Randy Quaid, Bryan Madorsky, Mary Beth Hurt

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The belated release of Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno has us hankering for other movies about cannibalism. Bon appétit.

Parents (1989)

The mark of a great horror comedy is the degree to which it delivers the two generally incompatible genres in equal measure. By that metric, the 1989 horror comedy Parents is an abject failure. Sure, the film has elements of both horror and comedy, but overall, the film falls firmly in the horror category. The laughs are few and far between, and once the dread starts creeping in, it intensifies until the final shot. To the extent the film is a comedy at all, it’s because it stars the reliably funny Randy Quaid and cribs from the John Waters playbook, with a setting and aesthetic based on 1950s suburb fetishism. Director Bob Balaban seems as influenced by Waters as Waters was by him—Waters’ 1994 film Serial Mom borrows as much from the themes of Parents as Balaban borrowed from the look and feel of Waters’ earlier films.

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Quaid plays Nick Laemle, who moves his family to a typically color-saturated suburban enclave in the mid-1950s. When Nick sits down for dinner with his doting wife Lily (Mary Beth Hurt) and 10-year-old son Michael (Bryan Madorsky), the Laemles make the perfect Rockwellian tableau vivant with one minor exception: Michael has legitimate reservations about what’s on his plate. He has increasingly horrific dreams that lead him to believe his parents are feeding him human remains, and it doesn’t help that no one will come clean about what’s being served. “What are we eating?” Michael asks. “Leftovers,” says his mother, in a deceptively placid tone. But leftovers… from what? “We’ve had leftovers every day since we moved here, and I’d like to know what they were before they were leftovers.” Nick has an unsettling response: “Before they were leftovers, they were leftovers to be.” Suffice it to say, in the Laemle household, beef is not, in fact, what’s for dinner.

The closer Michael gets to discovering the truth about family supper, the darker and more tense Parents becomes. It’s an interesting credit for Balaban, who is typecast as the soft-spoken mensch, but apparently has an attraction toward gothic themes. The film builds to a shocking conclusion in which Michael escapes his cannibal parents and takes shelter with his grandparents. But of course, the best recipes are passed down from one generation to the next.

Availability: Parents is available on DVD through Netflix or possibly your local video store/library. It van also be rented or purchased digitally through iTunes or Amazon Instant Video.

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