The Skeleton Key (2005)

Iain Softley

Kate Hudson - Caroline Ellis
Gena Rowlands - Violet Devereaux
John Hurt - Ben Devereaux
Peter Sarsgaard - Luke Marshall
Joy Bryant - Jill Dupez
Maxine Barnett - Mama Cynthia

Genre - Horror/Thriller/Supernatural/Witchcraft

Running Time - 103 Minutes

Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) works at a hospice, quickly becoming sick of her job as she watches the elderly die without family or friends to care for them. Looking for another job, she accepts a caregiver position in New Orleans. The patient is Ben Devereaux (John Hurt), who is stuck in a wheelchair, mute, and supposedly doesn't have that much more time to live. Ben's wife, the very opinionated Violet (Gena Rowlands), doesn't really appreciate Caroline's presence since she isn't a true Southerner. But since all the caretakers have left the job and Ben is getting worse by the day, Violet has no choice but to appreciate Caroline's help.

Since Caroline is living inside the Devereaux mansion, Violet gives Caroline a skeleton key that will open every door inside the house. When upstairs in the attic, Caroline finds a door that the key won't open. Violet claims this door hasn't been opened in over the forty years she has lived there. Becoming curious, Caroline decides to find out what's behind the door. Her nosiness starts to effect her, as she starts seeing visions and hearing things from the former residents that had passed away. Even the people around her start acting stranger than usual. Caroline realizes the answers lie behind the mysterious door, but the truth may be worse than she ever imagined.


- The acting. What really keeps THE SKELETON KEY afloat is the solid acting by everyone involved. Kate Hudson is usually hit-and-miss for me, but she's really good as Caroline. The character would probably look pretty one-note and uninteresting on paper, but Hudson gives her life and personality - as well as depth that text couldn't provide. She plays Caroline as an intelligent, tough, and savvy woman, and it works for the character. I've always been a fan of Gena Rowlands and her performance as Violet is no exception. It's obvious from the start that you can't trust her, and Rowlands plays it up. In a lot of ways, she adds a touch of class to THE SKELETON KEY - giving a powerful, and sometimes creepy, performance in where she steals every scene she's in. John Hurt sold me as the poor stroke victim. He barely speaks, but his eyes tell you everything you need to do. Some have called his performance a waste of his acting abilities, but I thought he did a great job. Peter Sarsgaard displays his charisma as usual as lawyer Luke. My only issue was probably his on-and-off New Orleans accent. But other than that, I dug him. And Joy Bryant played the best friend role well. Just a nice cast that made the film probably better than it had any right to be.

- The direction. Iain Softley, who also directed HACKERS, does a pretty nice job in terms of the visuals. I thought the framing and composition was handled well. The quick editing at times worked instead of hurt the film. The flashbacks were shot in black-and-white, which I dug. There was also some nice moments of tension and suspense. And I liked the pacing as well. It was a nicely handled film that had some nice atmosphere. Can't complain really.

- Engaging story. The screenplay is not perfect by any means, but you're definitely invested by the narrative. Ehren Kruger, who's written screenplays for SCREAM 3, THE RING, THE RING TWO, and others, is also hit-and-miss with me as well. And while not everything on the script is great or works to the best of its ability, he gives THE SKELETON KEY a nice pace and interesting moments that keep you watching. Instead of trying to scare viewers right away with pointless "jump scares" and "scary visuals", Kruger lets the story play out naturally. In fact, strange things don't really happen until 30 to 45 minutes into the film. Kruger allows the viewer to acquaint themselves with the situation, the locations, and the characters before getting into what the purpose of the film actually is. It may turn off those with short attention spans, but I appreciated the confidence Kruger had in the storytelling.

The hoodoo stuff may have come off a bit cliche, as other films like ANGEL HEART, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, and SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW handled the idea of hoodoo/voodoo much better. But in terms of the story, the cliches worked and didn't bother me. Anyway, the hoodoo stuff led to the twist ending - which I liked a lot. It's not a bad screenplay. Could it have been more original? Stronger? Scarier? Sure. But for what it is, it's more than capable to entertain the viewer.

- Too predictable. The main issue with THE SKELETON KEY is that, if you've seen enough of these type of films, you know exactly how it'll play out. It's easy to spot who will be the good guys and who will be the villains. You'll see the twist ending coming a mile away. As a matter of fact, I wish they had just done the twist without the extra stuff that took place afterwards. It became a bit too much and didn't add anything new that the viewer couldn't realize on their own. As a matter of fact, a lot of stuff here has been done before, and probably better, in previous films. Being predictable isn't terrible since it's hard to be original these days anyway. But while it's easy to feel comfortable in watching something we know the narrative structure of, it takes away from how effective the twists and turns are. THE SKELETON KEY could have used a bit more "oomph", and being predictable hinders that.

- Not enough genuine scares. For a horror-thriller, it didn't really creep me out or scare me much at all. Most horror films these days don't have that effect on me much anymore, but I do jump every now and then. It's funny because I felt the mood and atmosphere quite a bit, but I wish it was thicker and had really pushed the mystery and terror a bit more. You can do a lot with hoodoo and black magic in general to create a semi-scary flick. I think THE SKELETON KEY had potential to be something really memorable, but just ends up being your standard PG-13 horror film. That's not a bad thing really, but you can tell there could have been more done with the premise in terms of fear.

THE SKELETON KEY is a watchable PG-13 horror-thriller that does more things well than it has flaws. While the film is way too predictable, cliched, and not scary enough considering the premise, at least it has solid acting, some nice direction, and a decent narrative that will never bore you. It's a decent time-waster that you'll probably enjoy, but won't remember much of once it's over. A solid rental, but only a buy if you really like this for your personal collection.

3 Howls Outta 4


The Bad Seed (1956)

Mervyn Le Roy

Nancy Kelly - Christine Penmark
Patty McCormack - Rhoda Penmark
Evelyn Varden - Monica Breedlove
Henry Jones - Leroy
Eileen Heckart - Hortense Daigle
William Hopper - Kenneth Penmark

Genre - Horror/Psychological Thriller/Drama/Evil Kids

Running Time - 129 Minutes

As a horror movie lover, I can always appreciate a film that involves evil children. These young people may seem cute and innocent. But if you don't give them what they want, they may accidentally put that toy car in your path before you fall down the stairs and break your neck. Little Orphan Annie was a mean little bitch - don't let that curly red hair and those freckles fool you!

Some of the most memorable horror films involve scary kids. THE OMEN, THE GOOD SON, PET SEMETARY, and ORPHAN prove that some kids have enough power to work alone. Other films, like CHILDREN OF THE CORN, VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, and BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY show that they prefer to hurt people within large groups. Either way, grounding these killer brats is not an option.

However, none of the films listed above wouldn't exist if the original 'evil child' film wasn't both critically and commercially successful. Every film with a child as the main antagonist owes a lot to 1956's THE BAD SEED, a film that kicked off the trend and proved that even children can be just as dangerous as adults. 56 years later, the film is still talked about and even plans for a second remake [the first was in 1985] are in the works. Does a remake say that THE BAD SEED doesn't hold up after all these years? Or is THE BAD SEED still the cream of the crop when it comes to its sub-genre?

