Terror in the Family (1996)

Hilary Swank and Joanna Kerns in Terror in the Family (1996)

The Circle of Parenthood

Welcome to the work of pic n mix dysfunctional family cliches where every cliche you may have ever stumbled across in another movie is wedged together in one movie "Terror in the Family". From angry, rebellious teenage daughter, to alcoholic mother and even a mention of incest everything is thrown at this made for TV movie from the 90s which might attract you to watch because it stars a young Hilary Swank. In truth "Terror in the Family" comes across at trying too hard to cover too many dysfunctional cliches and ends up overly melodramatic because of this yet at the same time it makes one or two interesting observations about the circle of parenthood as one mother tries to give their children the upbringing she never had.

Deena Marten (Hilary Swank - The Next Karate Kid) is not that different to most 15 year olds, she is loved up and wants some freedom from her mother who up until now had been very close. But because her mum Cynthia (Joanna Kerns - Emma's Wish) has tried to give her the childhood her abusive mum never gave her or her sister, Deena is spoilt and when she doesn't get her way she becomes violent. Blinkered from her own failings as a mother Cynthia blames it on Deena's boyfriend she has never met and is also blinkered to the fact that her young son Adam (Adam Hendershott) is secretly drinking Vodka in his bedroom. As matters worsen and the police become involved a lot of truths come out, some more unsettling than others.

Dan Lauria in Terror in the Family (1996)

I can see what the intention of "Terror in the Family" was as it was not just a look at an extremely dysfunctional family but what the root of the problem was. And this in truth is the only good thing about the movie because it focuses on a parent having not had a great childhood trying to give their children the one they wished for and by basically being a friend rather than a parent allowing their children to have the power. It is a very real thing and in a way you can see how all the other problems which we are shown could have arisen from this main issue of Cynthia trying to be different to her own abusive mother.

But this leads me to the problem with "Terror in the Family" as it seems to try and cram in as many issues as possible and it borders on being funny for trying to cram in everything. For example Cynthia and husband Todd for no reason think Deena is on drugs, then there is the fact that Cynthia is turning into a drunk like her mother and the fact that after Deena was born Todd felt shut out and threw himself into his hobby rather than being allowed to be a dad. I could go one because I counted numerous dysfunctional family cliches thrown in to the mix and even a mention of an incestuous rape appeared out of nowhere and disappeared just as quickly. It really does end up like writer and director Gregory Goodell had selected a series of real issues from across a selection of real cases and then forced them together into one movie making it extreme and melodramatic for doing so.

Yet despite feeling like there is too much crammed in "Terror in the Family" still keeps you watching and strangely it is for the uneven performances. I am not just on about one actor or actress because the entire cast be it Hilary Swank as Deena or Joanna Kerns as Cynthia deliver performances which sway from being extremely false to touching. It is probably because there is too much going on for each character that it ends up this way as each character seems as extreme as the number of issues.

What this all boils down to is that ironically for a movie about a problem ridden family "Terror in the Family" has its fair share of problems itself but in the midst of trying to be everything it makes some interesting observations and surprisingly keeps you watching despite being uneven from start to finish.