47 FILMS: 3. PARENTS
47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams continues with Bob Balaban’s debut horror Parents.
The family is a good place to start when it comes to horror, be it Norman Bates’ mother complex, the psycho family from Texas Chainsaw Massacre or even the sweet demonic daughter from The Exorcist. Just getting pregnant can be scary – see Rosemary’s Baby, or in a weird way Alien!
A welcome addition to the sub-genre is Bob Balaban’s 1989 horror-comedy Parents. Set in a 1950s American culture that worshiped the sanctity of the nuclear family, Dad (Randy Quaid) knows best while Mom (Mary Beth Hurt) prepares the meatloaf, entertains guests, wearing bouncy frocks and without a hair out of place. Unfortunately, their young son (Bryan Madorsky) is having nightmares and seems to be focused on their eating habits with mounting suspicion. Endlessly told to eat his meat, the ‘leftovers’, he asks what were the leftovers, before they were leftovers. ‘Leftovers to be,’ replies his dad with a grin, but it soon becomes apparent that the meat is of a much terrifying provenance. Could it be that his parents are feasting on human flesh?
Balaban – an actor famous for his character roles in films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Deconstructing Harry – gives the film a jaunty ironic tone with a soundtrack made up of Golden Oldies. This is Tim Burton territory of a hyper-stylized pastel bright suburban America as if they all just popped off the back of an old cornflakes packet, but he infuses it with a darkness that seems more Lynchian. The child is powerless before his parents and their bland cheery authority. The school tries to help but the social worker (Sandy Dennis) is a chain smoking mass of neuroses herself. Dad works at Toxico and is developing Agent Orange to wreak havoc in the Third World and there are suggestions later on that the cannibalism is not so much an aberration as a family tradition.
Balaban brilliant makes the normal horrifying and the comforting disconcerting, what should be a tasty hearty meal becomes an inedible terror.
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