Rhoda Penmark (Patty McCormack) seems like the perfect daughter. She's intelligent. She's cute, with her charming smile and pig-tails. She has hard-working and well-respected parents. She also doesn't have much of a conscience, which makes her quite the successful little sociopath.

While Rhoda's father (William Hopper) is away on some sort of business, her mother Christine (Nancy Kelly) has to deal with the fact that Rhoda may have drowned one of her fellow classmates named Claude for a penmanship medal that Claude narrowly beat her for. When Christine confronts Rhoda about the incident, Rhoda seems indifferent about the tragedy - lying and manipulating Christine's feelings to get her off of her back. Rhoda also twists the truth when the slow, but suspicious handyman, Leroy (Henry Jones), and Claude's alcoholic mother, Mrs. Daigle (Eileen Heckart) approach her.

When things start coming together that make Rhoda appear guilty of her crime, she takes the matter into her own hands. More people end up dying and Rhoda continues her lying. When Christine realizes that her daughter is evil, she wonders if that trait is one of nature, or one of nurture. Is evil hereditary? Or are people made that way?

Every 'evil child' flick owes great debt to THE BAD SEED, even though those respective subsequent films took the premise and used them in different ways. THE BAD SEED is also one of the rare horror-thrillers that managed to rack up some important Academy Award nominations, mainly for the acting. And while the film may be very campy and hokey to modern audiences, it still maintains a level of charm and the subtext still manages to resonate after all these years.

The screenplay by John Lee Mahin is based on the theater version of the story, which was written by Maxwell Anderson, which in turn is based on the 1954 novel by William March of the same name. The film version is based more on the play, as most of the actors from the stage production are in the film as well. The narrative is balanced by what THE BAD SEED is about on the surface, and the psychological subtext that the story is trying to tell its audience. Both are strongly written, but the subtext tends to overshadow everything else going on in the story.

The idea of and the debate about Nature vs. Nurture, in my opinion, is what THE BAD SEED is really about. This is a topic that still manages to capture the attention of the public, especially with all these crime and investigation programs that grab huge ratings. In 1956, this was really a huge deal as the public started to become more interested in psychology and the writings of one Sigmund Freud. Another psychologist, John Watson, talked about the way people behave and the reasons they do so respectively. He, and some others, believed that people behaved accordingly to their environment, rather than genetics. We are all born with both good and evil, as it's human nature. But the path we take is due to our surroundings and how we're nurtured by those around us. Even today, the debate wages on, as serial killer profiles and stories of addiction blur the lines a bit. Some serial killers, who grew up in fantastic environments, still did bad things. So were they born that way? There's no clear answer really.

THE BAD SEED does answer the debate in its own way, which I won't spoil if you haven't seen it yet. But the discussions about the topic are abundant in the narrative, as Christine talks to her friends and family about what makes people do bad things - DNA or their surroundings. While the topic is interesting on its own, it's the way the characters express their opinions that keep the film fresh. Christine's father believes in the nurture aspect, as he doesn't think people are born bad. He believes that people behave according to their social status, race, religion, and their neighborhood. As a WASP-y man with a lot of money, respect, and power, it's easy to see why he would think this way. It's all he's ever known, or at least let himself accept as gospel. Christine's friends, especially her landlord Monica, treat psychology as some sort of game that you play at social events or parties. She is always analyzing others, even claiming that analyzing her marriage ruined it, but doesn't really know anything. She's so busy being ignorant, because she believes that reading articles about psychology makes her some sort of expert, that she can't see the psychological trauma Christine is going through and how big of a manipulative sociopath Rhoda is. In a lot of ways, THE BAD SEED was a foreshadowing to our current society. The media analyzes situations, making up stories as to why people in our pop culture do what they do without any sort of backing or evidence. We get suckered in by this and begin doing this to others, without really knowing what we're analyzing. It's our innate quest and hunger for knowledge. Wanting to know things isn't terrible. But the way knowledge is used can be damaging to others.

Christine struggles because she knows the truth, but the people around her are blind to it and tell her otherwise. She questions her true parentage, feeling that her real father was a serial killer. Even though she didn't do bad things, her daughter is committing crimes without any sense of conscience or remorse. But by knowing what Rhoda did to poor Claude and not telling Claude's mother about what she knows, she is enabling Rhoda in continuing her behavior. And as a parent, that makes her just as bad as Rhoda. So is evil really because of our environment? Or is it in our genetic code?

While much of the film focuses on this aspect, the surface narrative - Rhoda killing Claude for an award she felt she deserved, while Christine struggles with it and begins having a nervous breakdown out of guilt, is what keeps THE BAD SEED moving. It also develops the characters in the narrative, making them all identifiable instead of stereotypes. Even though she's a supporting character, Rhoda is the catalyst of the story. Because of her, the other characters react the way they eventually do. Rhoda is a complex character, as she shows affection to her parents and Monica, but makes you question whether or not she's legitimate or manipulating them into getting what she wants. She's obviously a sociopath and evil, but is subtle about it - which is the most dangerous kind. She captures the hearts of those around her, except for slow-witted Leroy, drunk Hortense, and guilt-ridden Christine herself, who all see her for who she is. We never actually see her perform the dastardly acts that she does commit, making her more effective as a villain, since it allows our imaginations run wild about her methods. Rhoda is the driving force of this film.

Because of her, Christine [instead of blaming Rhoda for what she's done] feels guilty and blames herself and her genetics for all this. She's a stressed out wife and mother. Her husband is never around, leaving her to raise Rhoda all on her own basically. She has no one to confide in when she learns about Rhoda, because her friends and family think she's just overreacting. She constantly tries to push Rhoda towards the moral path, but fails each time. Christine practically gives up and enables Rhoda by lying for her, even though her emotions say otherwise. We, as an audience, feel as if Christine should punish Rhoda for her crimes. But at the same time, we understand why she's conflicted because we don't want our children to suffer. It's a strong, yet flawed [in a good way], character.

Other characters struggle with Rhoda as well. Monica doesn't believe that Rhoda is nothing more but the most perfect child, never understanding why Christine seems to detach from her daughter each day. Leroy, even slow, tries to goad Rhoda into doing something bad so she can get caught. However, since he's seen as lower class, is never taken seriously and treated as an outcast. And Hortense, lower class as well, is portrayed as an emotional drunk by the 'classier' characters, even though she's visibly a grieving mother who wants nothing but answers about the death of her son. Interesting characters make an interesting film, which is a strong reason why THE BAD SEED still works.

Do I have any issues with the screenplay? The film is a bit dialogue heavy at times. The constant discussions over the Nature vs. Nurture issue do become a bit tiresome, even though what discussed is interesting. I think a lot of the scenes could have reached their turning points much sooner than they did. Because of it, the film is a bit too long and might turn off modern audiences.

