The Children (1980)
Written By: Angela DiLella
Director: Max Kalmanowicz
Producer: Max Kalmanowicz and Carlton J. Albright
Screenwriter: Carlton J. Albright and Edward Terry
Date Released: June 13, 1980
Martin Shakar as John Freemont
Gil Rogers as Billy Hart
Gale Carnett as Cathy Freemont
Rating: 3/5 Graves
***May contain some spoilers***
When a strange gas escapes a New England power plant, it floats on until it envelops a school bus. The school bus disappears and reappears down the road, pulled to the shoulder and completely empty. Some quick exploration finds the bus driver dead and deformed—and the kids stricken with a mysterious ability to kill on contact, as well as the overwhelming desire to do so. They waste no time in setting out to use their newfound abilities…
There’s a small bit of gore, as the infected children kill their victims by microwaving them and to defeat the children, they must be dismembered. The effects of the victims aren’t bad for a B movie, but the prosthetics for other scenes don’t do much.
The Grave Review
Is there anything scarier than kids in New England? What about semi-zombified kids? In a move that Stephen King could appreciate, five children terrorize at least a few residents of the town of Ravensback, a fictional town shot made up of locations in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
A strength of the movie is this location, as it balances a recognizable, contemporary look from the time with a sort of disjointed feel that wooded New England areas have naturally. Even though the characters have means of communication and support, they feel isolated from the get-go, so it seems plausible that five children who can send microwaves from their hands would be an overwhelming problem. Although this wears a little thin towards the end of the movie when the titular children have a farmhouse surrounded, the location is used well. The actors and actresses fit the spot well, too, as there is a wry sense of humor and weirdness that makes parts of the movie feel like they were shot with actual residents of the area rather than chosen actors and actresses.
For a B movie—or whatever letter movie The Children (1980) would be classified as—it has a great many other strengths, as well. Most of the cast does a pretty good job, their acting seeming less like acting and just regular behavior, and even the child actors manage to put some personality into their zombielike personas. The quality of the film itself is also much higher than one would expect. There are a lot of creative cuts and shots that make up for the lower budget that this film was working with, and there are only a couple that look unignorably cheesy with awkward cuts or jumps.
That said, there are some weaknesses. The story is a bit predictable at times, though the children’s situation is unique and the story kicks off in a unique way, it recalls fifties horror movies (replacing the fear of nuclear contamination with chemical contamination) and culminates in way that recalls zombie movie tropes, though I’m not sure if the tropes would have been as firmly established in 1980. As I said above, things do wear a little thin in the third act. For example, a scene where one child gets into the house involves him climbing to the second floor and convincing his (unaffected) friend to open the window pays off, but the actual scene was just a little too hard for me to swallow. In the same act, a katana is used to dispatch some of the infected children, and although it’s cool (and real), it was tough to buy at face-value; if something set up either of these scenes earlier, I completely missed it/them. At the same time, I do love the katana, even if I don’t quite buy it.
The score for the film also seems to distract more than it serves the film, as it seems ripped right off of Friday the Thirteenth (specifically, that riff that is really just borrowed from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho). As it turns out, Harry Manfredini scored both films and was really ripping himself off. Still, it’s jarring and works against The Children (1980) while watching, because more likely than not, your thoughts are going to drift towards Jason Voorhees.
All in all, The Children is a great example of a low-budget movie that breaks the expectations that come along with a low-budget film. In many ways, it is surprisingly good, and you can tell that the crew cared about their product, though there are weak spots. They are just different from what the stereotype dictates. You can tell the budget is a bit lower and the story feels a bit stretched at times, but also that the work went into it and the cast and crew did the best they could with their means. The Children is a standout B movie and a fun way to pass a few hours, especially with friends.
The BluRay/DVD set for The Children was generously donated by film restoration and distribution company Vinegar Syndrome. You can check out more of their catalogue at their website or at their physical storefront, The Archive, located in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
For the foregoing reasons, Grave Reviews gives The Children three graves out of five graves.
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