Cinema Fearité presents The Children
Creepy kids are everywhere in 1980's The Children.
The only thing scarier than a creepy kid is a whole group of creepy kids. For every The Bad Seed or The Good Son, the fear is multiplied by a The Brood or a Bloody Birthday. Or 1980’s The Children.
The Children is about a school bus that drives through a mysterious cloud of fog. The bus is later located on the side of the road, engine still running with the driver and five young passengers nowhere to be found, by Sheriff Billy Hart (Gil Rogers from The Panic in Needle Park). Thinking that the kids have been abducted, Sheriff Hart orders his deputy, Harry Timmons (Mentor’s Tracy Griswold), to set up a roadblock, and enlists the help of John Freemont (Martin Shakar from Saturday Night Fever), the father of one of the missing girls, to help him track down the kids. The two men find the children, but they’ve changed. The cloud has turned them into mindless zombies who can kill with a simple hug.
Max Kalmanowicz (Dreams Come True) directed The Children from a script that was written by Carlton J. Albright (Luther the Geek) and Edward Terry (his only produced screenplay). It’s a simple story, and one that plays out just as straightforwardly as it seems like it should. Part Village of the Damned and part The Return of the Living Dead, it’s one of those rare early-eighties gems that is not a slasher movie, so it’s quite memorable, at least to those who have actually seen it.
Really, the best way to describe The Children is to say that it has had home video releases by both Vestron Video and Troma Entertainment. It’s that kind of a movie – charming in spite of its flaws.
The titular creepy kids in The Children are not your average killer tots. They’ve been infected by whatever pollution leak caused the toxic cloud that interrupted their bus ride home, so by the time they start their reign, they’re more zombies than anything else. They walk slowly around with their arms stretched out in front of them, ready to lethally hug anyone and anything that will let them near enough. Even the way that Sheriff Hart and Mr. Freemont find to deal with them is straight out of a zombie movie (no spoilers, but no, it’s not shooting them in the head).
The faux-zombie kids make for some interesting visual effects as well. The special effects makeup for The Children was done by Craig Lyman (Eyes of Laura Mars, The Stuff), and while it does have its share of slashery gore gags, the most interesting tricks involve what happens to the victims of the kids as they are being hugged to death. Smoke starts poring out of their skin, and gaping wounds appear on the flesh of the person, as if their skin is rotting away right before the viewer’s eyes. Some of the visuals expose the film’s cut-rate budget, particularly those in the final act, but the melting flesh gimmick is gold.
The Children was shot by cinematographer Barry Abrams, who also worked on the original Friday the 13th earlier that same year. The photography in The Children isn’t as crisp and clean as that of Friday the 13th, a fact which gives the film more of a grindhouse, exploitative vibe. Abrams makes great use of everything he can get his lens on, from capturing the manmade “toxic” fog to utilizing a convenient nearby graveyard as a setting, to give The Children a spooky, haunted look and feel. Heck, it even looks like Abrams may have used some of the locations from Friday the 13th in some places.
Speaking of Friday the 13th connections, the man who came up with the iconic music that has been used for decades in that franchise, Harry Manfredini, also did the score for The Children. In 1980, Manfredini was still relatively unknown, but his journey to becoming the legend that would contribute the music to classics like Swamp Thing, The Horror Show, and Slaughter High had already begun.
Sonically similar to his Friday the 13th score, Manfredini’s soundtrack for The Children bridges the gap between the classic horror music of the seventies and the simple, minimalistic fright flick scores of the eighties, not ever going full orchestral but never leaning completely into the heavy layered synth sound either. The highly effective score for The Children glances back at Manfredini’s influences while providing a glimpse of the mythical composer that the man would become a few years later in the mid-eighties.
In the world of creepy kids movies, The Children isn’t a glamorous choice. It’s often forgotten and left behind by more popular movies. But it’s worth a look, both to fans of killer kids and eighties horror. And if you are into both, it’ll be twice as much fun for you.