My biggest personal gripe has to be the ending itself. I won't spoil it, but I'm not a fan of it or the 'epilogue' after it. I know some people like it a lot, and I respect that. I know that the Hays Code was in place during this time in cinema, where the villain could not get away with their crime and had to be punished by the film's end. And I'm sure back in 1956, the ending was universally accepted. But in 2012, it just comes across as campy, hokey, tacky, and however you want to call it. Yes, I understand that Rhoda needed to be punished. But couldn't the ending be presented better? It's too bad the ending to either the novel or the play couldn't be used because the character arcs for both Christine and Rhoda would have been more effective. As for that little bit after the actual conclusion, I honestly can't take it. I understand it was meant to tell audiences that no children were harmed on the set of THE BAD SEED, but c'mon! I would have accepted the ending better if this portion was left out. I just find it too silly to take seriously. If I were reviewing this as a viewer back in 1956, I wouldn't complain. But in 2012, it leaves a lot to be desired.

The direction by Mervyn Le Roy is really great. A lot of modern audiences complain that THE BAD SEED takes place far too much inside the Penmark living room, which it does to be honest, making the film look more like a play rather than a thrilling piece of cinema. While the film is not visually exciting, I kind of like the stage look. Think about it - having much of the film take place in a single location creates a feeling of claustrophobia. We barely see the outside world, except for some incidents that involve Rhoda. But Christine is usually always inside her home, due to the traditional idea that a wife should be a homemaker and taking care of the children. She's stuck inside with Rhoda, making her struggle about Rhoda's behavior more effective because she's unable to escape it without making the situation worse. It creates tension because she's trapped inside with the monster, and she has no idea how to deal with her. I think the presentation, especially with how characters enter and exit, is interesting and doesn't really bug me much at all.

The black-and-white cinematography looks nice as well. It was even nominated for an Academy Award, even though the picture looks pretty simple and doesn't appear all that special. The use of not showing how Rhoda kills her victims is effective, creating an aura of mystery about how dangerous this 'sweet' little girl really is. The editing is good, and while the pace is a bit slow at times, you're never really all that bored. It's a nice looking and well directed film.

The acting in THE BAD SEED is probably the highlight of the film. Nancy Kelly is great as Christine. The character is put through a lot during the entire film, and Kelly hits every note like a champ. You feel her guilt and her struggle in a really believable way. Her evolution from happy wife and mother to depressed and guilt-ridden is impressive. Patty McCormack is excellent as Rhoda. Even though she's young, she plays the character with a great sense of maturity and control that many of her older peers have trouble with. She also plays with a series of emotions, all convincing. She plays both the good and bad sides quite well, humanizing what could have been a one-note performance. The other actress that makes a presence is Eileen Heckart as Hortense Daigle. Her performance of tragedy and grief is so convincing, that you feel truly bad for her. She plays an alcoholic well and steals every scene she's in when she appears. It's no wonder why all three ladies were nominated for Academy Awards. They're all really quite good. The other actors, especially Henry Jones as Leroy and Evelyn Breedlove as Monica, are great as well. A very solid cast.


- Rhoda was so pissed that she didn't receive a medal that she felt she deserved, that she ended up killing her competition. I had no idea she grew up to become Tonya Harding.

- Leroy has the hots for Christine. This is the 50s version of Desperate Housewives!

- An eight-year-old boy drowned in a lake. If only those camp counselors were watching him...oh wait, wrong movie!

- Monica's horoscope said that she should pay attention to small objects and get things done. I think it's time for her to upgrade from Asian to African, if you get my drift.

- Rhoda wondered if it was true if police put powder on blood, it'll turn blue. She'll learn all about this type of chemistry when she's 16 & Pregnant.

- Rhoda ended up burning Leroy near the incinerator. He may mow the grass, but that little girl is gonna smoke it!

THE BAD SEED may be dialogue heavy and have an ending that cheapens the story [in my opinion], it's still a solid movie that lovers of 'evil kids' should watch and will most likely enjoy. Great performances and an interesting narrative makes this one stand out amongst its peers. Remember - the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. You better watch out before disciplining your kids. You may be the one getting punished. A basket of kisses for a basket of hugs...keep that in mind.

SCORE3.5 Howls Outta 4


Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010)

Lauren Montgomery

Tim Daly - Clark Kent/Superman
Kevin Conroy - Bruce Wayne/Batman
Andre Braugher - Darkseid
Summer Glau - Kara Zor-El/Supergirl
Susan Eisenberg - Wonder Woman
Edward Asner - Granny Goodness
Julianne Grossman - Big Barda

Genre - Action/Adventure/Comic Books/Animated/Fantasy

Running Time - 78 Minutes

In Gotham City, a spaceship crashes into the city's harbor. Batman (Kevin Conroy) swims into the harbor, finding a green meteor rock. Eventually, he comes into contact with the passenger - a blonde, teenage Kryptonian (Summer Glau) who has the same exact powers [maybe a bit stronger] than Superman. Superman (Tim Daly) comes to help out, halting this stranger when he shows her how similar they are. He learns that she is Kara, his cousin from Krypton. Feeling responsible for her, Superman decides to take Kara under his wing to Batman's dismay and disapproval. When Kara's powers begin destroy the things around her, due to lack of discipline, Wonder Woman (Susan Eisenberg) and her Amazons step in and decide to train her.

Meanwhile, the evil Darkseid (Andre Braugher) sees Kara as an opportunity to destroy Superman once and for all. He kidnaps Kara, brainwashing her into his slave. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman must travel to Apokolips to save Kara and stop Darkseid from succeeding in his diabolical plan.


- The action sequences. Probably the best part of SUPERMAN/BATMAN: APOCALYPSE are the fight scenes between our heroes and the array of villains that pop up. There are a few of them in this film, but some are better than others. The ones I enjoyed were - Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Amazons against the Doomsday clones on Themyscira, and the battle on Kent Farm between Superman, Supergirl against Darkseid. Every fight is choreographed well and are quite exciting to watch. The film lacks in many aspects, but the action isn't one of them.

- Most of the voice acting. Not everyone works here, but the majority of the acting is very good. Kevin Conroy can voice Batman in his sleep at this point, even though he sounds a bit tired [or bored] here. But it still works. Tim Daly still rocks as Superman. Susan Eisenberg is very cool as Wonder Woman. Summer Glau does a good job as Supergirl, even though I prefer Nicholle Tom's voice from the animated series. And Ed Asner as Granny Goodness was a bit odd, since he's a man and she's a woman. But I found it funny in a strange way, so I didn't mind it.

- Most of the direction. Lauren Montgomery does an okay job with the film. It's far from perfect, but the fight scenes are visualized well and the animation [with an attempt to look similar to Michael Turner's illustrations from the comic book story SUPERMAN/BATMAN: APOCALYPSE is based on - "The Supergirl From Krypton"] look fine. She uses the frame to her advantage, making up for the convoluted story with some exciting visuals - especially during the fight sequences. It's a nice looking film, so I can't say too much was wrong with how it was directed, at least appearance wise.

