Wednesday, March 31, 2010


After watching 2008’s The Children, I was inspired by the powers of Instant Watch and black nail polish to revisit the 1980 film of the same name. A VHS mainstay of my youth, I was curious to see how a film whose snapshots stayed in my head for over 20 years would fare today.

Quick Plot: Two nuclear power plant employees who make Homer look like the employee of the month lazily leave work without checking a few gizmos and pressure levels. No overtime pay, plus it’s happy hour at Moe’s (seriously. Kind of).

Cut to a jaundice hued fog floating through the sunny small town of Ravensback, populated by the most bizarrely cranky adults since Bye Bye Birdie. As school children miraculously complete a round of 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall (how long IS this ride home?) the bright yellow bus drives straight into the dull yellow haze.

Bad things come from airborne nuclear fallout, and instantaneous black nail polish on kid fingers is just the start. The earnest, if completely inept Sheriff Hart (Gil Rogers) discovers the bus abandoned and driver roasted like a marshmallow on the roadside. Slowly and not really surely, he lumbers into action.

In an era before cell phones, Sheriff Hart must make house calls to the missing kids’ parents, all of whom prove to be extremely surly. Dr. Joyce Gould looks ready to punch the poor policeman in the face for no real reason, although maybe there’s some residual stress from having to care for her possible daughter/lover/personal pianist whose presence or inertia is never explained. The Best Screen Couple of All Time lounge poolside as only swinging ‘70s alcoholics can, mother a topless bather and father an Ahnold caliber weight lifter wearing a Speedo. These characters have no actual significance in the story, but they are, in a word, awesome.

Before long, we discover exactly what’s become of the Ravensback kids. Sort of. We don’t know quite why, but they now are united with one goal on their minds: kill adults.

By hugging them.

Best method of death ever? Possibly. On one hand, the implications of your flesh and blood taking your life via embrace is disturbing and tragic. On the other, it’s rather hilarious. Especially considering the corpses bear a slight resemblance to Gary Oldman’s mangle-faced villain in Hannibal.

The Children starts off with little promise. Yes, it’s entertaining for nostalgic reasons, but the initial kills are ripe for laughter, with a mixed bag of acting skill and clumsy executed murders. About halfway into the film, however, something starts to click.

Recently, I discussed my admiration for horror films that take place during the day. The Children begins, quite terribly, in the early afternoon where all its sunny murders look dreadful. Oddly enough, when the sun goes down and director Max Kalmanoicz gets to play more with his staging, the film finds a strong sense of creepiness. Yes, samurai sword hand chops are still fairly ridiculous, but watching a nice country sheriff shoot children, only to have them pop back up like they’re playing Duck Duck Goose is actually unsettling.

High Points
An early jump scare with a hug-happy child is surprisingly effective

A gloriously dated scene has a ready-to-pop pregnant protagonist smoking a Marlboro

Low Points
The lack of acting experience is painfully obvious in a few minor characters, which wouldn’t be atrocious if they had a stronger script or direction to blaze through. When a farmer’s daughter enters a quiet home, there’s about 9 repetitions of the lines “What’s the matter? Cut it out! “What’s the matter? Cut it out!” because clearly nobody on set had anything better to contribute

At one point, we learn that the strange kiddie-led massacres seem to be occurring on a national scale. While this should offer more potential for terror, there’s something underwhelming about the revelations, almost a ‘why-should-we-care attitude about the characters onscreen when the world has gone to hell around them (and probably in much more interesting ways)

Lessons Learned
The best way to make a point is to demonstrate your mastery with an automatic car window

Never call in state troopers, even when multiple children are missing and several adults are turning up dead. You’re a town sheriff for crying out loud. You should be able to handle this yourself

When searching for a gaggle of missing kids and investigating the bizarre deaths of several townspeople, it’s probably not wise to stop for coffee

Shooting a dead dog is something to be disappointed about

My fond memories of this USA Up All Night indie were mildly dashed by some of this film’s spottiness, but it remained a good time on Instant Watch. Not really scary, but haunting here and there towards the end and pretty darn amusing before that. Troma’s DVD is out there, with a few special features and a producer’s commentary. I wouldn’t advise a blind buy, but try to catch it streaming or on rental. It’s huggable.


