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Title: Parents

Movie: :3.5stars:
Video: :4stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Extras: :4stars:

HTS Overall Score:78

Director Bob Balakan is more known for his acting than his directing or writing skills. In fact, most of his directing has been in the TV world with made for TV movies and the tons of episode directing in multiple TV shows, but he has been a face that has been known in Hollywood for decades. Most know him as Russell Dalrymple in “Seinfeld”, or his roles in “Gosford Park”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Grand Budapest Hotel” and many others. “Parents” was his first feature film directing job in 1989 and it acts as a wildly different entry in the horror genre than many others of the time period. Set in the 1950s with a cheeky “wink and nod to the camera” vibe, it places more of an emphasis on discovering whose point of view is really “real”, than on the blood and gore of many other 80s horror flicks. “Parents” really did register on the critical radar back in 1989, but it has garnered a cult following today as a fetching black comedy about perspectives, made even better by the offbeat antics of Randy Quaid.

Michael Laemle (Bryan Madorsky) and his mother (Mary Beth Hurt) and father (Randy Quaid) are your typical suburbanite family in the midst of picturesque 1950s American. Daddy dearest works as a scientist, while mommy is the perfect housewife. She cooks, she cleans and she cooks some more. The only thing is that little Michael is getting a bit worried that his parents aren’t exactly cooking things from the grocery story. Much like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” he’s worried that the people he’s with are NOT exactly who they claim. Now the thing is, we don’t know WHAT is really going on. Mommy and Daddy seem to be perfectly sane, but the cameras and Michel’s point of view lead us to believe that something sinister is going on underneath that pretty veneer. But once again, we don’t KNOW since this is all told through Michael’s eyes and he is already suspicious of his parents. Not to mention the fact that they are played off as sinister and macabre from the get go.

While Michael’s parents seem to be bizarre, the outside world is just as crazy. He makes friends with his father’s boss’s daughter. A creepy little thing who claims she’s from the moon and that her parents aren’t the perfect angels people think they are. Then there’s the school social worker who sees some serious abnormalities in Michael’s personality. Something she tries to bring up with his parents but can’t seem to get anywhere with. Still, as insane as the world is, Michael is sure of one thing. His parents are hiding something and it’s about time for him to figure out what it is.

While kind of shunned in its day, “Parents” has gained a sort of cult following and is seen as a rather witty and delightfully gruesome black comedy. The majority of the movie isn’t really that gruesome as one would expect, but rather we’re given a sort of uneasy ambiance as Michael worries about what his parents are doing. That worry makes it seem like every side glance, every bit of discipline and every bit of parental subterfuge is a horror story waiting to happening. No one is ever really sure if what Michael is seeing is pure imagination of the boy, or reality. Even the blood-soaked ending makes you wonder whether this was all in the boy’s head, or if he actually did discover what he discovered. As such it’s much more psychological than the blood-soaked craziness of another “cannibal” movie like “Blood Diner” (which has its own level of craziness to wade through that’s all its own).

While the film is certainly creepy and wonderfully nuanced, it tires a little too hard to give one the illusion of a dichotomy. There’s a few paradoxes by the end of the climax that destroys some of the ambiguity that was so delicately placed at the beginning of the film and almost ruins the film in some ways, but in other ways is perfectly fitting in the zany 50s façade that is “Parents”. The photography by DP Robin Vidgeon is fantastic as he uses some strange optics to create an illusion of intimacy and closeness, while allowing for longer shots that show us quite a bit of pertinent info.


Rated R by the MPAA

Video :4stars:
“Parents” comes to Vestron Video Blu-ray with a fairly nice looking transfer that is only marred by some age and budget related issues. The colors aren’t nearly as saturated as I would have expected, but the brightly lit outdoor shots show off some startling detail and bright primary colors (look at the cherry red of the Social Worker’s car, or the brilliant pale blue of mom’s dress). Skin tones can kind of look pale and a bit too creamy as a result of the low saturation level, but overall the colors are still rather impressive. Detail is good and the grain level is even with no signs of any significant artifacting at all. Blacks are strong but do show a little crush and the overall clarity of the image is well done. There’s some wobble near the beginning of the film and some print damage, but none of them are very noticeable unless you’re really looking. A nice looking 1.85:1 AVC encoded image for sure.

Audio :4stars:
The only track on board this disc is a lone 2.0 DTS-HD MA track and the results are about what I expected. Audio clarity is good (except for some mild background hiss that comes and goes) and the effects are localized right up front in the two mains. There’s some mild ambiance that works for the film’s creepy score by Jonathan Elias, but most of the time it’s a fairly dialog centric film that really is fairly simple. There are no other source anomalies besides the already mentioned hiss, and the track itself seems to be balanced with an even hand. Nothing really bad to say about out the stereo track at all..

Extras :4stars:

• Audio Commentary with Director Bob Balaban and Producer Bonnie Palef
• Isolated Score Selections/Audio Interviw with Composer Jonathan Elias
• Four Featurettes:
- 'Leftovers To Be' with Screenwriter Christopher Hawthorne
- 'Mother's Day' with Actress Mary Beth Hurt
- 'Inside Out' with Director of Photography Robin Vidgeon
- 'Vintage Tastes' with Decorative Consultant Yolando Cuomo
• Original Theatrical Trailer
• Radio Spots
• Still Gallery

Overall: :4stars:

It may not be a perfect black comedy, but “Parents” is devilishly fun and full of charm in a sort of weird 80s/50s hybrid film. Randy Quaid is perfect for the role of Mr. Laemle (his kooky acting style lends itself well towards a black comedy of this nature) and Mary Beth Hurt is spot on as the delicate house wife. While not always delivering on the promises that it hints at, Bob Blaban’s “Parents” is blast to watch and even better experience than I remembered from the old VHS my brothers had lying around house from when I was an over eager teenager who would snitch from their horror collection. Audio is great, video is perfectly acceptable and the extras that Lionsgate has put on the disc are WELL worth digging into. Recommended for cult horror fans.

Additional Information:

Starring: Randy Quaid, Sandy Dennis, Mary Beth Hurt
Directed by: Bob Balaban
Written by: Christopher Hawthorne
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 2.0
Studio: Lionsgate
Rated: R
Runtime: 81 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: January 31st, 2017

Buy Parents On Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Fun Watch for Horror Fans

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