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:
WHAT THE FUCK!?
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.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE STILL BELIEVING THAT CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE
- 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.
THE FINAL HOWL
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