From our childhoods, varied as they may be, we have all had one overwhelming thing in common. Parents. Adults who live with us. Older people who claim to love us and yet throw at us a barrage of demands, rules and restrictions. Living with your parents growing up can be weird, very weird. No words strike deeper than “wait until dad gets home”. And wait we did. In sheer terror. It’s without a doubt that I say parents are an non-human force. Emptied of a true name, they are lumped together as a single organism, growing and creeping around the house, a mass of skin and blood and bones.
The myth of the parent-monster has spread so far, in fact, that cinema has taken it under its wing as a sub-section of horror. Happy, loving parents, these film monsters are not. Twisted and morphed beyond their human counterparts, the bad parent’s object in life is to terrorise their child in weirder and wackier ways than we could ever think to imagine. So what really happens when parents go bad?
If I learned one thing from Roald Dahl, it’s that you can’t trust most adults. Overgrown children with growths on their noses and hair on their faces, Dahl’s adults are the very stuff of nightmares. In Danny DeVito’s Matilda, we are shown the poster-parents for neglect. Spawning a genius child for want of something better to do, the Wormwoods soon forget they even have a second child. Living up to their name in every thinkable way, the Wormwood parents weedle their way through society, overlooking their child’s genius in favour of easy money and flashy television shows. Soon escaping to the loving arms of Miss Honey, Matilda shows us that there is more to a surname than we might first think.
2) The wacky parent
Living life on the edge, subjecting their families to endless new experiences, the wacky parent features somewhat lower on the monster-scale than the parent of neglect. That does not make their actions any less irritating, however. If we can take anything from the Honey I Shrunk the Kids film series, it’s that you can’t trust a father with a taste for experimentation. Find a mystery liquid or food-stuff in your dad’s dishevelled and impossibly loopy workroom? I would probably just leave it, shrug your shoulders and make your swift exit.
Parents that dictate your life are one thing but what about the parent that is missing from the scene altogether? In Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, the brilliant Baudelaire children are plunged into orphanhood following the untimely demise of their parents. Left at a loose end, the children are passed from one family member to the next with little space in between. Lemony Snickett is living proof that, if there’s anything worse than the parent-monster, it can be found in the form of the long-lost uncle. Misshapen, plotting and pure evil, the uncle has a free reign of terror over his childlike captives and holds no bars with its despicable ideas.
4) The transforming parent
Don’t you just hate it when you’re in a new place and your parents transform into ravenous pigs? In Spirited Away, this is exactly what happens as the young Chihiro’s parents are placed under a curse by an evil witch. Much like the absentee parent, the transforming parent leaves their child directly in the throes of whatever evil may pass them. And whilst the absentee parent can’t do anything about it, the transformer is always painfully there, so close within reach and so near to saving their child from evil. If only the child was a doughnut, maybe then they would realise they needed them.
5) The completely deranged parent
Forget all of the other parent-monsters. Up until this point, it has all been mere child’s play. The deranged parent would eat the other parent-monsters up as part of a delicious fricassee, or perhaps as roasted meat-loaf, mashing their flesh under their teeth and furiously licking their lips in anticipation. In Parents, the deranged-monster finds form. Having moved to a new town, the young Michael watches as his parents slowly transform themselves in front of his eyes. Framed in a series of ever-queasy cinematic shots, Michael’s parents are oppressive and malign.
Uncannily functioning as normal people on the outside, the parents harbour something very sinister inside of them, growing and morphing the more they consume and feed. If you take away anything from Parents it’s this: If you can’t identify what your leftovers used to be, never, under any circumstances, eat them.