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Horror movies in the 1980’s: Questioning Innocence and Authority

Two films in the 1980’s make us question the meaning of innocence and place of authority in our lives. Both Canadian films, PIN and Parents, may carry a deeper message to audiences at a time when cultural norms were shifting away from conformity and parental involvement.

pin horror movie 1988

PIN (1988) is not a well known horror film

This Canadian psycho-horror thriller by writer-director Sandor Stern (who wrote the original Amityville Horror), brings a whole new meaning to dysfunctional family.

We know already something isn’t right with this anatomically correct dummy figure. What the audience doesn’t expect is how this “plastic nightmare” comes to life as two siblings become caught up in a strange series of events that leave them questioning their family and their sanity.

The father, Dr. Frank Linden (Terry O’Quinn), isn’t what he seems and the son, Leon (David Hewlett) witnesses a disturbing scene with Pin and a nurse. Ursula (Cynthia Preston) is torn between her brother’s jealousy and her own feelings of what family is supposed to mean.

Both siblings react to their secure, innocent dream world being shattered by adults. Each deals with this new rude awakening differently: Ursula conforms while Leon rebels, in the most terrifying way possible.

The movie is based on the novel by Andrew Neiderman, author of The Devil’s Advocate.

parents horror movie 1989

Parents (1989) is a truly disturbing cult film that carries a lot of bite decades later

If bizarre suburban comedy-horror is your pick then Parents is sure to satisfy your dark hunger.

Nick (Randy Quaid) and Lily (Mary Beth Hurt) Laemle have moved to sunny suburban California with their son Michael (Bryan Madorsky) who is having nightmares. Michael’s strange dreams of blood and gore catches the attention of the school counselor, Millie Dew (Sandy Dennis).

It’s the perfect introduction for the family to have a new guest over for dinner–literally.

It turns out Nick and Lilly have a hankering for human flesh and their son will have to learn to carry on the family tradition or else.

The most disturbing scene in this movie happens to be the nightmarish “sex” scene with the parents as Michael catches them in their forbidden embrace which reenacts his fears and mimics a cannibalistic ritual. It’s here that Michael’s innocence takes a detour and he sees his parents in a very different light.

Michael must fight his parent’s influence but it looks like he may be all alone in the end. Will he finally give in to this acquired taste?

The movie directed by Bob Balaban and written by Christopher Hawthorne didn’t do well commercially but later on became a cult hit.

Both PIN and Parents were filmed in Canada.

The creepy theme running behind these films is a fear of turning into your parents

Growing up is hard enough without the added stress of finding out your parents are cannibals or wondering if your cold, emotionally distant father carries a psychosis that might be contagious.

The conformity and enabling of violence is another factor these young characters must contend with.

Surely, it’s obvious the nurse is having some *ahem* private time with Pin but the doctor father plays dumb. The father puts on a prudish act yet uses an anatomically correct male figure to explain to his children how a body is supposed to work. Having a thing for ventriloquism is equally disturbing yet the kids are supposed to play along in their pretend game. Gee, thanks for ruining our sanity, Dad!

The sister turns a blind eye to her brother’s disturbing behavior out of love but in the end he’s out of control and it’s up to her to end the insanity once and for all.

The mother in PIN is nothing more than a prop, as most rich housewives are. She’s nowhere in sight as the brother and sister play make-believe in their father’s office.

In Parents, the mother takes a more central role and it’s assumed she is a willing participant to the horrors her son, Michael, is facing.

She certainly doesn’t have any qualms about her husband’s job or what he does after. She expects her son to follow in his father’s bloody footsteps.

The school counselor’s role is a bit put-on but she serves as the breaking point in the story that leaves no doubt in the son’s mind about what his parents are.

The film also plays upon the secret knowings of childhood, in which the son’s subconscious nightmares come true in the worst way possible.

We always get the feeling that children know more than they let on and it’s a major red flag that the school counselor picks up on. The son has few friends and exhibits the classic behavior of the *troubled child*.

It’s always an excuse when adults say that children have too much imagination and rarely does an adult ever take a child seriously.

Having bloody nightmares of gore with bodies hanging from hooks as your parents bite into each other is probably a sign something is seriously wrong at home.

The school counselor tries to disprove the son’s fear about his parents but finds out too late that he was telling the truth all along.

Sometimes horrors are hard to believe and we do anything not to know about them.

Such is the tragic ending of these two films. Without spoiling too much, you find out the characters live but are irreversibly changed–their innocence is gone and terror is left in their wake.

The son, in Parents, wonders if he can keep standing up against his family or lose his willpower to defend himself in the end.

The two siblings, in PIN, must contend with a permanent outcome knowing they can no longer cross the divide of insanity that has taken over their lives completely.

Seeing these movies for the first time was a flashback to when I was a child. It’s extremely frustrating to try to tell adults something is terribly wrong and not have them believe you. This has happened multiple times in my life.

Imagine if you’ve witnessed something really bad: like a murderous mannequin or your dad dissecting a human body before preparing it for dinner.

Nothing is quite as terrifying as having those in authority ignore the horrors that are obviously happening right under their very noses

It’s even more terrifying knowing you must save yourself and your life without the help of authorities–even if it means going against the ones you’re supposed to love.

Innocence carries the blind trust we have of family figures and those in authority. We are ignorant of the world and the evils around us, even among our own family members.

Worse yet, is the knowledge we might turn evil because how can we escape what we come from? Does evil really run in our blood?

I like how these movies test the character’s will against all odds. It’s not so much a physical battle of running away or fighting the enemy because the most major fights happen in the mind.

There’s a denial and disconnect of what’s going on because the characters don’t want to believe that someone they love is capable of so much evil.

The mind knows what it knows: as in the case of Michael’s bloody dreams or with Leon’s mannequin telling him the awful terrible truth.

It turns out what we really fear most in the end is ourselves.

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