- The story. Now I didn't read this comic book arc, or see SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES [which this film is somewhat a sequel to, but not really]. But I do know that it was probably difficult to cram 6 issues into 78 minutes [including opening and end credits]. This becomes a major problem because there's just too much going on here. Is it all bad? Not at all. I enjoyed some of the narrative. But it becomes overwhelming, as well as lacking, at the same time. How is that possible?

Kara's introduction is done well for the most part, as it ties her to both Superman and Batman. But then, Wonder Woman appears for no real reason but to be there. She blames Kara for destroying a park in Metropolis, but it was because Wonder Woman pretty much attacked her to get that reaction out of her. Couldn't she had just approached Superman about her dangerous potential instead of battling her? For a diplomatic character, it makes no sense!

Anyway, we're introduced to the Amazons. Then Darkseid wants Kara to destroy Superman. Then we have Doomsday clones. Then we have Big Barda. And it just continues. No room to breathe. No depth at all as to the situation. How does Darkseid brainwash Kara so easily? Never explained. Why does Batman, Krypto, and Wonder Woman hate Kara so much without getting to know her deal? This just leads to constant arguing that feels like bickering parents trying to decide how to deal with a troubled child, rather than adults trying to control a potentially dangerous situation. It doesn't help that Kara comes across as a brat who wants to fit in and be accepted [which isn't explored enough either]. It feels like I'm watching an outline of a screenplay rather than the final draft of one. The ideas are there, but they're never fleshed out.

I feel as if this film didn't do enough, yet did too much at the same time. It felt short, yet long, and that's an odd thing to comprehend. This would have worked better as a mini-series of films, or if certain characters were taken out to make it less convoluted. I hear it's very close to what the comic books presented, but I don't think it works as a film - at least in the way it was presented here.

- Andre Braugher. Now I think Mr. Braugher is a fine actor. He's done some great work both on the small and the big screen. But as Darkseid, he's just flat as a board. His voice is just too normal and too calm for the character. When I think of Darkseid, I expect to hear menace and terror. This guy is practically a God. He can kick Superman's ass pretty easily. He should sound like a monster wanting his next snack, not a regular guy strolling through the park. It's a shame Michael Ironside wasn't available to reprise the role, like he did on the Superman: The Animated Series. He was a great Darkseid. Braugher is nowhere close to that. I don't know who to blame for this - Braugher for not giving it his all, or the producers for not finding a better actor or altering the voice a bit. It's a shame because Darkseid is a great villain and he is visually here. But sound design wise, it's a total fail.

- Who is this film aimed to? Non-fans shouldn't bother, since they'll never know what's going on and why these characters are behaving in ways they shouldn't be. Comic book fans might be disappointed, as the title is misleading. Even though the title implies this is a Superman and Batman film, the focus is really on Supergirl - a character that honestly doesn't do much for me unless she's a supporting character or has a really strong arc. This film doesn't have that. Male audiences are going to be turned off by a terrible shopping montage scene [really???] and Supergirl acting like a spoiled brat. I feel this film is catered more to a teen female audience, yet I'm not sure many women would take the time to watch this. I'm not saying there aren't female comic book fans, because there are - probably more than one thinks. But men are the majority of the success of these films, and besides the action sequences, there's not much a male audience would want to invest themselves in. Superman and Batman are supporting players in their own film. So who really is the demographic for this?

SUPERMAN/BATMAN: APOCALYPSE is a pretty disappointing animated feature that had a ton of potential. I hear the film was very similar to the comic book arc that it was adapted from, which makes me wonder whether the film was too short for a 6 issue story, or if the story was even worth telling in a film at all. The story could be better. Darkseid was voiced by the wrong actor. And I'm not sure who exactly DC and Warner Brothers want to watch this movie. At least the fight sequences are cool, the other voice actors are good, and the direction is solid for the most part. A pretty average film that I probably wouldn't watch again.

2 Howls Outta 4


The B-Movie Bungalow Presents: Class of Nuke 'Em High (1986)

Richard W. Haines
Samuel Weil

Gilbert Brenton - Warren Brandt
Janelle Brady - Chrissy Murphy
Robert Prichard - Spike
R.L. Ryan - Mr. Finley
James Nugent Vernon - Eddie
Brad Dunker - Gonzo
Theo Cohan - Muffy
Gary Schneider - Pete

Genre - B-Movie/Horror/Science Fiction/Comedy/Teens/Monsters

Running Time - 82 Minutes

Location is always important, especially when it concerns High School. Some folks have to go to a zone school, which is within or right near their neighborhood. Some people get to go away to school if they have great grades. Yours truly, for example, was able to get admitted into a good High School near a college campus where I was able to take Advanced Placement courses for college credit. That's right - I'm a genie! So you ask, why is a smart guy like me writing movie reviews on some blog?

Well, who asked you??

Wait...what was I writing about again. Oh right...location being important.

You see, High Schools in New York are by college campuses and drug dealers. In New Jersey, High Schools are by nuclear power plants and drug dealers. Are you really surprised by that? You have seen Jersey Shore, right? Luckily in 1986's Troma cult classic, CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH, there are no Guidos or Guidettes. But you do get preppies, Cretins, and a monster that was the product of pot-induced sex. Hmm...now I know what inspired MTV's 16 & Pregnant.

In Tromaville, New Jersey, the local nuclear power plant has a leak that's been reported. Like any good government official, the manager of the plant (R.L. Ryan) disputes the claims in order for the plant to keep running and for him to keep his job. Unfortunately, toxic waste is all over the place and has greatly infiltrated the local high school, Tromaville High School. One of the plant workers has created a special kind of marijuana called Atomic High, lacing the drug with chemical waste. Tromaville's debate team were the first to try out the stuff, but the special pot has turned them into The Cretins, the school's local bullies and drug dealers, led by Spike (Robert Prichard). They're the most feared of the school that even the teachers have trouble with them.

At a local party, Atomic High is passed around. Prude and preppy lovebirds, Warren Brandt (Gilbert Brenton) and Chrissy Murphy (Janelle Brady), are peer pressured into toking the stuff. The drug makes them horny and they end up having sex as some of their friends watch. Eventually, the Atomic High causes change in both Warren and Chrissy. Warren has a penis size growth and transforms into some sort of mutant that kills some of the Cretins. Chrissy becomes nine-months pregnant overnight and gives birth to some mutant that disappears down the toilet. The Cretins begin plotting revenge on Warren and Chrissy, while the mutant child wants revenge on everyone.

CLASS OF NUKE 'EM is a disjointed, yet entertaining B-movie that tries to be everything at once and manages to decently keep it all together. Lloyd Kaufman was inspired to make this film after a nuclear plant disaster at Shoreham, which was located just 60 miles away from Manhattan, New York. With the debacles that occurred beforehand at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, it was eventually shut down. The message about the danger of nuclear waste is there in some form, but CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH is more concerned with low brow comedy, T & A, and awesome looking monsters that want to murder High School students.

