Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Children (1980)

Back in the day, when I was a kid (so you know, prehistoric times) there used to be shelves of VHS tapes to rent in almost every grocery store in the small towns where I lived, and this was almost always one of the ones included, so I remember seeing this movie cover a lot and always wanting to see the movie and find out what was wrong with the titular children.  As I got older and got more into watching horror movies, I heard more and more people complain about how bad this movie is (IMDB only gives it like 2 1/2 stars) so I backed away from watching it because I figured it would probably be terrible, but it's horror movie month, so what better time to give this movie a chance?

I have to say I don't understand where all the hate comes from.  Is this movie the pinnacle of cinematic genius?  No, but I didn't expect it to be.  It's even older than I am (it came out in a limited theatrical run the year before I was born) and it's pretty clear that the movie has a tiny budget.  The acting isn't great, but the actors who matter here are the kids, and all they really have to do is shuffle around and look creepy, and as much as I love kids, I have to admit that they can be pretty creepy when they want to be, so the kids roaming the outskirts of town looking for victims manage to be pretty scary looking.

The movie is about a leak at a nuclear power plant which causes a yellow cloud of gas to form and it happens to form over a road where a school bus is traveling with a load of children returning home from school.  The first victim is the bus driver, and I don't really understand why he didn't turn into a zombie too, since he went through the same cloud of gas the children did, but whatever (the movie does seem to suggest that only children are affected by this gas cloud, as evidenced by something we see at the end of the film, but I still think this explanation is silly).  The bus driver's death is the only one that really irked me, since it totally looked like they just smeared butter and strawberry jelly on his face and called it good.  The other death scenes fare a little better in the effects department.

The early scenes, before we know what really happened, are pretty effective too, since the bus is just abandoned by the side of the road with the engine still running and all the kids' stuff still inside, and watching the sheriff roam down the aisle of seats and expecting something to jump out at him at any moment is pretty tense.  No one in the town seems very worried that the children have disappeared except for the sheriff, so that kind of annoyed me.  the movie could have been trimmed by about a half hour and still kept all the essential information.  It would probably have been a better movie, too.

It seems like the filmmakers just want to pad the running time with pointless scenes, but some of the scenes that the other reviews I've read have complained about, like the extended opening sequence with the children singing in the bus before it hits the cloud, and the long shots at the end of the movie panning across the dead children lying in heaps on the ground, actually work for me.  The opening sequence establishes the innocence of the kids before it is brutally cut short, and the sequence at the end is spooky with the heaps of dead and dismembered kids.  The movie even has some (probably) unintentional social commentary, since the real way you can tell a kid has turned into a zombie is that their fingernails have turned black...and I hear people complain all the time about kids and teens wearing black nail polish being all satanic and evil.  They should watch this movie and have their fears confirmed.  This movie is kind of silly, and yes the acting and special effects leave a lot to be desired, but it's not as bad as people have been saying it is.  I enjoyed it, and it probably would have freaked me out if I saw it as a kid.  It's worth checking out.  Watch it with your kids this Halloween and scare the shit out of them.

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