Picks and Pans Review: Serial Mom

updated 04/18/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/18/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Kathleen Turner

Turner confirms here what 1989's The War of the Roses first suggested: her great talent is for ruthless rage. Combine that with writer-director John Waters' perverse genius for tongue-in-cheek, B-grade melodrama (see p. 112), and you have a movie that is genuinely funny and deeply unsettling. Take that as a recommendation.

Turner, playing a suburban housewife with psychopathic tendencies, furiously murders neighbors, high school teachers and local teenagers, bop bop bop. She secretly reads books about Charles Manson and has even conducted a correspondence with Richard Speck. She has it in for those who fail to rewind videotapes, sort out trash for recycling or observe the time-honored fashion rule about not wearing white shoes after Labor Day.

Other than one absolutely insane moment when she pays lyrical tribute to songbirds, Turner doesn't exactly play this killer virago for laughs: rather, she relies on unnervingly hostile stares and unexpected bursts of demonic energy. It's hard to explain how frightening, yet exhilarating, it is to see Turner racing down a sunny, tree-lined street waving a large kitchen knife or heaving a lethal air conditioner out a window, but Waters has included an old movie clip that perhaps helps: it's of Joan Crawford wielding an ax in Strait-Jacket, one of her '60s cheapo slashers. The difference is that Crawford, trying to be terrifying, is camp, while Turner, starring in a movie that is essentially camp, is terrifying. (R)

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