Like I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the screenplay [which was written by Richard W. Haines, Lloyd Kaufman, Mark Rudnitsky, and Stuart Strutin] is a bit disjointed in terms of tone and even genre. The first act plays out like an 80s teen comedy, where the students are most concerned with drugs, parties, sex, and forming cliques that will battle each other. This is the set up portion of the film, but it sort of meanders a bit - making you wonder when the point will made when it concerns the story. The second act is more of the science-fiction portion, where the main characters begin to transform due to the Atomic High, with sets up the rivalry between The Cretins and Warren & Chrissy. This is where the film feels more like a Troma film, as we get to the nitty gritty of what the film is really about while we experience B-grade effects and filthy humor. The final act is the horror portion, where The Cretins attack the school [especially Warren & Christy], while their mutant baby emerges from the school basement and has its way with everyone. It's the highlight of the film, as there's actual tension and some very cool special effects that are very fun to watch. The three acts do manage to somehow connect, but CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH does feel like three films in one. At least all three are fun in their own ways.

There is also that bit of politics about the danger of nuclear power. We get short scenes of Mr. Finley telling reporters and the townspeople that the power plant is running fine and there are no problems, even though it's obviously not true with all the waste covering Tromaville. The screenwriters, like I said, were inspired by the dangers of nuclear power at the time and obviously used that as a basis to tell their story. You don't really expect Troma to try and send a serious message about such a political matter. But in their silly way, the whole narrative with the mutation caused by the toxic waste and the mutant baby that destroys the school pretty much does that without making it all that serious. The Mr. Finley scenes are quite comical, as it's possible that something like this could and would occur in real life without much of the public not knowing until it's too late.

I did have an issue with the Atomic High itself. The way it caused reactions in characters varied, so I was unsure how powerful the stuff really was. The debate team became The Cretins because of the stuff. This is possibly due to the fact that they smoked the pot more than anyone else. But if they were dealing drugs and having returning customers, wouldn't they have transformed the same way also? When Warren and Chrissy smoked, they had interesting transformations. Warren had his penis grow exponentially [even though that angle never goes anywhere] and turns into this superhuman mutant that can murder The Cretins quite easily. But then he turns back to normal. Chrissy becomes 9 months pregnant overnight and has a mutant child. But she turns back to normal as well. Hell, even some who don't even smoke transform. When Spike kisses a fellow classmate, she turns into a Cretin seconds later! I think more explanation could have gone into the nuclear pot, since it was a major plot point in CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH. I don't think it really hurts the film all that much, but it does nag at you.

The characters and dialogue, however, are the highlight of the screenplay. All the characters are diverse and colorful in kooky ways, making them all entertaining. Warren and Chrissy are the bland preppies [who have funny dialogue about a Fellini festival], but they're likeable in a normal [compared to everyone else] sort of way. It's unfortunate that as the lead characters, they aren't more interesting. But at least you don't hate them and want them to succeed. The Cretins are given more screen time and are so different, both appearance and personality wise to everyone else, that you sort of like them even when they act bad. Spike, in particular, is a cool character as the leader [with his white hair and 80s hair metal look], but the other Cretins are unique and funny as well. When they have no problem beating up elderly women for cash and "don't give a fuck about tri-farts", you can't help but laugh. They're the reasons you keep watching.

The special effects in CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH are more than decent for a low budget B-movie. The mutant make-up and the bubbling skin effects are pretty good, all done with practical effects. But the real star is the mutant monster that attacks the school during the final act. Even in 2012, the creature looks pretty awesome. There was obviously a lot of hard work done in creating this monster, so kudos on a job well done. The gore effects were also pretty cool too. We get fists down throats, arms getting eaten, punches through heads, faces scratched, strangulation, impalement, decapitations, and so on. The special effects team should be proud of what they did here.

The direction by Richard W. Haines and Samuel Weil [a.k.a. Lloyd Kaufman] does what it needs to do. It's not a stylish film. It's not a great looking film, in terms of cinematography. Like I mentioned, it sometimes feels like three movies in one. But at least each section feels like it should. The final act, in particular, is quite tense and exciting to watch. The film moves quite quickly, maintaining a great pace. We also get some POV shots for the mutant monster. And when the monster is attacked, we see the film's negative image as a "special effect". Troma has never been known for its Oscar-caliber direction, and CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH will not change that perception. But it visually entertains for much of the time, so how can you complain?

The acting, also, isn't Oscar-caliber. But all the actors seem to be having fun in their respective roles [Robert Prichard as Spike is especially great] and carry the shallow screenplay quite well. Not the greatest actors, but an interesting cast of characters that never grow unlikeable or annoying. They're perfect for a B-movie like CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH.

And the soundtrack, by artists like Biohazard, The Smithereens, GMT, and Stormbringer, is really rad. It sounds like an 80s movie and feels like one. And the music was used appropriately as well. I enjoyed it.


- A bunch of toxic chemicals spilled all over the town of Tromaville, which doesn't seem to be too much of a problem for those working in the power plant. Yeah, it seemed to help The Toxic Avenger, The Joker, and Meg Ryan's face.

- Dewey drank toxic water and his skin melted. Some people take being a fan of Modern English a bit too seriously.

- Muffy rammed a nerd like a bull and then stomped on his balls. And I thought that kind of stuff was saved for during marriage...

- Atomic High gave Warren a bigger penis. Looks like Sue Storm may be looking for a younger Mr. Fantastic in the near future...

- Spike made out with a girl, transforming her into a horny Cretin. When I make out with a girl, she transforms into a clingy bitch. Serves me right for not smoking pot.

- Warren forced his arm into a Cretin's mouth and down his throat. I thought fisting involved the other end. Oh well, practice makes perfect...and bigger openings. *cringes*

- Some faculty member got shot to death for not knocking. When you don't allow the person behind the door to ask, "Who's there?", the only line that will be punched is between your eyes.

- The creature punched a Cretin through her head. When it comes to fisting, like father like son.

While THE TOXIC AVENGER will always be Troma's number one film, CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH is definitely a highlight in the massive Troma library. While it's not perfect in terms of story structure, direction, or even acting, this B-movie still manages to be very memorable and a lot of fun to watch. If you love silly comedies that involve sci-fi and horror elements, you could do a lot worse than this one. There's always room for brainless, B-movie entertainment by the people from Troma Entertainment - especially when it's as enjoyable as CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH.

3 Howls Outta 4


Law Abiding Citizen (2009)

F. Gary Gray

Jamie Foxx - Nick Rice
Gerard Butler - Clyde Shelton
Bruce McGill - Jonas Cantrell
Colm Meaney - Detective Dunnigan
Leslie Bibb - Sarah Lowell
Regina Hall - Kelly Rice
Viola Davis - Mayor
Christian Stolte - Clarence Darby
Josh Stewart - Rupert Ames

Genre - Thriller/Suspense

Running Time - 108 Minutes

A Philadelphia engineer named Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) horrifically watches two men, Clarence Darby (Christian Stolte) and Rupert Ames (Josh Stewart), break into his home and murder both his wife and daughter. Darby and Ames are eventually arrested. However, the district attorney, Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), makes an interesting deal that allows Darby to go free after a short sentence if he rats out Ames part in the crime. Clyde is pissed off about this turn of events, especially since Darby was the one who committed the murders.

