Monday, November 9, 2015

"The Children" (1980) d/ Max Kalmanowicz

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I do believe I've chainsmoked enough cigarettes by now, so let's kick off another week of shenanigans with another review, already, shall we? Tonight's feature, an obscure little bit of drive-in horror/camp filmed in Massachusetts, comes from a fellow whose only other credit in the director's chair is a 1984 fantasy about "dream travel" shot in Wisconsin, and serves as a harsh reminder that everything you found creepy as an eleven year old watching late night television in the parlor may not hold up under the scrutiny of adulthood. As if the claymation six fingered hand that introduced Chiller Theater on WPIX-11 wasn't enough, I spotted the thirty second tv spot for Children during a commercial break, and most likely spent the early morning hours scouring our tree-lined backyard for peering creeps afterwards. Then, the movie completely disappeared for me, until the advent of home video a few years later, and any unease the teaser trailer may have left me with as a boy was replaced by howls of unintentional laughter, as a teenager.

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"...and then I jumped on stage and hugged Peter Murphy like this, while they played 'Bela Lugosi's Dead'...!"
If there's a more repugnantly dim town of Jimmy Carter-era cinematic adults than the goofs that populate the normally cozy New England burg, Ravensback, I'm not sure I've ever seen it... so when a stray gaseous, yellow cloud of radioactivity that escapes the local nuclear plant (yeah, oops.) envelops the town's school bus with a handful of pre-teen urchins aboard, wide-eyed and eager to learn, effectively transforming them into little, grinning zombies who cook human flesh with a toxic touch of their black fingernails, is it really any fucking wonder? The sheriff (Gil Rogers), who's enlisted to find the now-missing children, couldn't find his own asshole with a full search party and bloodhounds, and his deputy (Tracy Griswold), who's more concerned with carousing the local jailbait than locating missing youths, somehow can't follow the growing trail of barbecued adults to the ghoulish, murderous pedo-perps.

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Charles Bronson and Jill St John on a Krokodil bender? I dunno.
Little Janet's mom, Dee-Dee (Rita Montone, of "Maniac"(1980) and "Bloodsucking Freaks" (1976) fame), doesn't seem overly concerned with her missing child, burning spleefie topless by the pool, while her meathead boyfriend also has few fucks to give on the subject. Another hug-happy mini-ghoul's parents are sedated lesbians, and then there's the straight arrow Freemonts, John (Martin Shakar, Travolta's priest brother from "Saturday Night Fever" 1978) ) and his pregnant spouse, Cathy (Gale Garnett), who apologizes to her swollen womb when she smokes a cigarette. I'll give you one hint as to who eats radioactive hug-spawned death, and who makes it to the final reel, and it's none of the alternate liberal families, as these pint-sized killers have an ultraconservative homicidal agenda, it would seem. Conventional zombie-dispatch lore is ineffective, as bullets do nothing to the killer kids, whose sadistic spree can only be stopped by bladed amputation of their poisonous mitts. Yeah. They have to cut their hands off. Go ahead and think about that for a second. I sure hope Cathy's forthcoming baby is only born addicted to nicotine, and not toxic hugs with gothy fingernails of death. Yeah, you can fill in the blanks.

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C'mon in, kids, the Circus Peanuts and candy cigarettes are on me, today!"
Distributed by World Northal, a company primarily known for stateside theatrical release and television syndication of just about every chop socky kung fu movie in the late seventies, and showcasing a score by no less than Harry Manfredini, whose soundtrack work in another independent horror movie around the same time would immortalize him in genre circles (ki ki ma ma...), the film also interestingly boasts of an appearance by Gale Garnett, who provided the sultry voice for femme fatale,  Francesca,  in 1967's Mad Monster Party? and won a Grammy (!) for her folky one-hit wonder, "We'll Sing in the Sunshine" three years prior. I've got a funny feeling that if you asked her, her work on The Children might not stand as her proudest cinematic accomplishment to date. Still, it's a fucking hoot if you're sitting around drinking beers and tearing up bad movies with your buddies a la those snarky sci-fi guys with the robot puppets whose names all elude me, at the moment. On the scale, I couldn't possibly give Children more than the woeful single Woppo. The three Wop movie streak is officially over. Approach with caution.

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When a seemingly harmless dinner of beans and franks goes terribly wrong...
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