The Children (1980)
Directed by: Max Kalmanowicz
Starring: Martin Shakar, Gil Rogers, Gale Garnett, Shannon Bolin, Tracy Griswold, Joy Glaccum, Jeptha Evans, Martin Brennan, Rita Montone
1/2 (out of 4)
“You can’t hug your children with nuclear arms.” I’m not sure of the origin of this particular phrase but it certainly was in the minds of the creators of The Children, an anti-nuclear parable dressed up as a zombie movie, with a twist. The twist is that all the zombies are rugrats from a school bus that drives through a toxic cloud leaked from the nearby nuclear power plant. While the adults are unaffected by the gas, the children are turned into little black-fingernailed goths-in-training that have been fed too much Ritalin. With arms outstretched, they get all affectionate and huggy on you, which is bad news since a hug from one of these kids burns your flesh up until you resemble a pepperoni pizza. Nice job polluting the planet, boomers…now you are the main course for the next generation’s barbecue.
Welcome to the small northern town of Ravensback, where most of the inhabitants are selfish and lazy jerks. We’ve already seen two incompetent power plant workers miss an important reactor leak because they don’t get paid overtime and need a beer. Most of the parents in town don’t exactly live the “nuclear family” lifestyle – the town doctor is a woman who suns herself next to a doberman while a blind girl who may be her significant other plays piano (and takes codeine). It’s probably the most offbeat and surreal moment in the movie, and this is a film about kid zombies turning their parents into boiled lobsters. Another wacky couple consists of a woman (Rita Montone) sunbathing naked by the pool, smoking weed (with the sheriff right in front of her) next to her boyfriend, some bizarre muscle-bound Euro-looking guy lifting weights. Not only is she unconcerned about the disappearance of her nine year old daughter, but she is absolutely giddy over the idea that she may have been kidnapped (“A kidnapping in Ravensback! How exciting!”). Finally, we have a very pregnant woman, Cathy Freemont (Gale Garnett), who smokes on the couch while telling her unborn child “Sorry”. Her husband John (Martin Shakar) is a jerk who doesn’t clue her in on the fact that there are walking children of the damned in the area, and yells at her to make coffee.
These kids are just plain creepy. When they aren’t hugging people to a cinder they simply walk around in a daze, smiling. Max Kalmanowicz uses them effectively, at least until the film slows to a crawl around the middle mark when it turns into Night of the Living Dead, as the sheriff (Gil Rogers) and our remaining family the Freemonts defend themselves against the horde of killer tykes. A bigger problem than the pacing is the lighting – most of the movie takes place at night, and it’s difficult to make out a lot of scenes, probably due to the film’s extremely low budget. On the plus side, we have some nice gruesome burn effects and some hilarious shots of kids having their hands chopped off (that’s the only way to kill them, see). As goofy as The Children is, you gotta hand it to them (no pun intended there) for making children the menace (and killing them). Of course, Village of the Damned did all this first, but those alien kids never burned people to a crisp or have their hands cut off, did they?
The Children is damning selfish adults for not paying attention to the kind of world their children will grow up in. I would say this movie was created by liberals, except that all of the adults in the film with their liberal ideas of “family” are part of the problem. So, it’s conservative environmentalists, then? How many of those are there? There is a very 50s sci-fi-terror vibe going on, reminding me of the old atomic-horror monster flicks. It works fairly well. But you don’t get any points for guessing the shock ending birth scene. I do, however, enjoy the final image, since I now know that the baby boomer generation are the ones to blame for the rise of goth and emo culture.
The music is scored by Harry Manfredini, who also scored Friday the 13th that same year. It’s basically the same soundtrack – sans the “chi chi chi, ah ah ah” you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference. Troma had released the DVD once but it’s currently out of print. You can, however, stream the movie via NetFlix.
- Bill Gordon