Ten years later, Darby is free while Ames is gearing towards his execution via lethal injection. With Nick present, he watches in horror as something goes seriously wrong with the execution, as Ames dies in agony due to a tampering with the chemicals. Believing Darby is behind it, the authorities go after him. But Darby is tipped off by someone, allowing him to get away. This someone is Clyde in disguise, wanting revenge on Darby by kidnapping him and paralyzing him from the neck down with some sort of chemical. Clyde proceeds to chop Darby into pieces to complete the act. Clyde then lets himself get arrested for his crimes.

Now a prisoner, Clyde continues his revenge on those who let Darby get out of his true sentence. Using Nick as a puppet, Clyde tells him that unless he receives certain favors, traps that he had set around the city will come into play and cause some major harm. Apparently, Clyde is playing murderous games with Nick and his legal team from behind prison bars, trying to prove that he doesn't have to be present in order for all of them to be killed by his hands.


- Clyde Shelton. The character of Clyde Shelton is just awesome from beginning to end, due to his characterization by screenwriter, Kurt Wimmer. The character has such an interesting arc and so many twists and turns, that you can't help but enjoy him, his motives, and his actions. Clyde is a character made for professional wrestling. He's the likeable, sympathetic good guy who's family was killed in front of his eyes for no justified reason. When he decides to take matters into his own hands and gets revenge on those who couldn't right the wrong, we root for him and want him to succeed. When we begin to learn that Clyde is not really the man we believe him to be from the start, we feel manipulated and start to dislike him a bit. But then, when Clyde starts managing to get the best of Nick and his legal team by killing people behind bars, we start to see him as cool. The guy is intelligent. The guy is cunning. The guy is backing up what he says without a bit of hesitation. How can we not respect someone like that, even if what they're doing is wrong? He suddenly becomes oddly likeable again. Clyde is written so simple, yet has so many complex layers that he's the most fleshed out character in LAW ABIDING CITIZEN. No one else comes close. This proves to be a problem during the final act, due to how it plays out. But other than that, Clyde is a great character to watch.

- The acting. Gerard Butler's work in LAW ABIDING CITIZEN is great. What could have been a one-note villain, Butler turns into a character with great depth and sympathy. He plays on every emotional cue needed for the role - grief, anger, regret, satisfaction, insanity - it's all there. His exchanges with the other actors grab you the instant he opens his mouth. He pushes people's buttons, he fucks with their heads, and you're convinced by Butler due to his confidence in the role. It's such a different role than what you'd usually expect from him, but he takes it for all its worth and milks the hell out of it. Butler could have played Clyde as a stereotype of what we would expect a villain in a film like this would be like. But he grounds him and keeps him in reality, even through the crazy moments. Butler is the star of this film.

The other actors do their parts mainly well. Jamie Foxx is okay as Nick. I'll get into his character later, but Foxx played the cocky, slightly dirty lawyer pretty well. I do think he was out shined by Butler in every exchange they had, but Foxx wasn't bad. I do think anyone could have played this role though without much difference. But it was credible enough. Leslie Bibb was quite good as Nick's protege, who has a bit of regret in helping Nick at times. She plays Sarah with class, acting quite believably as Nick's conscience. Regina Hall was also very good as Nick's wife. Nice to see her in a dramatic role instead of those SCARY MOVIE films. Viola Davis gives a powerful performance as the Mayor, while Annie Corley chews the scenery as a power-hungry judge. Always nice to see Colm Meaney as well in anything. Nice cast who took the script seriously and played along with the best of their abilities. I bought most of what they presented on screen.

- The direction. F. Gary Gray does a very good job keeping LAW ABIDING CITIZEN visually interesting. The film looks great, picture wise. The editing is solid. The pace is fantastic, as the film never lets up right from the beginning. There's a decent amount of tension and suspense throughout the film. I even thought Gray brought a bit of style to this thriller as well. The film is an entertaining ride, even though some of it tends to be a bit implausible in terms of narrative and story structure. But Gray tries to make those moments fun to watch as well, so I can't knock the direction at all.

- The first two acts. LAW ABIDING CITIZEN is obviously inspired by DEATH WISH, with the main character's family getting killed in front of him, which obviously causes him to deal justice in his own hands. However, Kurt Wimmer wants to take that idea and make it bigger and add more mystery to it. The fact that Wimmer makes Clyde into a sympathetic villain is an interesting challenge, as I'm sure some people will have trouble rooting for the guy once he starts becoming more maniacal [not me, I liked him more as Clyde started to turn devious in his tactics]. But the set up, I thought, was actually pretty cool. It starts out as DEATH WISH, turns into a mini-SAW [when Clyde gets revenge on Darby], and then starts going into a psuedo-SILENCE OF THE LAMBS mode where Clyde is this ultra-intelligent mastermind who has all the cards and will use them to get what he wants. He curses out judges for believing in him, he kills cell mates to prove a point, and does other nasty things to show Nick and his team that he's the one really in charge. Instead of a "whodunit?" type of mystery, we ask "how does he do it?" instead. And while I'll get to that answer in the MISSES section, at least we're never bored and it's a fun ride getting to the reveal. It's just too bad the film starts to unravel once it gears towards the finale, but it's very entertaining getting there.


- The final act. I know cinema, a lot of the time, expects viewers to stretch their suspension of disbelief when it comes to certain plot devices. But LAW ABIDING CITIZEN takes it to another level. As much as Clyde is made to be this genius mastermind, the reveal of how he does it seems a bit too far-fetched. This type of plot device belongs in a comic book adaptation, not in a smart, exciting thriller. I kept wondering how NO ONE knew what Clyde was up to, making everyone else in the film look like dumbasses. If the film wasn't trying to be as realistic as possible, it would be totally fine. But it just comes across cartoony, even if I did think it was pretty cool.

As for the climax and resolution, I thought it was just very lame. You set up Clyde so much that the way he gets caught and handled with makes everything before that for naught. I understand the mystery should be solved and the villain needs to be stopped, but the whole thing went against Clyde's character that we were led to believe before this moment arrived. For such an intelligent character, he's made out to be a total putz. I think, while still a bit entertaining, the ending fell apart.

- Who are we supposed to root for? This may have been my biggest issue with LAW ABIDING CITIZEN - which character am I supposed to sympathize with? At the start, we root for Clyde since his family is the one who gets killed and Nick, wanting to meet some sort of quota to raise his reputation as a lawyer, doesn't give the criminals the justice they probably deserved. But when Clyde starts doing evil things out of revenge and anger, Nick is portrayed as the hero who is out to stop Clyde before he hurts anyone else. It gets really confusing because both men are severely flawed, yet Clyde is so charming and intelligent that you can't help but respect the guy and think he's cool. Nick, on the other hand, ignores his family for his job and is willing to play dirty to make sure he has a clean rep when it comes to his cases. Yet, this cocky bastard is supposed to be the protagonist? I didn't really understand why the narrative needed to do a double turn like this. Even so, it doesn't work! Clyde, even though he's made to be the villain, just has so much depth that makes him charmingly likeable. Nick doesn't give off the same vibe, as his character is a bit too smug to root for. I respect the attempt, but it really doesn't work well here.

