Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Children of the Corny!

As you and your scarred ankles know, this here is the Official Month of the Vertically Challenged Villains. No party is complete without a crasher from Troma, especially when the suspicious party guest is a film distributed (rather than produced) by said studio of mixed results. Since kids are generally short, it seemed fitting to cram in some underage killers, here in the glorious land known as backwoods New Jersey.
Quick Plot: A father-son camping trip turns terribly wrong when Pops gets his foot stuck in a pesky bear trap, quickly derailing into lunacy as his son cracks open the last of their beans. 

Flash forward ten years, where a family is heading into the sticks of New Jersey to visit a grieving sheriff friend whose daughter vanished some years earlier. It seems the whole town has experienced regular child-napping, a tragedy that has fueled some rather intense religious fervor amongst the locals. As the sheriff and his pal John try to solve the mystery while battling obnoxious reporters and gruff hillbillies, the audience slowly discovers what’s behind the vanishings...and it’s kind of great.
I’m venturing into spoiler territory, though Beware! Children At Play is far more about HOW it unfolds than what its surprise actually is. John’s English professor wife catches on to some evidence that whoever is stealing the children is well-versed with Old English literature, namely, the epic poem Beowulf. Who would know such a random piece of university fodder, other than the son of an academic who went missing...10 YEARS EARLIER!
Can we all take a moment to appreciate the fact that is probably the one and only Troma film to ever make a valid reference to Beowulf? Personally, I think that’s kind of amazing. Especially when said film also includes this:

Turns out Glen, the son half of the pre-credits sequence, has been surviving in the woods, snatching up some playmates and initiating them into his own cult based primarily on the dying rantings of his educated dad. As a concept, I find that pretty fascinating but Beware! Children at Play doesn’t quite round out its SAT scores with strong execution.
An odd remnant of the mid‘80s, the film has a decent script and some wholly original ideas. Sure, it’s Children of the Corn on the east coast, but it’s fairly ambitious in exploiting everything from religious extremism to literary snobbery. On the other hand, most of the acting (save for Michael Robertson in the lead role) is simply not good at all, making it difficult to make any scare real or storyline stick.
As for the scares....well hm. Netflix classifies the film as a ‘horror-comedy,’ but it’s hard to be sure if that was director Mik Cribben’s original intention. The film is surprisingly smart for its pedigree, but so many of the laughs seem to come more from the low budget than crackling dialogue. There’s an interesting Pied Piper theme that could have been fleshed out a little more in place of some of the slower investigation scenes, but it doesn’t mean the film isn’t enjoyable. Much like how I felt about Stuart Gordon’s Stuck, it just doesn’t delve quite as deep as I’d have liked it to.
High Points
If you know anything about this film, it’s probably that Beware! Children At Play culminates in an extended ‘kill all children’ massacre that caused walkouts and indignation in 1989. These moments exist and are ruthless, tis true. But you know what else is true? The wonderful fact that even though 6 year olds are being stabbed with pitchforks and shot in the gut, you as the audience will be unable to not laugh your cute little bottom off. Taking the finale seriously is simply silly. As a comparison, imagine, if you will, that Ruggero Deodato edited Cannibal Holocaust by replacing his more infamous scenes with the gutting and slaughter of Cabbage Patch Kids and Pound Puppies. It’s the equivalent, and it’s wonderful

Low Points
The most used word in this film is ‘dearie,’ and I’m completely guessing that based on an extended murder scene in which a terrible actress calls her murderers ‘dearie’ about 987 times
Lessons Learned
They want cut-rate salvation in the boondockles!
A daughter who has to pee is a great ticket out of a dull conversation about your work
Barbie is an addiction and it seems one with no cure

English professors are incredibly snobbish when it comes to the occult
Though I didn’t love this film, I had a genuinely giggle-worthy time watching it. The twists are bizarre, the finale, hilarious, and the end product something funny, mean, and original. Not worth a huge investment, but one that easily merits a casual Instant Watch.


  1. The bible salesman who gets cut in half is seen with a broken down plymouth duster initially, then 5 minutes later it has magically transformed into a chevy nova (or impala)..both of them lime green.. very bizarre

  2. Well you know, the town WAS an odd place. I mean, have you ever BEEN to Jersey?

    Mad I didn't catch that though! Especially since my best pal in high school totally drove a '74 Chevy Nova!

  3. Never been to jersey, I certainly won't go into the woods with those crazy kids around!

  4. Especially considering all the fumes! Between the toxic fumes and hairspray, it's as flammable as it is evil.

  5. Yes hairspray, i'm blaming it all on those damn barbie addicts

  6. No no, it's much more Bon Jovie's fault.