A group of children on a school bus are turned into killer zombies when a cloud of strange gas leaks from a chemical plant, and engulfs them on their journey, what can go wrong with such a promising premise? As far as the 1980 movie The Children goes, EVERYTHING in my humble opinion! Rated by one reviewer on Amazon as a ‘better than average horror film’ I had to wonder whether I had watched the same movie, as at one point on realising there was still another 31 minutes of viewing time to go, I simply lost the will to live. That said anyone who has had the misfortune of watching this piece of utter banality may start to worry if their kid decides to go a bit emo and turns up wearing black nail varnish, you might not want to give them a hug for fear of being burned alive by their caress.
So what went wrong? Well mainly the killing, the killing is in fact the same killing throughout, kids offer up a hug and then their victims are scorched within an inch of their lives and then some, leaving a charred cadaver which to start with proves quite effective (and the effects are fairly well done) however it gets a bit trying after the 3rd, 4th or even 5th one. They definitely got their mileage on this one special effect as the plot develops. Had the makers opted for a more traditional approach to death by zombie we could have least had been treated to some face ripping, brain chowing, gore, but alas no, all just adding to the mediocrity factor of this flat film. In fact gore is sadly absent from this flick, even the zombies do not bleed when dispatched, an obvious attempt by the makers to try and tone down the effect of hacked up kids. This just leads to the question why bother at all?
Gore is not everything in making an effective horror film, some of the best and most terrifying movies of this genre have been made without showing any killing. However if you are expecting The Children to reach you on a psychological level, which could have perhaps been the intention when making this yawn inducing feature, then think again. Sadly this is down to the quite simply horrendous acting and ridiculous script involved. On learning their kids have gone missing, with an apparently ‘eccentric’ bus driver, no one seems concerned in the least. In fact the adults just continue to go about their daily business believing they will simply just show up. In an attempt to take things up a notch in the second half this is contrasted by blatantly over the top hysterical acting, where is the middle ground? Probably lost in a much better version of this movie I suspect. My only lament in this much too long snore-fest, was the melting of poor dear Clarky, a lovable 5 year old, who’s acting ability was a darn sight more natural than that of his adult counterparts.
There is little to say about the rest of the characters in this film as absolutely no effort is concentrated on character development. In fact they appear as random individuals who only connect to the plot in terms of whether they get killed or not. We have a lesbian couple (?) or not, nothing is explained Dr Gould and Miss Button, the former being apparently blind. There are also a pair of sexist hillbillies manning an unexplained road block one named Frank played by Peter Maloney (better known as Bennings in John Carpenter’s The Thing). A weird 70s pimp character who turns up demanding access to the town, and wastes a lot of running time winding his car window up and down while delivering his dialogue. There is a rich couple who have even less concern for their child than the rest of the parents, if that is even at all possible, the mother lounging around by her poolside topless while talking to the Sheriff and her pervy looking husband lifting weights as they talk, an inept deputy and a bimbo type skimpy shorts wearer who rides around on a bicycle and serves as the butt of some misogynistic humour from the drunken Hillbillies guarding the town. The only characters in focus are the Sheriff, Billy Hart, with his completely OTT facial expressions, desperate father John Freemont and his pregnant wife Cathy.
To add to the bizarre factor in this picture we have the aforementioned heavily pregnant Cathy, mother of one of the child zombies Jenny, who is also the parent of the poor Clarky. In one of the most strangest scenes I have certainly witnessed in cinema, and I have seen some believe me, we see her relaxing from the stress of her missing daughter by rubbing her pregnant belly in protective parent mode while enjoying the delights of smoking a cigarette. Now I accept that the perils of smoking was not as widely publicized back then, but honestly, really?? She has already done little to win sympathy toward her from the viewers with her obvious lack of concern for her missing daughter, inviting the sheriff to stay for tea when should he not be out searching for these missing kids?, but enjoying a cigarette in a fairly drawn out scene does little to help her cause.
While the character of Clarky was reasonably well acted, the same cannot be said about the rest of the minors who feature in this film. The amateurish make up effects, black nail varnish and crude black eye makeup, make them look nothing more than a bunch of lazy trick or treaters. I accept they are zombies, but the way in which they march around as if made of wood with their arms outstretched is nothing but laughable. There is no aim for the head format in this film either, the only way to get rid of them is to cut off their bloodless hands, giving the opportunity for showing plenty of obviously rubber hands strewn around the place.
So if this film is really as bad as I say it is why am I reviewing it? Well if I can save at least one person from investing nearly an hour and a half of their life they will never get back then it will be a job well done. Watch at your peril, while sometimes bad is good, this really is not one of those movies.