LAW ABIDING CITIZEN was one of my favorite films of 2009, and I still enjoy it now. Even with its character and narrative flaws, it still manages to be a good and exciting thriller. Instead of trying to tell a standard revenge story, the twists and turns showed that there were some creative and even thought provoking ideas here. Definitely one of Gerard Butler's best roles and I'm hoping he makes more movies like this one, instead of those lame rom-coms he's been choosing. Just a run ride for much of the runtime that I'm sure many viewers will enjoy.

3 Howls Outta 4


The WTF? Worst Films Extravaganza Presents: Beware! Children At Play (1989)

Mik Cribben

Michael Robertson - John DeWolfe
Rich Hamilton - Sheriff Ross Car
Robin Lilly - Cleo Carr
Lori Tirgrath - Julia DeWolfe
Jamie Krause - Kara DeWolfe
Sunshine Barrett - Mary Rose Carr
Mik Cribben - Farmer Isac Braun
Danny McClaughlin - Grendel/ Glenn Randall

Genre - Horror/Evil Kids/Cannibals

Running Time - 94 Minutes

Now that I'm in my thirties, I constantly get asked those two dreaded questions: "When are you getting married?" and "When are you having children?" Marriage? Don't care for the institution all that much, even though I love the idea. Maybe it'll happen. Maybe it'll won't.

As for kids, I'm pretty sure I'll have some annoying little rugrats around one of these days. But watching horror movies isn't helping me rush them out anytime soon. With films like THE OMEN, BLOODY BIRTHDAY, THE BAD SEED, and countless others, not knowing if your child is evil until it's too late may be too much stress and anxiety for me to handle.

Let's add the Troma distributed BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY from 1989 to the list. This film adds another reason why I'm not ready to be a parent. Not just because the children here are cannibalistic bastards. But really for the fact that this movie is pretty terrible, even if it does have a very memorable ending that will be, or have been, talked about by those who have seen it. Let's see why I'm thinking of getting a vasectomy, shall we?

A father and son are out camping, acting like idiots while singing and acting badly. The father eventually steps into a bear trap [really slowly, mind you] and gets caught in it. Instead of, I don't know, trying to pry himself out of it like any normal person, he decides to lay there so he can die in front of his son. Great parenting! Eventually, the father starts to go crazy with lack of food and water, as well as having maggots infesting his wound. He tells his son that when he dies, he'll need to eat his flesh and organs in order to survive. What the guy croaks, the kid wastes no time in diving in and having himself a kidney. Gotta love kids!

Ten years pass, and a new family is arriving near the area. The father, John DeWolfe (Michael Robertson), is an author who writes intelligent books but gets criticized for their covers of half-naked women - which leads to many boring social debates about his message. John is there to meet up with the town's sheriff, Ross Car (Rich Hamilton), who happens to be his brother-in-law. Ross' daughter has been missing for a while now and feels John could help him find her.

Soon, Ross lets John in about the fact that there have been many children missing in the area, whom the townspeople call "The Brownies". While Ross wants to find the children and bring them back home, the local townspeople who are really religious believe that they've been possessed by evil and must be stopped before it spreads any further. Too bad they didn't think about stopping this film from being made, but maybe that's just me.

I have three words for BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY:


BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY is a controversial film that was distributed by Troma Entertainment that's extremely memorable for its ending. I have no choice but to spoil it later if you haven't seen it already in order to explain my rating for this review. In fact, the ending is so messed up that many people walked out on the trailer before a showing of 1996's TROMEO AND JULIET at the Cannes Film Festival! Unfortunately, the finale is the highlight of the film, as everything before it is boring, implausible, and just downright stupid in a *facepalm* way rather than a funny way.

The real culprit of BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY is where it usually is - the screenplay. Now I do like that director/screenwriter/cinematographer/editor/actor [phew] Mik Cribben used literal works as a basis to explain actions for some of the characters. Obviously, using The Bible as a source of motivation is nothing new in horror or films in general. But it does give Farmer Isac [a religious reference obviously] to look at these evil children and justify wanting to murder them by claiming it's like the sacrifice that Abraham made with God involving Abraham's son, Issac. Obviously Farmer Isac is twisting that story around to justify what he wants to do, but it's believable that some religious people would believe in this. As for the children, they're lead by the kid who's father passed way in the woods, Glen Randall. Since his father used to tell him a lot about Beowulf as a child, he starts calling himself Grendel [a villain in Beowulf] and begins devouring the townspeople and kidnapping children to make them his warriors in a way. I'm not saying these literacy references completely work [they don't], but at least it's something different and the idea is nice.

It's too bad the ideas are a lot more interesting than the execution. The Biblical idea, while believable in this day and age, still doesn't justify any sort of murder of children. Yes, the controversial ending involves adults killing kids - but I'll get to that in due time. Yes, the children do evil things, like kill and eat people. But there's no real build up for these adults to murder them, especially when they've been missing in between ten years and nothing was done about the situation. It's not like in THE GOOD SON, for example, where Macaulay Culkin's evil character was built up throughout the film to the point where he became such a threat to Elijah Wood and the rest of their family that he had to be stopped, which wasn't planned until the very moment it happened anyway. These adults in BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY could have found these children and tried to help them. But it's easier to kill and just walk away from your problems than deal with it, right? These people didn't even bother to seek out their missing children and now want to kill them? They're worse than the cannibalistic children!

As for the Beowulf stuff, the poem doesn't really play a major part in the motivation of the children as a whole. The leader, 'Grendel', is a play on his real name 'Glen Randall', and his father told him the story as a kid. So obviously the story meant a lot to the boy, which resulted him in becoming this character to cope with the death of his father. I guess it's trying to be clever with the name deal. Mik Cribben is also trying to sound intelligent by using two literary references, as if this will impress others. It just makes the film seem pompous and almost vain in a way. Is the man trying to create a lamer version of CHILDREN OF THE CORN, or is trying to display his knowledge of literature? Maybe both? I'm not really sure.

So while Cribben was focused on his literary references, he forgot about everything else that a script needs. For one, screenplays should have scenes where there's a turning point and not just characters talking in length over something that's not going to mean much in context of the rest of the movie. But BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY has a ton of moments like this. The introduction scene of the DeWolfe family is a perfect example. Inside of their car, we have author John and his wife, Julie, arguing over what John writes about and the fact that his books have half-naked women on the cover to market these books. It goes on for two or three minutes, while in the meantime, their daughter complains about having to go to the bathroom. Do the parents ever let her go? Not until they get to their destination, which isn't even close by really. Instead of focusing on Julie's displeasure about John's work, I was more concerned that this little girl was going to pee on herself and feel humiliated.

