An all-too-typical Troma sponsored no-budgeter worth viewing (maybe) for of its stunningly demented opening—a kid’s dad dies after getting caught in a bear trap and the tyke responds by cutting open the elder’s belly and happily removing his organs!—and closing sequences. Otherwise, though, it’s pretty shitty.
Over the years BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY (1989) has become one of Troma’s most heavily publicized films. It is, according to Troma co-founder Lloyd Kaufman’s 1998 book ALL I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT FILMMAKING I LEARNED FROM THE TOXIC AVENGER, the “most extreme” of all Troma’s movies (no mean feat!). The trailer apparently inspired a couple dozen walkouts at a Cannes screening; is it any wonder my interest was piqued?
Well, now I’ve sat through the film, and I can say with certainty that it is not Troma’s most extreme movie—that honor goes to Joel M. Reed’s 1975 anti-classic BLOODSUCKING FREAKS (which Kaufman proclaims Troma’s “most fucked-up” movie, a category that apparently falls sort of “most extreme”). Furthermore, BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY is not the first film, as Kaufman alleges on his DVD intro, to breach the “last taboo” of massacring children. That taboo was already shattered by the 1976 Spanish horror flick WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (QUIEN PUEDE MATAR A UN NINO?) and the 1974 drive in programmer DEVIL TIMES FIVE…both of which are infinitely more effective than this film.
The citizens of a rural town find their children disappearing at an alarming rate. The initial investigations turn up nothing; meanwhile, adults investigating the disappearances are killed off in a variety of gruesome ways. It gradually becomes clear that a band of cannibalistic zombie children is loose in the forest, preying upon unsuspecting adults; eventually the grown-ups catch on and band together to kill off their wayward offspring. It ends with the kids being massacred in suitably grotesque fashion: most are shot, while one boy literally gets his head blown to bits SCANNERS style. A single tyke is left alive in the aftermath of the mass slaughter; he finds himself enraptured by the sight of a rabbit, and prepares to kill it…and apparently start a new wave of murderous mayhem.
Make no mistake about it: this is tacky stuff. The film certainly has its moments (it’s impossible not to elicit a strong reaction from the sight of children being slaughtered, however poorly done the effect is), but it’s a flat line for the most part: the photography, accomplished via short ends bequeathed from bigger budgeted productions, makes the film look cheaper than it already is, and the amateur performances are often downright painful to watch. Furthermore, much of this terminally under-conceived film is plain boring (the constant literary and pop culture references, to the likes of Shakespeare, Marshall McLuhan and Beowulf, do nothing to spice things up, or make the story seem any less moronic). And the special effects? They simply couldn’t be worse. Note the way the actors freeze every time they’re shot/stabbed/garroted so as not to hinder the spurting blood FX, which are hopelessly low-rent…nor does it help matters that the “corpses” always seem to be visibly breathing!
BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY
Director: Mik Cribben
Producers: Michael Koslow, Ellen Wedner
Screenplay: Fred Scharkey
Cinematography: Mik Cribben
Editing: Mik Cribben, Michael Cribben
Cast: Michael Robertson, Rich Hamilton, Robin Lilly, Lori Tigrath, Jamie Krause, Sunshine Barrett, Mark Diekman, Mik Cribben, Susan Chandler, Herb Clinger, Lauren Cloud, Lorna Courtney, Danny McClaughlin, Stephanie Jaworski, Lee Kayman, Bernard Hocke, Eric Tonken, Rick Bitzelberger, Anne Grindley