Cult Classic, ‘Serial Mom,’ Paid $60,000 For the Use of 1 Song

John Waters is famed for crafting niche satire flicks. In 1994, the filmmaker crafted what was supposed to be a more mainstream dark comedy starring Kathleen Turner. The film, Serial Mom, turned into a cult classic. Not everyone was sold on the idea, initially, though. Kathleen Turner threw down the script multiple times before signing on, and Sam Waterson questioned whether the movie’s message was problematic during filming. The rightsholder of a song from Annie wasn’t so sure about the movie, either. Polar Entertainment, the production company, paid an exorbitant amount of money, compared to the film’s budget, for the rights to “Tomorrow.”

What was ‘Serial Mom’ about?

Serial Mom was a satirical dark comedy that told the story of Beverly Sutphin, a seemingly normal suburban mom by day but a serial killer by night. Sutphin spent her days caring for her two teenage children and husband but also quietly noted any perceived slights from her neighbors and anyone she crossed paths with.

Beverly murdered her daughter’s cheating boyfriend. She killed a nosey neighbor and took the life of a video store patron who was rude to her son. She also killed a juror for daring to wear white after Labor Day.

Kathleen Turner portrayed Beverly. Misty Sutphin was played by Ricki Lake, and Matthew Lillard took on the role of Chip Sutphin. While the movie claims Serial Mom was based on a true story, it was not.

‘Serial Mom’ paid $60,000 to use a song from ‘Annie’

John Waters was known for creating films that were a satire of an entire genre. Serial Mom was his take on the true-crime genre. While the production house and the movie’s stars largely understood what Waters was trying to accomplish, the rightsholder for Annie’s “Tomorrow” was slightly more concerned.

Waters recalled in his book, Mr. Know-it-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder, that they paid an exorbitant rate for the rights to use “Tomorrow” in the scene where Beverly kills Emma Lou Jensen after she argued with Chip over being charged for not rewinding her rental tape. According to Film Stories, the rightsholder charged Waters $60,000 for the use of the song because of the somewhat unorthodox nature of his films. 

Even the movie’s stars were apprehensive at first

While Serial Mom is considered a cult classic now, it took Waters a bit to get the film off the ground, and as far as box office numbers go, it was a flop. Serial Mom just seems like the type of flick that takes some warming up to. Turner felt that way at first, too.

John Waters and Kathleen Turner attend the 'From Paris with Love' premiere
John Waters and Kathleen Turner | George Napolitano/FilmMagic

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Turner recalled reading the script and putting it down multiple times because of the gore described. She said she agreed to talk to Waters because, despite being grossed out, she kept returning the script. It was intriguing enough for her to eventually sign-on. Sam Waterson, the actor who played Beverly’s husband, had some concerns, too. Turner revealed that Waterson’s moral compass made him wonder if the movie glamorized serial killers.

The movie, which seemed to have so much promise, flopped despite somewhat positive reviews at the Cannes Film Festival and from critics. Serial Mom was released on April 13, 1994, on more than 500 screens. In the end, the movie grossed just $7.8 million at the box office. The budget was $13 million. Still, it’s one that fans return to year after year now.

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