For the last four years, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson has hosted a late-night horror movie celebration called Terror Tuesday and if you are a lover of horror, both esoterically brilliantly and obscurely awful, this night was invented just for you. The Terror Tuesday Report will dissect the movie shown as well as provide a barometer for the audience's reaction; as many of these films demand to be seen with an audience, this proves a vital component to the evening.
This week's film: 'Parents' directed by Bob Balaban, 1989
In 1950s suburbia, an average family moves into in an even more average home. At least this family seems average to the outside world. The young son of the nuclear unit begins to suspect that his parents are engaged in behavior far more sinister than doling out chores. He can't help but notice their constant, gluttonous gorging on mass quantities of meat -- despite the fact that he never sees them buying any from a grocery store. He also can't shake the image of catching his parents in the throes of a passion so twisted as to give young Michael horrifying nightmares. Can he break free of his family before he ends up on the menu himself?
The biggest problem with 'Parents' is how unflinchingly static it is. Since the film is told basically from the child's perspective, it would be reasonable to assume that a certain amount of what we are seeing is either youthful exaggeration or outright misconception. But 'Parents' opts to let the audience in on what's really going on behind closed doors with no room for discovery or surprise. It's not even a spoiler to divulge that the parents in 'Parents' really are evil cannibals because the film spells it out from the get-go and never hints that it might be anything different. Wouldn't it make more sense to play with the idea that the parents weren't insane at all and that maybe it was the kid who was mad? If nothing else, it would have made for a much more interesting film.
That being said, veteran character actor Randy Quaid truly shines in 'Parents.' This no small compliment considering that he often plays insufferable slobs, but in 'Parents' he manages to play the perfect psychopath. When his wild obsessions take over, he is frightening to watch. But what's even more impressive is when he wears his "mask of sanity" and manages to come off as the perfect Danny Thomas-style father figure. This performance is further enhanced by the support of Mary Beth Hurt as his only slightly less evil (but wholly complicit) wife. She is so loving towards her son that it provides the only ounce of tension in the film; you get the impression that Dad may actually kill little Michael.
Speaking of Michael, Bryan Madorsky has to be one of the worst child actors of the '80s. It's true that he has a naturally creepy appearance, which is surely what landed him the part, but he has no business being on screen beyond that. I know it sounds harsh to judge a child for his artistic abilities, but even with a charitable expectation from young actors ... Madorsky drove me up the wall because I couldn't flipping hear a word he said! He mumbled most of his lines directly into his shirt collar and director Bob Balaban seemed incapable of improving Madorsky's shortcomings. (Also, how crazy is it that one of the workhorses of Christopher Guest's mockumentaries decided to direct a horror film?)
I've heard a great deal about the gore in this film, but I can't fathom why. Sure, there are a multitude of scenes featuring raw meat being chopped, ground, and grilled which can easily be misinterpreted as gore. But ultimately what these scenes amount to is mere food preparation and one would get the same amount of "gore" on The Food Network.
This was quite the interesting evening. Our usual master of ceremonies Zack Carlson was still absent, but in his place this evening was guest host Wiley Wiggins. I'm sorry to say the name didn't stand out to me at first, but after a quick bit of research I learned that Wiley played Mitch in Richard Linklater's seminal 'Dazed and Confused.' I was impressed that Wiley never made mention of his cinematic notoriety and instead focused on his all-consuming love for 'Parents.' Because ultimately that's what Terror Tuesday is all about: unbridled adoration for horror films of every make and model.