  1. THE CHILDREN is a movie that really messed me up when I was a kid, so much so that I wrote a Traumafession for our friends at on it! My analysis of my youthful horror settles on two things: one, the idea that a loving parent, worried for his/her child, would be so overjoyed and finding said child and rush in to a comforting embrace only to received SCREAMING CHEMICAL DEATH, really hit me hard--I had a great childhood and a very loving family, so that turned the whole affection thing on its head in a scary way. Also, the idea that parents might have to KILL THEIR OWN CHILDREN in order to survive--and furthermore would do so!--messed with me to no end.

    I rewatched it when the DVD came out and enjoyed the cheesiness and laughability of it all, but those parental melt-down scenes still packed an emotional punch for me. I guess your state of mind/age when you see a movie the first time really cements how you'll think of it forever, and THE CHILDREN caught me at just the right (or wrong) time.

  2. Vicar, I can totally see the dark implications of the method of death. I shall seek out your Traumafession soon! It's part of just why killer dolls and toys unsettle me so: these things are supposed to be your true friends with no loyalty or needs outside of making you happy. When they want to kill you, you're truly alone. It's similar with the idea of killing your children. As a parent, your entire life is supposed to now be redirected to protecting your child. To have to kill it--like in this film or the 2008 film of the same name or my favorite, Who Can Kill a Child?--violates every law of nature.

    My memories were always more of the "oh no! there's fog! my fingernails will turn black!" sort, but that's possibly because I watched this with my mom as a really little kid and that's what she would replay driving on misty days.

  3. I just watched The Children a few weeks ago and quite enjoyed it! It's odd because it doesn't even come off as overly campy until the children show up and get their paws on their victims. I loved the way they smiled when they attacked the adults and the hands getting cut off was simply amazing!

    And I think you are right about the film coming off as slightly more creepy in the evening hours. Cheesy and all, the later half of the film is somewhat scarier looking and I think some of that has to do with the time period and setting. Low-budget, nighttime set horror flicks often seem to have a certain eeriness to them.

  4. The hand cutting rivaled Revenge of the Sith! It was incredible! And I actually picked up on the campiness as soon as that bodybuilder dad was introduced and constantly referred to his wife as "My sweet." I want that guy to act more.

    Strange, the nighttime shots were just so much better executed. Some of those visuals--like the reflection of the kids in the glass window--just unnerved me, and watching the kids get shot and pop back up was so nastily macabre.

  5. One of my favorite terrible movies. Great write up!

    Actually got to see this one in 35mm at The Aero's Annual Dusk Till Dawn Festival. It played at like four in the morning, I think I might have actually tripped over the border of sanity for a few minutes there.

  6. I was out on this one, though I found it hilarious that Harry Manfredini ripped himself off for the hundredth time by stealing the theme from F13th

  7. Wow Bryce, The Children on 35mm at 4AM is all sorts of amazing. I imagine those hand chops would be even better on a big screen!

    I totally forgot about the music Carl! It's a total Vanilla Ice to Queen move, only as you said, he ripped off himself!

  8. I love The Children - one of my all-time favorites! I was terrified by the TV spots when I was a kid and then when I finally saw it a few years later on USA's Saturday Nightmares, I thought it was hilarious. It's ripe material for a remake, in my opinion.

  9. Hm. I wouldn't begrudge a remake, but that's mostly because in my opinion, there's just no such thing as too many evil minors onscreen. It would be confusingly titled film though as last year already had Tom Shankland's The Children (which I HIGHLY recommend Jeff). Still, as long as any film retained to tone deaf weight lifter, I'd be totally cool with another one!