Monday, January 02, 2006

It Came from Netflix! The Children

1980’s The Children is a jaw-droppingly meanspirited movie that is kept from being unwatchable only by its own incompetence. Indeed, its execution is so inept that it functions despite itself as a pitch black comedy. Thank Heaven for small favors.

The film opens with two workmen wandering around what is supposed to be a nuclear power plant. They yak on for some time, because few things are cheaper to film than people conversing. Eventually they take their leave, and we see that they have missed a leak of some sort. Soon a giant radioactive cloud, apparently produced by a plutonium-fueled fog machine, is let loose.

Cut to the school bus of a small community, with the handful of prepubescent tykes sings gaily and at length to an extent that had me wishing Andy Robinson would jump aboard. They soon drive through the radioactive mist. Later, the town sheriff finds the bus abandoned by the side of the road, next to the town cemetery (oooh, spooky!), and but several hundred yards from one of the kid’s homes.

The small cast of locals, including but sadly not limited to the Sheriff, his horny Deputy, the Deputy’s teenage squeeze (sister to one of the missing kids), the local shopkeeper, and two Odious Comic Relief Redneck Brothers are hunting for the kids. Sadly, they and various parents, blind piano-playing girls and other residents find them, or vice versa. Upon sighting their prey, the moronically grinning Children throw open their arms for a big hug. Sadly, however, their now radioactive physiology charbroils anyone so embraced. We can tell they are deadly, because they have black fingernails. (Yep, this film apparently had a huge budget.) As to why being radioactive means that one would take pleasure in hunting down and barbequing everyone you know is left to our imaginations.

Soon the father of two of the missing kids has teamed up with the Sheriff and eventually stumble across enough bodies to figure out what’s going on. Eventually, with everyone else in town pretty much dead—they barricade themselves inside the dad’s home, along with his heavily pregnant wife* and four year-old son. Here we get the inevitable Night of the Living Dead rip-offs, with the Children shambling around and trying to get at these fresh victims. Being radioactive, of course, they are invulnerable to gunfire and other violence—that’s the way it works, right?

[*Trivia fans will want to note that the actress who plays the wife voiced the character of Francesca in the ‘60s monster puppet movie Mad Monster Party. The dad, for his part, is the guy who played John Travolta’s priest brother in Saturday Night Fever. Glad to se he made so much of his big break.]

Eventually, though, trial and error reveals that one can dispose of the Kids by hacking off their hands (!). (Good thing for that surprisingly sharp decorative sword on the wall.) Once this is done, their arm stumps and shirt sleeves grow mysteriously longer, and the fingernails on their dismembered and now mysteriously rubberized hands turn back to a normal color.

So the film ends with the few remaining adults running around and whacking off the limbs of various kids, including their own. This generally all takes place off camera, although we are treated to several cheesy tableaus featuring dead Children with their various arms strewn all about. As if that weren’t offensive enough, and I could barely believe this one, one zombified kid manages to trick the giggling four-year old into letting him inside, after which we get to see the Dad discover the tyke’s roasted body (!!!).

Like I said, it’s only by dint of the filmmaker’s incredibly poor skills that you can even watch this stuff, much less laugh at it. Comic highlights include a patently telegraphed TWIST SHOCK ENDING, as well as a hilarious bit in which a search team hears a noise in a closet and carefully approaches it, only to have a big roasted Doberman that was mysterious propped against the other side of the door come tumbling out as soon as they fling it open.. How the hell did that get in there? There were already bodies strewn all over the house, so a need for stealth doesn’t explain things, and I’m not sure a kid (and the zombie ones obviously aren’t any stronger than normal pre-teens) could haul the beast into the closet anyway. Was the dog half-cooked, whereupon it escaped, hid in the closet, and pulled the door shut before it died?

The real answer, of course, is that the dog was there for a shock sting, and they quite apparently were hoping that nobody would think through how stupid the whole thing was. (Meanwhile, the Sheriff starts firing into the closet before he sees what’s in there, so it’s a good thing it wasn’t somebody hiding—and at this point in the story he doesn’t even know that the missing kids are monsters yet.)

The recent 25th Anniversary DVD, which features a lame, full framed transfer in which the film’s sides have been lopped off as cruelly as the Children’s murderous mitts, includes various extras, including a director’s commentary. The weirdest thing is the history of a local community theater camp musical version of the film (!), of which the only record is a poorly videotaped portion. Astoundingly, the play looks worse than the movie, which is saying something. Being a Troma release, it also includes one of those painful Lloyd Kaufman ‘comic’ intros.


At 1:24 PM, Blogger baby copernicus said...

Only firty-five minutes are wasted waiting for the obvious reveal at the end!

You heard right! Only forty-five minutes!

At 1:42 PM, Blogger Ken Begg said...

It's true. The rest of the running time is gold, baby!

At 1:46 PM, Blogger baby copernicus said...

Somehow I became the Swedish Chef in my last post.

Bork! Bork! Bork!

At 2:25 PM, Blogger Big Al said...

A classic from my 'showtime' watching, misspent youth, that and joan collins in 'the Bitch'


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