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Film / Parents

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You are what they eat.

Parents is a 1989 American horror-comedy film directed by Bob Balaban and starring Randy Quaid, Mary Beth Hurt, Sandy Dennis, and Bryan Madorsky.

In 1958 California, ten-year-old Michael Laemle moves to a new neighborhood with his parents Nick and Lilly. They all seem to be a civilized family. But Michael begins having nightmares, leading him to wonder about where the family is getting their food from.

This film has the following tropes:

  • The '50s: The movie takes place in 1958.
  • Abusive Parents: Nick acts like a Doting Parent towards Michael until he starts snooping around his father's business to find out where he gets his food. After that he starts acting more hostile towards his son, even telling "stories" to frighten him into submission. And when that fails, he tries to kill him.
  • Affably Evil: Lilly is genuinely loving toward Michael and considerably less evil than Nick. It helps that it's hinted that she was forced to partake in cannibalism until she developed Stockholm syndrome and that she herself never personally killed anyone. Likewise, Michael's grandparents, while implied to also be cannibals, are portrayed as far more loving toward Michael and far less creepy than Nick.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Lilly was perfectly willing to turn a blind eye to Nick's murders and even partook in eating human meat herself, but she was also a mentally ill woman who was implied to have been forced by her husband to engage in cannibalism until she developed Stockholm syndrome and came to enjoy it. There is no indication she herself ever personally killed anyone, and she dies saving Michael from Nick, which is played as a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Blood-Splattered Innocents: One of Michael's Nightmare Sequences involves him wallowing a lake of blood.
  • Cannibal Clan: A lot of the elements in the trope get subverted as Nick himself is the leader of the pack who's managed to get Lilly to eat human meat and tries to force Michael to do the same.
  • Creepy Child: Michael is a very strange boy who doesn't act like a typical boy for his time period and shows little emotion, though he's still a nice boy with a good heart.
  • Evil Old Folks: While they are very kind to Michael, his grandparents who appear at the end of the film are implied to not only have introduced their son Nick to his practice of cannibalism, but still engage in it themselves even in old age.
  • Faux Affably Evil: On the surface, Nick seems like a loving family man to his wife and son. But when Michael starts to dig deeper into the where the family gets their food, he becomes more threatening, all the while keeping up his calm demeanor. His attempts to sway Michael into adopting cannibalism sound almost like a father cajoling his son into picking up a new hobby. It's only when he gets stabbed by Michael that he finally loses his composure.
  • Four Eyes, Zero Soul: Nick wears glasses and is a cannibalistic Serial Killer.
  • Good Parents: Lilly is more affectionate towards Michael and even dies for him when Nick tries to kill him.
  • Golf Clubbing: How the school counselor Millie Dew dies when she discovers the family secret and hides in the kitchen closet, managing to evade getting stabbed by Nick but then gets killed with a golf club to the head. Then later on in the day, after Nick prepares dinner, he gets attacked with said club by Michael.
  • Here We Go Again!: After being orphaned and moving in with his grandparents, they tuck him in and leave him a sandwich, which is implied to be of human meat, showing that Nick learned it from them.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: "Heroic" might be a bit debatable considering she partook in eating human meat, but Lilly does end up performing one when she tries to stop Nick from killing Michael, only to end up dead herself.
  • High-Class Cannibal: Downplayed. Nick and Lilly are a wealthy upper middle class couple who move their family to spotless suburbia, and they're also cannibals.
  • High-Heel–Face Turn: It's Michael's mother, Lilly, who turns on Nick and protects him.
  • Jerkass: While Nick acts affectionate to Michael at first, it's when he starts snooping around in his father's business is when Nick starts to treat him with more hostility. Threatening him and even outright telling him he hates him.
  • Large and in Charge: Nick is the head of the household, and being portrayed by the 6'5 Randy Quaid, towers over everyone.
  • Offing the Offspring: Nick tries to do this to Michael when he refuses to eat the meat and stabs Nick in the shoulder.
  • Primal Scene: Michael does this once late at night while his parents are making out in the living room.
  • Rasputinian Death: Nick gets stabbed in the shoulder by Michael and then when he goes after him, he gets stabbed in the back by Lilly. After he kills her, he chases his son down the basement where at this point is getting weaker from his stab wounds and falls down the stairs. He then stumbles onto his wine shelf, which falls on top of him and crushes him. And if that by any chance didn't finish him off, he would be blown up when the house explodes from a broken gas line (due to his earlier stumbling).
  • Serial Killer: Nick is a cannibal who kills people for food. It's implied his own parents were this as well.
  • Skyward Scream: Millie does this when she discovers a corpse in the Laemles' basement, which goes all the way through the vents all the way up to the chimney.
  • Standard '50s Father: At first glance, Nick appears to be your typical middle-class family patriarch. The truth is much darker.
  • Villainous Breakdown: After being stabbed by Michael, Nick snaps and attempts to kill Michael. When Lilly attempts to stop him, he kills her.
  • Villainous Parental Instinct: Also crossing over with High-Heel–Face Turn, Lilly was involved in cannibalism, but she tries to stop Michael from killing Nick when he won't participate, and ultimately gets killed for it.