Parents (1989 film)

Parents is a 1989 American black comedy horror film directed by Bob Balaban and written by Christopher Hawthorne. It stars Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt, Sandy Dennis and Bryan Madorsky.

Parents (1989 movie poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBob Balaban
Produced by
  • Mitchell Cannold
  • Bonnie Palef
  • Steven Reuther
Written byChristopher Hawthorne
Music byJonathan Elias
Edited byBill Pankow
Distributed byVestron Pictures
Release date
  • January 27, 1989 (1989-01-27) (US)
Running time
81 minutes
  • Canada
  • United States
Budget$3 million[1]
Box office$870,532 (US)[1]

The film received a mixed response from critics and fared poorly commercially.


Ten-year-old Michael Laemle has moved with his parents Nick and Lily from Massachusetts to a new neighborhood in 1958 suburbia. As Michael is very socially awkward and also has an overly active imagination, he has trouble making friends at school. He is also prone to extremely weird dreams, such as dreaming that he has jumped into bed- only for it to collapse into a pool of blood.

Emotionally distraught from the move and the dreams, Michael is traumatized by accidentally viewing his parents having sex (he believes that he is seeing them biting into one another) and by viewing his father cutting into a corpse in the Division of Human Testing at Toxico, where Nick is developing a chemical defoliant (like Agent Orange) for use in jungles. As time progresses, Michael begins to suspect that his parents are cannibals, after he discovers (or dreams that he discovers) body parts hanging on a meat hook in the basement. Michael is convinced that what he has seen is true, much to the chagrin of his school guidance counselor Millie Dew. One afternoon Millie goes home with Michael in order to convince him that he is imagining everything, only for the two of them to find a corpse in the basement. Michael runs up to his room while Millie, hiding in the pantry, is found and killed.

When Nick and Lily arrive home, Michael attacks his father. Later that evening Nick tries to feed Michael (possibly human) meat assuring him he will develop a taste for it like his mother did while Lily smiles in agreement but he fights back and manages to stab his father in the shoulder. Nick then tries to kill Michael, only for Lily to try to protect Michael and die in the process. Michael is then chased around the house by his injured father, who accidentally runs into a gas line due to his injuries. Nick breaks the gas line and then runs into a shelf of wine bottles, which he pulls down onto him and presumably dies. As gas fills the room, Michael has barely enough time to escape before the gas ignites and blows up the house.

The film ends with Michael's paternal grandparents assuming his care. After placing him to bed, Michael's grandparents leave him a midnight snack consisting of a glass of milk and a suspicious-looking meat sandwich, implying perhaps that his father learned cannibalism from his parents.



Parents was filmed in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.[2]


Parents grossed $870,532 in the US on a budget of $3 million.[1]

Home mediaEdit

The film was released on DVD on 25 May 1999 in its unmatted full-screen format. The original DVD was out of print for a brief period of time, before the film was re-released in the DVD format as a double feature with the film Fear, and presented for the first time in widescreen since its original theatrical release. Lionsgate released the film on Blu-ray on January 31, 2017 as part of their Vestron Video Collector's Series line.


Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 53% of surveyed critics gave the film a positive review.[3]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times rated it two out of four stars, writing that the film's tone never satisfyingly settles on satire, comedy, or horror.[4] Variety wrote "There is not enough weight or complexity to the material to justify the serious approach, and while the potential for considerable black comedy exists, Balaban only scratches the surface. The laughs never come."[2] Gene Siskel surprised Ebert on their TV show when he said that he actually enjoyed the film and found its weirdness and style entertaining. The New York Times wrote "The satire of the 50s is more bland than biting, dependent on authentically garish costumes and sets. And when the horror-film scenes begin to intrude on normal life (what is hanging from the cellar ceiling, anyway?) Mr. Balaban can't make the dark elements seem comic enough to mesh with the rest of this nightmarish joke."[5]

Writing for The Washington Post, both Hal Hinson and Desson Howe called it a flawed but impressive debut.[6][7] Empire called it an "unfairly neglected, perfectly creepy and disturbing suburban bizarro drama."[8]

The film has developed a cult following.[9][10][11]


  1. ^ a b c "Parents". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved February 6, 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Review: 'Parents'". Variety. 1989. Retrieved February 6, 2015.
  3. ^ "Parents – Movie Reviews – Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger (April 7, 1989). "Parents". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved February 6, 2015.
  5. ^ James, Caryn (January 27, 1989). "Review/Film; Dubious Housekeeping in Balaban's 'Parents'". The New York Times. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  6. ^ Hinson, Hal (March 17, 1989). "'Parents' (R)". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 6, 2015.
  7. ^ Howe, Desson (March 17, 1989). "'Parents' (R)". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 6, 2015.
  8. ^ Newman, Kim (March 2, 2007). "Parents Review | Movie – Empire". Empire. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  9. ^ Denby, David (April 17, 1995). "Movies". New York. 28 (16): 128. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  10. ^ Nelson, Erik (February 10, 2010). "The Perfect Double Bill: 'A Serious Man' and 'Parents' –". Salon. Retrieved August 6, 2016.
  11. ^ Bitel, Anton (July 4, 2015). "FilmLand Empire: BFI Cult: Parents by Bob Balban". FilmLand Empire. Retrieved August 6, 2016.

External linksEdit