Cast: Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt, and Sandy Dennis
Director: Bob Balaban
83 minutes (18) 1989
Lions Gate Blu-ray region B
[Released 25th February]
Review by Christopher Geary
“Leftovers from what..?”
A decidedly odd little horror, Parents is a quirky mystery-movie of engagingly stylised black-comedy, with a 1950s period setting where the brightly cheerful colour schemes conceal a grimly brooding tale of suburban cannibalism with gigantic meals cooked for a charming family of three, devouring fleshy platefuls of glistening protein gastronomy.
Moving into a new house, the Laemles quickly acclimate themselves into a neighbourhood that’s unbearably distant for the pressurised imagination of young Michael (Bryan Madorsky, in his first screen role), a morbidly sulky boy so desperately serious, and seemingly ‘manic-depressive’, that he effortlessly freaks out well-meaning social worker and school shrink Millie (Sandy Dennis). Randy Quaid plays a psycho dad Nick in what might qualify as his career-best performance of the 1980s, at least, and Nick’s wife, Lily (Mary Beth Hurt), is the epitome of a quaintly post-war homemaker, an adventurous whizz in the kitchen who denies any wrongdoings when it comes to supersized family dinners or other housework.
“What have we said about snacks late at night?”
Usually, such things (like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, for instance) are darkly dreary, with shocks that are hammered home with swinging axes, but here’s a differently mannered childhood fantasy about domestic betrayals, very cleverly directed by Bob Balaban, who serves up ominous chills with a feverishly compelling air of smirking normality in a sitcom format. As a character-actor, Balaban had appeared in three of the greatest American SF movies, Spielberg’s magnificent UFOlogy trip Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977), Ken Russell’s masterpiece Altered States (1980), and the sequel to Kubrick’s epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, Peter Hyams’ 2010 (1984), so it’s fascinating to see him directing this kind of picture that reveals another side to Balaban’s genre interests, following similarly themed TV work, helming episodes of anthology shows Tales From The Darkside (1983) and Amazing Stories (1985).
Is this a pro-vegetarian propaganda piece, centred on the familiar ‘meat is murder’ diet slogan? Yes, but Parents emerges from its various references as an unrepentantly fierce critique of consumer society, delivered for any TV dinner of your choice, with all its fatty jokes trimmed off. Some visual elements are clearly borrowed from early David Lynch’s oeuvre (particularly Eraserhead and Blue Velvet), and aspects of the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise, but Balaban concocts a startling recipe for sub-genre success, one that scores highly even when it’s matched against broader knockabout routines in Joe Dante’s excellent comedy The ’Burbs (1989).
- Commentary track with Bob Balaban and producer Bonnie Palef
- Isolated score selections and audio interview with composer Jonathan Elias
- Leftovers To Be - with screenwriter Christopher Hawthorne
- Mother’s Day - with actress Mary Beth Hurt
- Inside Out - interview with director of photography Robin Vidgeon
- Vintage Tastes - with decorative consultant Yolanda Cuomo
- Theatrical trailer
- Radio spots
- Stills gallery