I was 14 years old, and if you’ve been listening to this podcast, you know that was around the time I was going through some trauma.

But unlike the movie Natural Born Killers, which is also from 1994, and a movie Brandon and I talked about on an episode a while ago (check it out if you have a chance), I don’t think my love for Serial Mom is related to nostalgia and connecting it to important milestones, like perhaps my affection for Natural Born Killers is. 

No, I just love this movie to death. Much like I love the movie I Love You to Death, but maybe that’s in a future episode. This is about Serial Mom, and this introduction is supposed to give you a brief synopsis of the plot, so here I go. 

Beverly Sutphin is your “typical housewife” and mother—she sews, makes meatloaf, and brings fruitcake for her son’s teacher at their parent-teacher conference. Pretty regular, right? Well, we soon discover she also loves prank calling and harassing a neighbor who took her parking place one time at a grocery store, a long time ago. And then she kills her son’s teacher.

Beverly Sutphin is Serial Mom, a murdering mother of a fucker, bringing judgment to the especially nasty—the cheating boyfriend, the condescending teacher, the mean lady who doesn’t rewind her video tapes. Beverly gets caught, goes to trial, and ends up being released just to immediately kill again—a lady—a juror—played by Patricia Hearst—who wears white after Labor Day.

The movie is a dark comedy written and directed by the King of Filth himself, John Waters. Waters, known for raunchy films like Pink Flamingos and Female Trouble and more tame ones like Hairspray and this one, has a knack for telling stories that comment on social norms, and in this one, that’s exactly what he does, commenting upon what we think is right and wrong, America’s true crime obsession, and the death penalty. This movie is very much anti-death penalty, so Brandon spends some time talking about that while I propose this movie becomes our movie mascot. That’s it in a nutshell, so just pour yourself a big old glass of whole milk, sit down, and get ready to experience our love of John Waters on this next episode of Peculiar Picture Show.

Show Summary

Intro: This film has a special place in Maria’s heart

Brandon: First time seeing this; movie is deep

Maria: Chose this; favorites; John Waters is special

Like: Dark humor done right, and commentary on the death penalty

Brandon: Humor; church scene; closing scene; anti-death penalty sentiment

Maria: Hilarious; really knows how to set tone; commentary on American obsession with true crime; L7 as Camel Lips; musical score

Dislike: We’ve got nothing

Brandon: Its subtlety may be lost to some; really nothing

Maria: Nothing, sorry

Mental Health: Breaking down stigma, and the psychology of the death penalty

Brandon: Why do we still have the death penalty? Death penalty and it being the result of an emotional reaction to a terrifying event

Maria: Should be our podcast’s movie mascot because this movie tries to break down stigma, and so do we


B: The death penalty is an emotional reaction to a dramatic and terrible event. It is a terrible event, but it is an emotional reaction because a lot of people don’t understand what the legal process is. They make an emotional decision based on how much they hate this person. In that light, if they are making an emotional decision to kill someone, is that any different than the person who made an emotional decision to murder someone? That’s the whole point this movie is making—there is no difference. 

M: I would like to propose that this movie be the official movie mascot for our podcast just because John Waters does what we are trying to do with our podcast—he is trying to break down social norms, stigmas, and things related to marginalized people or people who live outside of the so-called norm, and he tries to make us re-think about how we think people should be.

Next Film

There Will Be Blood (2007)

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