Dysfunctional Families

Charles Graham Dixon

Backstabbing, incest, cannibalism, blood-drinking, grave-robbing and re-animation – it’s these lovely past times that form the essential criteria to gaining a place in our prestigious collection of dysfunctional movie families. If you thought your family dinners were weird, you obviously haven’t met these guys yet.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Tobe Hooper, 1974) 

Here are the things you’ll need for a dysfunctional family dinner:

1) Grandpa – a semi-dead guy who enjoys drinking blood.
2) An extremely large man making bizarre squealing sounds and wearing a terrifying mask covered in smeared make-up.
3) Lampshades made from human skin.
4) A screaming female hostage.
5) A plate of human barbeque. 

Pet Sematary (Mary Lambert, 1989) 

The Creed family start this incredibly bleak Stephen King adaptation as a fairly functional unit – dad, mum, two kids and a cat. After encountering an ancient Indian burial ground with the powers of resurrection in some nearby woods, the cat returns from the dead, dad and daughter go insane and the mum and 2-year-old son become murderous reanimated zombies.

Killer Joe (William Friedkin, 2012)  

The Smiths are a trailer park-dwelling, fried chicken-guzzling, foul-mouthed, drug dealing family. They would also be willing to murder one another for insurance money. When psychotic cop and killer-for-hire Joe Cooper decides he wants to marry 12-year-old Dottie and join the family, we’re left with a truly messed up family dinner scene. Chicken leg, anyone?

Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987)  

This is a mish-mash of a family: a group of violent, roaming vampires spreading chaos from place to place. Lance Henriksen plays ruthless patriarch Jesse, while Bill Paxton is clearly enjoying himself as unhinged ‘son’ Severen. This is an underrated early classic from Kathryn ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Bigelow.

American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)  

Though it’s the Burnham family led by Kevin Spacey that get the most screen time, it’s the Fitts family from next door that are most dysfunctional. Marine Corps Colonel Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper) subjects his already weird teenage son to urine tests while his wife and the boy’s mother sit in total silence, seemingly damaged to the point of catatonia by her husband. On top of this, ex-army disciplinarian and vocal homophobe Frank is secretly gay, while his son, despite the urine tests, has carved out a lucrative career as a drug dealer.

The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)  

So, the dad wants to kill his wife and kid and he also converses with dead butlers and barmen; the son has conversations with his finger, sees dead people and is psychic; meanwhile the wife is constantly in a state of hysteria. Yeah, the Torrance’s are a totally normal family.

The Ice Storm (Ang Lee, 1997) 

Sometimes this feels like a companion piece to American Beauty in its exploration of the screwed up underbelly of middle class America. The families in Ang Lee’s classic are snobbish, drink too much, lie and cheat – both clandestinely and at swinging parties. The kids of both families are unhappy and bored and if they’re not trying drugs, they’re sleeping with each other. Well, at least trying to. It’s all a bit of a mess.

Animal Kingdom (David Michod, 2010) 

Unusually, for a gangster/crime film, this family are led by a matriarch figure. Janine ‘Smurf ‘ Cody leads her criminal family with blackmail, threats and occasional moments of physical tenderness that border on incest. Leading the men of the family is the frightening, vacant-eyed Pope.

Festen (Thomas Vinterberg, 1998) 

Festen or The Celebration is one party you would not want to go to. The family at the film’s heart are a wealthy clan led by a sexually abusive patriarch whose crimes are revealed during a dinner speech. The family lie, fight, commit adultery, acts of vicious racism and even suicide.

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (Lasse Hallstrom, 1993) 

You have to feel for Gilbert. After his dad’s suicide he’s the man of the house, a family including his housebound and morbidly obese mother, his severely autistic kid brother and a younger sister who can’t stand the sight of him. As honourable as Gilbert is, he has his faults. He engages in an affair with a married woman and allows local kids to stare through the back window at the freak-show his mother has become.

Follow Charles on Twitter: @CharlesGD 

Unconventional by Tradition

Discover how urban creatives helped us design our new packaging.

Read more