Lionsgate Home Video's new specialty imprint, Vestron Video Collector's Series, is back with another pair of '80s video store classics. Bob Balaban's Parents, a pitch black satirical look at utopian surburban life, and Ken Russell's The Lair of the White Worm both land on Blu-ray for the first time ever. Check out the details below
Bob Balaban has one of those faces you can't help but remember. I encountered him dozens of times in films before I knew his name, but it wasn't until he teamed up with Christopher Guest in projects like Waiting for Guffman and A Mighty Wind that he really blew my mind. This meek looking, mild-mannered actor was an absolute font of improvisational talent. It wasn't until years later that I discovered that he had directed one of my favorite VHS rentals of the '80s, the suburban cannibal satire Parents.
Parents stars Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt as a perfect suburban pair. Quaid working his day job to bring home the bacon and Hurt keeping the house cleaned and the family fed. However, their son Michael is a not quite convinced that everything is as it seems, and as he begins to investigate he becomes more and more convinced that his parents aren't as perfect as they look.
Every night for dinner, Mom serves up a lovely plate of leftovers, but no one seems to remember what they were before apart from “leftovers-to-be”, the murky origins of his dinners begins to weigh on Michael. The timid little boy becomes emboldened to find out what exactly is going on, and before long, finds himself in trouble. When a school counselor comes over for a home visit, all hell breaks loose, and Michael is in the middle of it.
This film, made in the late '80s, is a satirical attack on the Reagan-era regression to 1950's social and moral codes. Quaid and Hurt make for the perfect “perfect” couple, but it's really Quaid who steals the show. Randy Quaid may have gone off the rails crazy over the last few years, but there was a time when he was a pretty decent little actor. In Parents he probably gets to flex his muscles a bit more than usual and it's definitely a wonderfully chilling performance on his part. Hurt is also quite good as the barely holding it together housewife who is just trying to make sure that everything looks perfect, even when deep down she knows it very much isn't. The child actor who plays Michael, Bryan Madorsky, is a barely there waif who sleepwalks through the film but somehow makes it work.
Never quite as explicit as I expected it to be, Parents nonetheless made my favorites list as a young man cruising the video rental shops. This film is all about the atmosphere, rather than abject terror of conventional horror. The combination of the '50s suburban design and Quaid's quiet menace make this a film well worth revisiting. Definitely a recommendation from me.
Parents resurfaces on home video after ages on an out of print DVD in this brand new remastered Blu-ray from Vestron Video. The new digital restoration looks good to me, with the '50s aesthetic being the most obvious beneficiary. The audio is also quite good, though this was a time before everything had 5.1 surround tracks. The DTS-HD MA Stereo track delivers clean dialogue and effects.
Vestron has loaded the disc down with great extras and I loved every minute of them. First up is an audio commentary with Balaban, who calmly relates anecdotes alongside producer Bonnie Palef in a satisfying, if a bit docile, track. Unfortunately that's the extent of Balaban's involvement in the extras, but what else there is is great. There is also an isolated score track with composer Jonathan Elias in which his great Herb Alpert-esque track is given room to breathe as well as Elias interjecting in between the music. There are interviews with screenwriter Christopher Hawthorne who relates that Todd Solondz nearly directed the film, as well as Mary Beth Hurt, DP Robin Vidgeon describes his time on set and how he came to the project, and finally decorative consultant Yolanda Cuomo talks about her amazing work in designing the film to look like a '50s fantasy. All of these extras are really wonderful, I just wish there could've been a sit-down with Balaban apart from the commentary.