Released by: Vestron Video/Lionsgate
Released on: January 31st, 2017.
Director: Bob Balaban
Cast: Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt, Sandy Dennis, Bryan Madorsky
Year: 1989 Purchase From Amazon
The feature length directorial debut of actor/director/producer Bob Balaban, 1989’s Parents introduces us to a kid named Michael Laemle (Bryan Madorsky). He and his parents, Nick (Randy Quaid) and Lily (Mary Beth Hurt), have recently moved out to a nice suburb so that Nick can take a job working in a plastics lab called Toxico.
On the first day of school Michael meets Sheila Zellner (London Juno). She’s just as much an outsider as he is, new to the class not because her family has relocated but because she was held back (which explains why she’s taller than all the other kids). She and Michael hit it off, but soon his teachers are worried about him. When the class is asked to draw their family, Michael draws himself standing with his parents with manic red crayon scribbles all around them. It seems Michael is starting to wonder where the leftovers that they seem to have an endless supply of are coming from, and his parents don’t want to give him a straight answer - that’s because they’re secretly cannibals. He tries to tell Shiela, and the school social worker, Millie Dew (Sandy Duncan), but will anyone believe him?
A pitch black comedy that mixes in healthy doses of horror, Parents skewers the suburban ideals of mid-fifties America with a wink and a nod but it definitely takes things into some decidedly dark territory. Casting a goofball like Randy Quaid in a lead role might give you the impression this is lighter than it really is. The humor in much of the picture comes not from the outlandish situations or over the top reactions but from how uncomfortable things are for poor Michael. The scenes where he sits down to eat with his family, where his father pushes sausages onto his plate at breakfast – we know that he knows what’s going on, but what can he do about it? He can’t really stand up to his parents, and anyone he could possibly tell about this situation would just chalk it all up to the overactive imagination of a young boy. Though the film isn’t particularly excessive in the gore department, it has a few scenes of grisly blood shed that are rightly played straight. Most of this occurs during the film’s finale. Before then we get some fairly grotesque scenes of the Laemle’s preparing their food – a good example being a close up shot of meat coming out of a meat grinder to then be seasoned and kneaded. We watch, we laugh at it, but we feel kind of skeezy doing so.
The performances really make this. Bryan Madorsky is really good as young Michael. He’s believably nervous and fittingly awkward throughout most of the movie. He’s a twitchy little kid, the runt of the litter maybe. Small in stature but smart, observant and clever. Madorsky handles this well, we have no trouble buying him in the role. Sandy Duncan and London Juno are good in their supporting roles, sometimes offering up some comic relief with their respective parts. Really though, it’s Mary Beth Hurt and Randy Quaid who really stand out here. On the surface they’re Ward and June Cleaver through and through, the perfect middle class American family that would seem to be doing everything right. Wholesome. Charming. Clean cut. Of course, we know early on in the film that appearances are clearly deceiving but Quaid and Hurt are so damn good in their parts that they almost win you over!
It’s also worth noting how strong the production values are here. Parents was made on a modest budget but the team that worked behind the camera really went all out to make sure that the fifties period detail was done right. Jonathan Elias (with additionaly contributions from none other than Angelo Badalamenti!) does equally great work with the film’s score, while soundtrack contributions from Dean Martin, The Big Bopper and Sheb Wooley help to seal the deal.
Parents debuts ono Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. The image is clean and shows nice detail throughout. There are a few shots that do look a bit soft but this would seem to stem back to the photography rather than the transfer. Colors are nicely reproduced here and black level are very good, if just shy of reference quality. Skin tones look nice and natural, quite lifelike, and the picture is free of any obvious noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression problems.
The only audio option for the disc is an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track, with optional subtitles provided in English only. Clarity of the track is quite good with easily discernable dialogue a constant and properly balanced levels noticeable throughout. There are no noticeable problems with any hiss or distortion and the music used throughout the movie sounds really good here, with a nice bit of bounce behind it.
