Offbeat director John Waters ("Polyester," "Hairspray") might seem an unlikely candidate to write-direct a film in the ever-predictable "Female Psychos From Hell Who Kill" genre. Imagine if Waters - the man who made Patty Hearst a movie star in "Cry-Baby" - had been the director of "Single White Female." Instead of a Bridget Fonda-Jennifer Jason Leigh pairing, Waters' sensibility might have leaned to a Lola Falana-Joey Heatherton combo.
And yet, the word filtering from Columbia Pictures is that Waters' next movie will indeed be a thriller, in the tradition of "Basic Instinct" and "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle."The movie is "Serial Mom," combining two of Waters' favorite topics - corroding suburban values and mass murder - and promises to do for the "Female Psycho" genre what "Airplane!" did for disaster movies.
Waters' she-wolf isn't a glamorous killer with a drop-dead wardrobe but a hausfrau who wears sensible shoes. She's also politically correct: In "Serial Mom," lead character Beverly, happily married mother of two, only murders and torments those who truly deserve it.
Among her victims: a woman who refuses to recycle, a teenager who scorns seat belts and a suburban know-it-all who is offed after repeatedly returning movies to her local video store that have not been rewound.
The tale unwinds slowly, with nary a member of the household clued into Mom's demonic habit. There are hints along the way, however, that something is amiss. Over breakfast one day, Dad, scanning the morning headlines, notes with disgust that "the Hillside Strangler gets his college degree in prison! He should have been executed!" Replies Serial Mom chirpily: "We all have bad days."
Mom's secret is eventually exposed after six townsfolk bite the dust and Dad, to his horror, finds a nude autographed photo of Richard Speck and an intimate love tape from Ted Bundy in his wife's undie drawer.
Like all Waters movies, "Serial Mom" boasts several cameo parts. One cameo, in fact, is already earmarked for Farrah Fawcett, who in the story has been cast as Serial Mom in the made-for-television movie based on her life. During the film's climactic murder trial, Faw-cett shows up in court to do research and disrupts the proceedings when her cellular phone goes off in her purse.
No word yet on whether Fawcett will play herself. But according to one source, Waters and the studio are aiming to cast a big star in the title role. Two names being batted about: former movie maniacs Kathy Bates ("Misery") and Glenn Close ("Fatal Attraction"). - JANE GALBRAITH
- HOLLYWOOD - What's in a name?
We always thought Natty Bumppo, aka Hawkeye, the central character in James Fenimore Cooper's "The Last of the Mohicans," was etched in the minds of readers of American fiction. Like Huck Finn or Jay Gatsby.
But then there's the Hollywood version of literary works.
In the upcoming new movie "The Last of the Mohicans," Natty Bumppo has been bumped off. He's now known as Nathaniel Poe.
Daniel Day-Lewis has the title role playing the adopted son of the Mohican Chingachgook and lover and savior to Cora Munro (Madeleine Stowe) in the 20th Century Fox film, which opens Sept. 25.
Liberties are often taken with classic stories on their way to the big screen, but rarely have the names been changed. Credit this to director Michael Mann, who with screenwriter Christopher Crowe adapted the Philip Dunne screenplay from an earlier 1936 film version.
Maybe to contemporary ears, Natty Bumppo sounded too goofy as the name of a adventurous frontier hero.
One theory suggests that Nathaniel Poe is a cross between Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe, two of Cooper's peers. Another is that Poe is short for Bumppo.
Fox had no comment. - JANE GALBRAITH
- "The Jeffrey Dahmer Murders" will not be coming to a theater near you - at least not anytime soon.
The judge who presided over the notorious case of the Wisconsin candymaker-turned-cannibal had planned to write a book and authorize a screenplay based upon his accounts. But the mother of one of Dahmer's 17 victims is trying to stop the publication and survivors of other victims have filed suits seeking to prevent Dahmer from profiting by selling the rights to his story.
Martha Hicks of Akron, Ohio, whose son Steven was killed by Dahmer in 1978, has asked the Wisconsin Judicial Commission to investigate a possible conflict of interest charge against Judge Laurence C. Gram, who presided in the case, based upon her belief that he might have been prejudiced in his rulings, knowing he would later try and capitalize on his experience. In addition to court testimony, the judge secured some additional exclusive confessions from Dahmer.
Hicks filed her claim last week, effectively putting on hold any discussions Hollywood film producers and agents have had with the judge's literary agent and co-screenwriter, Lew Breyer, and Breyer's writing partner Bob La-den-dorf.
Breyer took out an advertisement in the Hollywood trade paper Daily Variety last April seeking interest from filmmakers in buying the rights to Gram's story. Breyer said he was "inundated" with calls and that discussions got serious with at least one studio (that he would not name) and HBO Pictures, among others. Negotiations have since broken off because potential producers don't want to become embroiled in legally troubled rights cases.
A spokesman for the judicial commission said the agency does not comment on ongoing investigations; Gram declined comment.
"I don't know why this judge should be viewed any differently than any other judge who writes about a notorious case," Breyer said. "(Gram) has done nothing improper."
But in addition to Hicks' claim against Gram, there have been 10 other lawsuits filed against Dahmer from victims' families seeking royalties if the multiple murderer ever does sell his version of the events in book, TV or movie form.
In July, Shirley Hughes, mother of 31-year-old victim Anthony Hughes, became the first claimant to successfully win a judgment against Dahmer over future royalties. A jury awarded her $10.2 million should Dahmer ever sell his story, though attorneys say it is highly doubtful she would ever be able to collect.
The commission is expected to release its report on whether Gram acted unethically by mid-October.
There is a Wisconsin precedent that the screenwriters cite in defending their right to develop a film from the Dahmer case: "Edward Gein, America's Most Bizarre Murderer" written by Judge Robert H. Gollman in 1957 about another notorious murderer who dismembered his victims and made lampshades out of their skins. It was the inspiration for the film "Psycho." - JANE GALBRAITH