In one of the final conversations I had with my mom, she made a joke about “Hider in the House.”
You probably don’t know “Hider in the House.” It’s a straight-to-video thriller, released in 1991, starring Gary Busey and Mimi Rogers. It’s not good. But it was a running joke my mom and I had for more than 30 years, and it made us laugh right up until the very end.
My mom, Patricia Graham, died early in the morning on Sept. 6 after a year-long bout with cancer. She was 76. She was in the hospital for about 10 days at the end, and that last week and a half was a blur of hospital visits, bedside chats and goodbyes. Things are still a bit of a blur, to be honest. I’m sure they will be for awhile.
It wasn’t until several days later that I even remembered her mentioning “Hider in the House,” but it warmed my heart and made me chuckle that even then, in her final moments, she remembered the time we watched a bad Gary Busey movie together in our family room at home and turned it into something we never forgot.
It got me thinking about the other movies in our Hall of Fame, the movies that she loved, that I loved and that we loved together.
This isn’t to trivialize her in any way, or to somehow reduce her or our relationship to a list of movies. But it’s an example of how movies are more than movies. They’re experiences, and they’re meant to be shared together with the people you love.
Here are a few of the movies my mom and I held dear.
“Dirty Dancing” — My mom dug her some Patrick Swayze. I was only 9 years old when “Dirty Dancing” was released, and I didn’t get what all the fuss was about. My interest had been piqued by the idea that the dancing in this movie would be dirty, but all I saw was a story from the ’60s (boring) and nothing dirtier than I could already see on MTV. My mom, however, was all in, and after renting the movie several times from our local video store we eventually ordered it on Pay-Per-View and taped it off the TV, the first time I can remember our family pulling such a move. It felt like we were getting away with something. She loved the setting, the music (the soundtrack was a big hit at the Graham household) and the way that Swayze moved his hips, and I don’t know if she saw something of herself in Jennifer Grey’s Baby, but I imagine that everyone did, in one way or another. My mom, of course, was right about “Dirty Dancing,” and it’s a classic that I now watch every time it’s on, and when I do I’m reminded of that blank videocassette we had with “Dirty Dancing” scrawled across the label, which logged more than its fair share of plays.
“Father of the Bride” — It was the holiday season in 1991, it was either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Eve eve, and it was my turn to pick the movie we’d go see as a family. I chose “Father of the Bride,” and I chose well. Now it’s not like the Steve Martin remake of the 1950 comedy was some obscure choice, and looking back I suppose I’m glad I chose it over “Hook,” “JFK,” “Cape Fear” or “The Prince of Tides,” which were also in theaters at the time. But my mom treated me like I had made the movie myself and bankrolled it with my own money. She thanked me for the movie, and that felt great. Of course, it is a positively delightful film (the 1995 sequel, which we also saw together, was a letdown), with a scene-stealing performance by Martin Short as Franck Eggelhoffer, an extremely extra wedding planner. My mom had been a big fan of Martin Short from back in the Ed Grimley days (“I must say!”), and I remember buying her his autobiography when it came out in 2014, which she devoured in two sittings. I took my parents to see Steve Martin and Martin Short’s live show at the Fox Theatre in 2015, a night we all laughed until our sides hurt.
“Hider in the House” — “I heard this is supposed to be good.” I think my mom had read about “Hider in the House” in People magazine, and one Saturday night at the video store when there must have been nothing else at all on the shelves, she convinced me that we were in for a treat with the story of Tom Sykes (Gary Busey), a recently released mental patient who secretly moves into the attic of a home owned by Julie Dreyer (Mimi Rogers). Turns out we were in for a treat, just not the kind she expected. “Hider in the House” is high camp, with Busey in full-on Busey mode, playing the last guy you ever want to live in your attic. About midway through I remember giving my mom a glance and saying something to the effect of “this isn’t good,” she agreed, and from there we were howling with laughter at every new twist in the story. We didn’t turn it off, we saw it through until the very end, and it was a formative experience in learning to treasure bad movies. (It was a lot more fun than if we had watched something that night that was actually good.) Afterward, whenever she chose a movie or said she “heard” something was “supposed to be good,” I’d say something to the effect of, “yeah, like ‘Hider in the House?'” “Hider in the House” eventually became shorthand for any bad decision, and the title alone is now enough to make me smile. It was our own personal cult classic.
“Philadelphia” — Yucky winter day, February 1994. My mom was a teacher and we both had the day off school, and we decided to catch a matinee of the movie for which Tom Hanks had just received an Oscar nomination. We wanted to be caught up for the upcoming Academy Awards, which we always cherished staying up late for and watching together, right up until the final award of the evening. Today I don’t remember too much about the movie itself, except for it hitting us both like an emotional steamroller, and us both sobbing in our seats inside the theater at Star Rochester as the credits rolled. My mom had a few Kleenex in her purse but not enough for what we both required, and in between sobs we looked at each other and laughed at how hard we were both crying. It was the most wrecked I had ever been by a movie, and even though I was in high school, I didn’t feel self-conscious or uncool that I was sitting in a movie theater, crying with my mom. It felt like we were where we were supposed to be. After we got ourselves together, we hit CD Warehouse on the way home and bought the soundtrack, which featured Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia,” as well as Neil Young’s even more devastating title track. The movie hit us so hard that we both vowed to never see it again — we decided then and there it’s best to preserve the experience and let it be what it was — and we both stayed true to our promise.
“You Can Count on Me” — I teared up even writing the title of this one. It was early 2001 and I had just moved across the country to Palm Springs, California after graduating college, and I was starting my first job as a reporter at Palm Springs’ daily newspaper, the Desert Sun. A few weeks into being there, my mom came out to visit and to help me get settled into my new spot, and Trader Joe’s was either new or regional at the time and I remember us driving by one and wondering if it was a furniture store. After getting our tasks finished, we did what we did: we went to the movies. A two-screen arthouse in nearby Palm Desert was playing “You Can Count On Me,” the debut film by Kenneth Lonergan, starring Laura Linney and a newcomer named Mark Ruffalo as a pair of siblings making their way through life’s ups and downs. Again, we were in tears by the end — not the full-on sobbing of “Philadelphia,” but a controlled cry. While the film isn’t about parent-child relationships, its theme of family and togetherness hit us both pretty hard, especially as we sat in a movie theater in the desert, a good 2,300 miles from home. We were far apart, but in this moment we were together. Unlike “Philadelphia,” it’s a movie I try to watch as often as I can, and it still delivers an emotional gut punch every time. And it always has — and now always will — remind me of my mom.