Hell, John's books seem to be the constant center of attention for pretty much the first act of the film. Reporters, sheriffs, and local scholars criticize the man for his writings on UFOs and other strange phenomenon, even though he was invited there BECAUSE of those things! These random conversations continue to happen, making them all repetitive, which slows the pace quite considerably. The fact that it's Julie, not John, who figures out the Beowulf reference when it comes to The Brownies [since she's a Literature professor] just makes these conversations and his writing background even more redundant. What's the point of focusing so much time on this guy if his wife is gonna be the one to solve the mystery? Nothing anyone says in this film is interesting, so why should I care? I prefer to see some action on my screen rather to hear boring expository sequences that I'll end up ignoring once boredom quickly settles in.

It doesn't help that the characters in this movie are all idiots and not likeable at all. I think Sheriff Ross Carr may be the dumbest police officer in the history of all entertainment. Here's the man in charge of keeping this New Jersey town safe, yet has the IQ of a pea. Instead of investigating the missing children situation right away, he waits until the 20th kid, who probably was his oldest daughter, got kidnapped before he decided that maybe he should do something about it. He sees clues, yet doesn't think much of them until John makes him see otherwise. He never bothers going into the open area within the woods, even though the children have created a visual camp there with fire and tents for the past ten years. I could go on and on about this guy. Let's just say that Andy Griffith and Barney Fife would have solved this case the moment it happened, while this idiot sat on his ass wondering if something is truly wrong.

The other characters are just as bad. John DeWolfe may be a popular writer, but he's a terrible father for bringing his daughter to a place where children are going missing! He also falls asleep while trying to keep an eye out for Sheriff Carr as he investigates certain grounds that The Brownies frequent. Yeah, great job bringing this guy to your town! Julie and Cleo Carr are no better, letting their daughters play outside in front of a worn fence before Carr's youngest daughter gets kidnapped in front of their eyes. Why would you let your children play unattended, knowing they're in the middle of a crime scene? Farmer Isac wants to murder children because The Bible told him to, even though one of the kids is his own. Yeah, great guy. We also have a psychic who gets murdered pretty easily by these kids, because she has a really powerful gift in seeing the future [obviously...]. And while most of the children are pretty shallow, Sheriff Carr's oldest daughter wants to fuck her uncle John and make her feel like a woman. Alrighty then. Yeah, these are people I want to follow for 94 minutes. Where can I get off of this messed up ride?

The only reason this screenplay was written was because Cribben wanted to write a finale where a bunch of messed up kids get murdered by their parents and other adults in their town. And while that's pretty fucked up if you think about it, since child murder is pretty terrible to even conceptualize and/or consider, it happens to be the best part of BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY. The scene is five minutes long and it's just adults killing these kids in various ways. I can't see how Cribben could justify this ending at all. While it's visually memorable [which I'll get into] and funny in a 'I can't believe I'm seeing this' sort of way, it's also very twisted and makes these characters even more deplorable beyond belief. It's disturbing to think that instead of trying to reason with their own children and help them get over their trauma, parents would instead just murder their kids as if they didn't love or care enough about them to save them rather than themselves. Other films with evil children getting killed at the end work because the build up to it is so effective and makes you see that there may be no other way. You don't get that here at all. These people seem to care about the missing children until the final act, where they listen to Farmer Isac bring religion into it. That's when they decide to do something about these children. It's a memorable moment for sure [the best part of this movie honestly], but it just seems so fucked up and unjustified. How can one feel after watching something like this? I was actually in shock. Nothing since has come close to matching this level of insanity. And let's keep it that way, shall we?

The gore/special effects in BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY is actually pretty good, given the low budget. We get a nifty man cut in his half by a sickle, showing his top half move away from his bottom half before dying. We get a woman being impaled by wooden spikes. We get another person get their throat slit. We have random body organs that look okay. And then we have the children massacre at the end, which includes gunshots in the mouth, causing brain matter to explode - as well as a rake to the throat, and a bunch of gunshots and stabbings. It's not the greatest gore effects out there, but I thought this department was pretty solid for the most part compared to the rest of the film.

The direction by Cribben isn't great really. There's not much style here to be visually stimulated in any way. The editing is a bit odd at times. The cinematography isn't spectacular. The pacing is slow at times due to all the long winded conversations most viewers won't give a damn about. He also does a 360 angle where the children begin doing an evil chant as they look directly into the lens. Since the camera isn't positioned in a way that the camera substitutes as someone's POV, it's awkward. The end sequence is shot very well, however. Cribben doesn't shy away from the violence, which makes these children dying disturbingly effective to watch. Sure, Cribben highlights the child actors still breathing heavily even though they're supposed to be dead, but I can overlook that. It's obvious that Cribben wanted to create a moment that viewers would remember. While his direction wasn't memorable, at least he got his wish with that finale.

The acting is pretty bad as well. I won't even discuss any of the actors because they were all doing amateur hour here. While it was kind of funny to watch, it was also pretty sad since the acting could have really made the script stronger than it actually was. If I had to pick the best actors, I guess Michael Roberston as John DeWolfe and Mik Cribben as Farmer Isac would be tops. I thought Robin Lilly as Cleo Carr was pretty bad though. If you're watching this for the acting, you'll be highly disappointed. Unless you enjoy watching thespians recite long lines of dialogue. Whatever floats your damn boat, I guess.


- Fossils represent the hops and dreams of people in the past. Yeah, I'm sure death was something they were all wishing for. I'm sure glad their dreams came true for them...

- With the loss of his father, Glen Randall became a cannibal. My father left when I was three. Hey, does anyone want to come over...for dinner? *slurp*

- Annoying Kara DeWolfe desperately had to go potty, but her parents refused her request because they wanted to finish their argument first. I guess a busted bladder is less serious than a stained car seat. Parents of the Year, ladies and gents!

- Annoying Mary Rose Carr has a hand puppet named Freddie the Frog. Watching this film does have the same feeling of pain like someone having their entire arm up my ass.

- A psychic was murdered by The Brownies. Wow, she was sure GREAT at her job! I guess her crystal ball was fogged up that day...

- Some reporter ran into a board with wooden stakes, dying instantly. Judging by her bitchy behavior, that was probably the most penetration she's had in quite a while.

- Farmer Isac led the murder of all the children, wanting to sacrifice them all for God like Abraham had done in The Bible. If Casey Anthony can get away with what she did, these parents shouldn't have much trouble with the legal system.

BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY is a terrible horror film that wants to be CHILDREN OF THE CORN, but fails miserably at it. The acting is bad. The direction isn't all that great. And the narrative is just stupid and dull. If it wasn't for the solid gore and that memorable 5-minute sequence at the end that makes this movie infamous to begin with, there wouldn't even be any interest in checking this out. If you haven't watched this, you're just better off just seeing the memorable clip on YouTube and skipping the rest. Believe me, you're not missing anything by doing so. I'm sending BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY to the WTF? Vault where it can munch on the other craptastic films still locked inside. And it isn't kissing my ass. I like the flesh on my butt, thank you very much. Avoid other than the ending.

1 Howl Outta 4


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