Today’s episode of Sounds of Cinema continued this month’s Halloween theme with a look at movies about scary families. Here are the films discussed on the show as well as a few additional titles.
There have been several films with the title Mother’s Day. The 1980 movie was co-written and directed by Charlie Kaufman and produced by Troma. It’s about a pair of adult bothers who attack women at the direction of their aging mother. The 2010 remake of Mother’s Day was directed by Darren Lynn Bousman who also helmed several of the Saw sequels. This version was a home invasion movie in which a mother and her degenerate sons return to the family home and terrorize the new owners. And then there is Garry Marshall’s 2016 ensemble comedy Mother’s Day. The only thing scary about that film was how awful it was.
1989’s The ’Burbs is about the people living in an otherwise quiet cul-de-sac. A weird family moves into the neighborhood and three of the homeowners suspect that one of their own may have been murdered. The film draws out that mystery exceptionally well and The ’Burbs is both scary and a funny satire of life in suburbia.
The Hellraiser franchise is most closely associated with the character of Pinhead who appears throughout the film series. But the original film isn’t really about him. Instead, the 1987 movie is really focused upon the Cotton family and how they are destroyed by secrets and lies.
The Stepfather was one of the more interesting and underappreciated horror films to come out of the 1980s. The movie is about a man in search of the perfect family. When his wife and children fail to live up to his standard, he slaughters them, changes his identity and moves to a new town to start the process over again. Released in the Reagan era when “traditional family values” was a major buzzword, The Stepfather was a subversive film. An unremarkable remake was released in 2009.
The Addams Family
The Addams Family began as a series of cartoons by Charles Addams. They were brought to television in a show that only ran two seasons in 1964 and 65 but continued to replay in syndication as well as an animated series in the 1970s. Three live action movies were produced in the 1990s with the first two theatrically released and starring Anjelica Huston, Raul Julia, and Christopher Lloyd. The success of the films inspired a new live action series that ran in the late 90s. Two animated Addams Family movies were released in 2019 and 2021. A new live action series focused on Wednesday Addams is anticipated to show up on Netflix next year.
The other lovably macabre television family of 1960s television was The Munsters. The original show ran at the same time as The Addams Family and it also lasted two seasons. The original cast returned for a sequel series that aired from 1988 to 91 and they starred in the 1966 theatrical feature film Munster, Go Home! as well as several made-for-television movies. Rob Zombie is now working on a new Munsters feature film.
The Amityville Horror
The Amityville Horror is based on the allegedly true story of the Lutz family who purchased a home in New England only to find it haunted by the violent murders of the previous owners. The haunting causes the father of the Lutz family to gradually lose his grip on reality. Several sequels and spinoffs were made, among them Amityville II: The Possession which was a prequel dramatizing the abuse, incest, and murder of the Montelli family who previously occupied the house.
The Firefly Family Trilogy
Rob Zombie’s film career has been distinguished by his Firefly family trilogy. Zombie’s first feature film was 2003’s House of 1000 Corpses. The movie was about a group of travelers whose path intersects with the sadistic Firefly family including Captain Spaulding, Otis, and Baby played by Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, and Sheri Moon Zombie. 2005’s The Devil’s Rejects moved the Fireflys to the focus of the action as they face off against a morally compromised sheriff. Zombie brought the Fireflys back for a third film, 2019’s 3 from Hell in which the family members escape from prison and flee to Mexico.
Mommie Dearest was the allegedly true story of Christina Crawford growing up with her movie star mother Joan Crawford. As depicted in the film, Joan Crawford was an abusive monster and Faye Dunaway’s scene-chewing performance turned everything up to eleven. The film was a financial and critical disaster but it has achieved a cult following.
Family is a consistent theme throughout the films of Wes Craven. His second feature, 1977’s The Hills Have Eyes, sees a normal middle-class family stranded in the desert where they are preyed upon by a clan of cannibalistic savages. Craven’s other notable family-themed horror film was 1991’s The People Under the Stairs. A young black boy breaks into the house of a well-to-do white couple only to find that they are psychotics who have kidnapped a young girl and keep her locked in the house. It’s one of Craven’s wackiest movies but also one of his most fun.
Anything for Jackson
Anything for Jackson is an inventive play on the cult and possession genres. An older couple who lost their grandson in an accident attempt to resurrect the boy with black magic. They kidnap a pregnant woman and intend to infuse her developing baby with their dead grandson’s soul.
Based on the novel by Ira Levin, Rosemary’s Baby is about a pregnant woman who suspects that a devil worshiping cult inhabits her apartment building and plans to sacrifice her child. The mystery is played out brilliantly in no small part due to Mia Farrow’s performance in the lead role. Rosemary’s Baby also has one of the great twist endings in the horror genre.
One of the prototypical scary family stories is Alfred Hitchock’s Psycho. The movie is ostensibly about a woman on the lamb who meets a bad end when she checks into a motel run by Norman Bates and his mother. Psycho has been frequently imitated and it inspired sequels, a remake, and the television show Bates Motel.
Beetlejuice was one of Tim Burton’s early films and it inverted the haunted house story. A benign and normal couple die but their spirits remain in their home. Eccentric new owners move in and begin making cosmetic changes to the house, setting the living and the deceased into conflict. Beetlejuice is ultimately a story of two families learning to co-exist in a shared space.
Dark Shadows was a television soap opera that ran from 1965-71 and it was distinguished by its supernatural elements. The show focused on the Collins family, led by the vampire Barnabus. Dark Shadows retains a cult following. Tim Burton directed a feature film version released in 2012. Like many of the remakes Burton produced since the turn of the century, the film adaptation of Dark Shadows didn’t turn out very well.
There have been two adaptations of Stephen King’s novel The Shining which is about a family who spend a winter as caretakers of an isolated hotel. Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 feature film, starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall, emphasized the evil within Nicholson’s character. King was unhappy with this film and produced a 1997 television miniseries adaptation starring Rebecca De Mornay and Steven Weber that was about the evil of the hotel and closer to the intentions of his book.
Parents is a about a boy living in a 1950s suburban household who suspects that his elders are cannibals. The movie is smart and skillfully made, capturing how scary childhood can be and the way adults dominate all aspects of a child’s life.