The first feature directed by actor Bob Balaban (1989) brings back the late 50s in the form of a highly original comic nightmare. Mary Beth Hurt and Randy Quaid star as the parents of a disturbed little boy (Bryan Madorsky) who has bad dreams about his parents’ sex lives and carnivorous habits; Sandy Dennis does one of her best turns as the neurotic school psychologist. Some critics have compared Balaban to David Lynch, but the differences are revealing. Balaban’s sense of the awfulness of the physical and spiritual decor of the 50s is actually closer in some ways to John Waters, while his politics are virtually the reverse of Lynch’s in Blue Velvet: nostalgia for innocence and purity couldn’t be further from his agenda. The script runs out of ideas long before he does, and the film doesn’t build dramatically as much as it could. But it’s an impressive debut, full of bizarre imagination and visual flaira must for fans of offbeat horror films. R, 82 min. (JR)

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