Essays · Movies

31 Days of Horror: Parents (1989)

By  · Published on October 16th, 2012

by Michael Treveloni

They said it couldn’t be done. A fifth year of 31 Days of Horror? 31 more terror, gore and shower scene-filled movies worth highlighting? But Rejects always say die and never back away from a challenge, so we’ve rounded up the horror fans among us and put together another month’s worth of genre fun. Enjoy!


For Michael, growing up in the suburbs is anything but ordinary. For one thing, his parents are always serving leftovers and never having anything new to eat. It’s tough enough being the new kid in school, but it’s a whole other thing to wonder where the meat you’re constantly being served is coming from.

Killer Scene

Michael wanders downstairs after bedtime and catches his parents engaged in an adult activity. His confusion and interpreted terror explodes across the screen in gloriously grainy black and white, only to shift into super slow motion juxtapositions of him against what he fears he witnessed. The musical score by Angelo Badalamenti chugs along providing the soundtrack to erupting horror.

Kill Sheet


Parents isn’t exactly a sexual powerhouse. We’re treated to interpreted and reinterpreted sexual events which are far from erotic to begin with. A latter scene, involving a rather randy Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt, sees the two of them writhing in the throes of foreplay, sucking and biting each other’s flesh while smeared in blood. That’s about the extent of the film’s foray into the skin trade.


What Parents lacks in sex it makes up for in blood. There are numerous, surreal scenes where injuries are sustained and the red stuff flows. From a hand clawing its way out of a garbage disposal to a bed floating on a whirlpool of blood, once the crimson arrives, it never goes away for long. If that isn’t enough, there are some truly ghoulish moments featuring close-ups of under cooked meat that would strengthen any vegetarian’s argument against consuming anything other than fruits and veggies.


While not big on jump scares, there are multiple instances of unsettling intensity splashed across the screen. Parents is shown almost entirely from the point of view of a child, and because of this we are led into some unrelenting and terrifying images. From a claustrophobic view of being buried alive to a glimpse into the darkest corners of the basement, the entire film unspools in a thick nightmare of childish imagination rattling off its hinges. Interestingly enough, the most horrific scenes are the interactions between Michael and his Dad.

Final Thoughts

Under exquisite direction by Bob Balaban, Parents hums along in an ominous, bizarro Brady Bunch-like universe. It’s wrapped in dark humor and enough winks and nudges to let you know that the whole thing is all in good fun, at least until nighttime comes; that’s when all the monsters come out to play. Shifting between comedy and creeping terror is the film ‘s bread and butter and by the end of the story the toast is a wet mush. It’s a tribute to a fine script by Christopher Hawthorne, playing off the imagination of a child who sees what he thinks he does and not being able to digest it.

Even after multiple viewings Parents continues creeping on to deliver a ferocious bite. Where other films fall away to scrutiny, Balaban managed to keep his film eerie, fresh and watchable. From creative camera work to solid performances to the Esquivel-esque music, it’s like falling into a time-warp we’ve all experienced in some capacity throughout our lives. Equal parts Blue Velvet and Mayberry, Parents holds up over the years as a Polaroid that keeps changing every time we look at it.

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