Saturday, April 30, 2011

THE CHILDREN (1980)

I can say for certain that this movie is not a piece of shit. It’s something much worse, because even feces have a biology and purpose that make sense. Sitting through “The Children” is a lot like being present for a birthing gone bad. At first the head crowns and all the promise that comes with first sight brings you joy. Then comes the arms. You count the fingers and everything seems to add up. Then with one last big push, your heart sinks as the midsection passes to reveal a complete lack of legs and genitals. Your heart is broken. The doctor doesn’t even bother to ask if you’d like to cut the chord, because there is no honor in such ceremony. Following the delivery’s twisted, mangled end, there is only regret and a sense of loss. Fortunately, in the instance of a movie, you can always hit rewind after the disappointing finale.

I’ve met a lot of people who love "The Children," and most credit nostalgia for their affection toward it. Somehow this one slipped by me as a kid, so I went into it without the disadvantage of fond childhood memories to fog up my perception. Certainly, even if you’ve never seen it, the film’s dated presence has a pang of familiarity, but the fashion and d├ęcor are overwhelmed by its uneventfulness. People have defended “The Children” as a totally campy exploit, and I would agree. It’s campy in some parts, while other stretches are infuriatingly blank.

The beginning of the film is so promising that one can forgive some of the more absurd initial details. Lazy technicians at a local power plant near the backwater town of Ravensback half ass it through a repair, because, fuck it man, it’s the weekend. From there, we join a brood of saccharine little shits on a traditional yellow school bus, hailing their driver through traditional song. All seems bright and sunny. But just ahead, an orange haze engulfs the road, and before the driver can break, the bus plunges deep into the bizarre cloud bank.

Shortly after, Sheriff Billy Hart discovers the bus on the side of the road without any sign of the children in sight. From here, we’re introduced to the strangely unconcerned asshole parents of the missing kids, most of whom seem too sophisticated to be caught dead in some hick berg. Particularly hilarious is the topless sunbathing mom and her oiled up male companion, who are actually titillated by the prospect of their daughter’s disappearance. This is where the “The Children” drops the ball big time. We meet a bevy of compelling, if not downright bizarre characters, and they don’t do shit with them! Some of them don't even get a proper death scene. Instead, their corpses just get tripped over later on. Inexplicably, the least interesting of the parents, played by Martin Shakar, whom most will recognize as Frank the priest from “Saturday Night Fever,” takes center stage for the bulk of the flick.

Eventually, the children reappear with black fingernails and a lethal hug that sears the recipient to death. Conceptually, the story has potential, and the imagery of these kids with their arms outstretched is enjoyably creepy and effective. Once again, though, the script fails to capitalize on something that is initially very interesting. We know what caused the mutation, sure, but their compulsion to kill is never fully explained. I routinely have people telling me that I often take movies like this way too seriously. To them, I say, “go fuck yourself.” I don't take anything "too seriously." I actually respect and appreciate films of this nature. I genuinely find them to be creative and exciting. I'm not here to goof on them and I don't respect people who do. It's not that I take them too seriously, it's that most people just don't care enough. I wanted to know why the fuck these kids were killing people. That Stephen King brand "just because" bullshit doesn't cut it for me!

A lot of the people defend "The Children" by tossing the camp mantle over it. While this movie is definitely campy, it’s also pretty fucking bad. There’s a big difference. Just because something is bad does not qualify it as camp. It is a very rare occasion for me that a film gets over based on its flaws. I can only think of about four examples off the top of my head. There are different kinds of ways you can fuck up a movie. For example, I personally believe that movies where you can see the boom mic should be a legitimate genre of film. I eat that shit up. In fact, I find technical flaws to be both redeeming and endearing. Then there are various ways you can fail creatively, which are far less forgivable. Bad acting I can get into. Absurd plots are fine. "The Children" has some amusingly bad parts to it, and it’s definitely campy, but the cardinal sin which I cannot forgive a film of this nature for is being boring. “The Children” lays out a banquet of wonderful ideas and characters, but then it just turns out the light and walks out of the fucking room before we can get more than a taste. It leaves us in the dark, literally almost.

The second half of the film features the protagonists running from one poorly lit location to another, and then back again REPEATEDLY. And once the sun goes down, forget about it. The crew on this motherfucker couldn't light a Christmas tree with a can of gasoline and a flame thrower. So, everyone is running in circles doing jack shit because it's too dark to see anything. Enter composer Harry Manfredini, who ratchets up the monotony to a Waco-like assault with a horribly lazy score that lifts a few cues from his work on “Friday the 13th.” Some people insist that the selections are slightly reworked, but that's being generous. He literally sampled the "Friday the 13th" score and LOOPS what little he did take throughout the film. It's obnoxious. Listen to this clip. If you disagree with me then you are deaf. Enjoy your prime parking, asshole.

Sure, there are laughable parts, and yes, there is some stale sense of nostalgia, but the overwhelming bulk of the mix is made up of missing time. Even if the initial ideas are great, they just don’t go anywhere. Like a retard with a magnificent boner, the erection ultimately turns into a flaccid nonevent. And that's what this movie is: a big, limp dick.

Oh Vestron, I can't stay mad at you.

Despite terminal dullness, the ending is decent because it manages to tie one loose end up. SPOILER: The movie concludes with survivor Cathy Freemont giving birth to her baby. The child is seemingly healthy, but her husband’s initial look of joy shifts to that of horror when he notices the breast-feeding infant’s nails are black, indicating that it’s become one of the monster children somehow. I watched this movie in a group setting, and those around me groaned at what they dismissed as a nonsensical cliff hanger. It didn’t seem anyone understood exactly how the child in the womb turned bad, but to me it made perfect sense. At the beginning of the movie, while the children are all singing on the bus prior to their encounter with the toxic cloud, Cathy Freemont pulls AROUND the bus and waves while passing them. The driver waves back, and Cathy disappears ahead of them. Though we never see it, we should presume that Cathy encountered the same cloud that caught the bus, thus infecting her baby. This is one redeeming detail, but still not enough to excuse all the other wasted opportunities throughout the film. Alcohol and asshole friends are required to get through this one.

3 comments:

  1. Max!

    Congrats on the Alamo gig. I watched this as a terror tuesday showing. The scary part about this movie are the children. They're horrible.

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  2. Thanks! I have worked Tuesdays for years up 'til recently, so I'm gonna try to start going again. Are you coming to the Deadly Prey showing?

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  3. I moved from Austin to Chicago now, it sucks for me, but my girl will go and enjoy the fuck out of it.

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