Extras start off with a commentary track from director Bob Balaban and producer Bonnie Palef who begin their talk by discussing how Vestron actually financed the film when it was originally made, and then how each one of them came on board to work on the picture. From there they talk about the casting choices in the picture, how they kept Quaid away from Madorsky on set to have him not get too close to him so that his fear would be more real in the movie. They talk up the costumes, pretty much all of which were made for the film, as well as what went into building the interior of the family home used in the picture. They can’t seem to find enough good things to say about Madorsky, but they also talk about the other players in the picture and what they were able to bring to the film, Balaban notes the use of a Steadicam in certain shots, what sets were used for different parts of the house, where his own daughter has a cameo in the film, the fact that there was no post production required for any of the effects as they were all practical and done in camera and more. Palef is quite active here too, noting how her own father has a part in the movie as an announcer, the element of mystery that works in the picture and keeps the audience guessing, how everything in the movie is ‘just a little off,’ her own acting training, and how some of the film’s scarier scenes still hold up. This is a pretty great track, lots of good information here. There is the occasional moment where they go quiet but that quiet never lasts too long.
The Blu-ray also includes a selection of tracks from the film presented as an isolated score that is preceded by an audio interview with composer Jonathan Elias conducted by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures. Elias talks about his work on Parents with a fair bit of genuine enthusiasm, noting that the picture is quite unique. Before they get into Parents though, they talk about Elias’ background as a composer, some of the other film projects he was involved with like Children Of The Corn, his thoughts on how working as a composer ‘opened up’ his entire view of film, his work scoring trailers and TV commercials and how his career was quite varied. From there they get into the nitty-gritty of scoring Parents, what he tried to bring to the film with his compositions, how much of the sound design revolved around the music and more. The interview runs approximately twenty-seven minutes, and after that we get the isolated score portion of the track.
From there we move on to a selection of newly shot featurettes, starting with Leftovers To Be which interviews screenwriter Christopher Hawthorne who talks about how the movie isn’t about cannibalism but it is about alcoholism and child abuse. He talks about how quickly the movie was rushed into production, specific elements of horror that he tried to work into the script, some of the trouble that the movie ran into before it was financed, his interactions with Todd Solendz at one point, how Bob Balaban wound up directing, his initial thoughts on the casting of Randy Quaid (who he says looked exactly like his father!) and plenty of other memories from working on the movie.
In Mother’s Day we sit down for ten minutes with actress Mary Beth Hurt. She talks about her character’s quirks, how she was offered the part by Balaban who she was friendly with before this movie was made, how the script really appealed to her, her love of the costumes used in the film and how Balaban was into that style at the time. She also talks about how the costumes made it easier to get into character, how parts of the movie reminded her of aspects of her own childhood, the joys of using pin-curls in her hair, Balaban’s directing style and of course, her thoughts on starring opposite Randy Quaid who she describes as scary when in character but really ‘wonderful to work with.’
Inside Out talks to director of photography Robin Vidgeon for fourteen minutes. He’s keen on talking up the different camera angles that are used in the picture and why, but also how he came to work on the picture, shooting in a studio versus on location, working with Earnest Day, how his work on Hellraiser likely brought him up a level or two in the industry, working within the confines of the specific look of the movie without knowing anything about it ahead of time, the reason that the movie was not shot anamorphic, and other interesting tech oriented aspects of the production.
In Vintage Tastes the film’s decorative consultant, Yolando Cuomo, discusses for nine and a half minutes what was involved in getting the mid-fifties period detail so spot on in the film. She talks about how she landed the job working on the picture through a recommendation of a friend, what her background was and how she’d never done anything like this for a movie first, the research that was involved in the pre-production aspect of the picture, the artistic fulfillment she got out of the project, various people she collaborated with on the film and quite a bit more.
Outside of that we get the film’s original theatrical trailer, a handful of radio spots running just under two minutes in length, a still gallery that plays out over the span of five minutes, animated menus and chapter selection. Like all of the titles in Lionsgate’s Vestron Video line so far, the Blu-ray disc is housed inside an eco-case that in turn fits inside a foil embossed slipcover.
The Final Word:
Parents holds up well, a genuinely effective and eerie mix of horror and black comedy done right. The film’s Blu-ray debut is a good one, presenting the picture in very nice shape and a fine selection of extras.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!