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.
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
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)
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.