BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY
An all-too-typical Troma sponsored no-budgeter
worth viewing (maybe) because of stunningly demented opening—a kid’s dad dies
after getting caught in a bear trap and the tyke responds by cutting open the
elder’s belly and happily removing his organs!—and closing sequences.
Otherwise, though, it’s pretty shitty.
Over the years BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY has become one of Troma’s most
heavily publicized films. It is, according to Troma co-founder Lloyd Kaufman’s
1998 book ALL I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT FILMMAKING I LEARNED FROM THE TOXIC AVENGER,
the “most extreme” of all Troma’s movies (no mean feat!). The trailer
apparently inspired a couple dozen walkouts at a Cannes screening; is it any
wonder my interest was piqued?
Well, now I’ve sat through the film, and I can say with certainty that it
is not Troma’s most extreme movie—that honor goes to Joel M. Reed’s 1975
anti-classic BLOODSUCKING FREAKS (which Kaufman proclaims Troma’s “most
fucked-up” movie, a category that apparently falls sort of “most extreme”).
Furthermore, BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY is not the first film, as Kaufman alleges
on his DVD intro, to breach the “last taboo” of massacring children. That taboo
was already shattered by the 1976 Spanish horror flick
WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (QUIEN
PUEDE MATAR A UN NINO?) and the 1974 drive in programmer DEVIL TIMES FIVE...both
of which are infinitely more effective than this film.
The citizens of a rural town find their children disappearing at an
alarming rate. The initial investigations turn up nothing; meanwhile, adults
investigating the disappearances are killed off in a variety of gruesome ways.
It gradually becomes clear that a band of cannibalistic zombie children is loose
in the forest, preying upon unsuspecting adults; eventually the grown-ups catch
on and band together to kill off their wayward offspring. It ends with the kids
being massacred in suitably grotesque fashion: most are shot, while one boy
literally gets his head blown to bits SCANNERS style. A single tyke is left
alive in the aftermath of the mass slaughter; he finds himself enraptured by the
sight of a rabbit, and prepares to kill it...and apparently start a new wave of
Make no mistake about it: this is tacky stuff. The film certainly has its
moments (it’s impossible not to elicit a strong reaction from the sight
of children being slaughtered, however poorly done the effect is), but it’s a
flat line for the most part: the photography, accomplished via short ends
bequeathed from bigger budgeted productions, makes the film look cheaper than it
already is, and the amateur performances are often downright painful to watch.
Furthermore, much of this terminally under-conceived film is plain boring
(the constant literary and pop culture references, to the likes of Shakespeare,
Marshall McLuhan and Beowulf, do nothing to spice things up, or make the story
seem any less moronic). And the special effects? They simply couldn’t be
worse. Note the way the actors freeze every time they’re shot/stabbed/garroted
so as not to hinder the spurting blood FX, which are hopelessly low-rent...nor
does it help matters that the “corpses” always seem to be visibly breathing!
BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY
Director: Mik Cribben
Producers: Michael Koslow, Ellen Wedner
Screenplay: Fred Scharkey
Cinematography: Mik Cribben
Editing: Mik Cribben, Michael Cribben
Cast: Michael Robertson, Rich Hamilton, Robin Lilly, Lori Tigrath, Jamie Krause,
Sunshine Barrett, Mark Diekman, Mik Cribben, Susan Chandler, Herb Clinger,
Lauren Cloud, Lorna Courtney, Danny McClaughlin, Stephanie Jaworski, Lee Kayman,
Bernard Hocke, Eric Tonken, Rick Bitzelberger, Anne Grindley