• The Children (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: November 23rd, 2018.
    Director: Max Kalmanowicz
    Cast: Martin Shakar, Gil Rogers, Gale Garnett, Shannon Bolin, Tracy Griswold
    Year: 1980
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    The Children – Movie Review:

    Two working class Joe’s call it a day, leaving their jobs at the nuclear power plant just outside of the small town of Ravensback to go get some beers (except this is Massachusetts so they say ‘beeyahs’ which is rad) completely unaware that there’s a strange liquid leaking from one of the pipes. For reasons never really explained, this liquid somehow turns into a medium sized cloud of green smoke and makes its way to a remote road near a small cemetery. A pregnant lady named Cathy Freemont (Gale Garnett, who did the voice of Francesca in Mad Monster Party!) drives her VW bug down this road, waving at the kids on the school bus that she passes on her way, not really noticing the cloud that she passed through. The kids, meanwhile, sing ‘Hail To The Bus Driver.’

    Later that day, some of the more perceptive townsfolks start to realize that the kids aren’t home from school yet when Sheriff Billy Hart (Gil Rogers of The Panic In Needle Park), after leaving a nearby diner, finds a bus at the side of the road. No kids, no driver. Weird, right? He investigates, his quest taking him to the home of a pot smoking lady in a bikini and her weight lighting husband, two women who may or may not be lesbians (one of whom is a blind woman named Ms. Buttons???) and other interesting locales. Elsewhere, Deputy Harry Timmons (Tracy Griswold) is distracted by his foxy girlfriend. At any rate, the kids start appearing around the town, melting people with their deadly hugs! Hart calls in a few local-yokels to help out, hoping to figure out what’s going on here. Eventually Hart and concerned citizen John Freemont (Martin Shakar of Invasion U.S.A.), devoted husband of the pregnant lady mentioned earlier, realize that there’s something very wrong with the children of Ravensback… including their own missing daughter - they’ve become, according to the copy on the back of the old Troma DVD, ‘atomic zombies with a lust for blood and carnage!!’

    That might be a bit of hyperbole on the part of Lloyd and company but it’s not so far off. As far as ‘killer kids’ movies go, this one is pretty solid. It isn’t overly gory, though it has some seriously great kill scenes, and it also benefits from more than a few genuinely suspenseful scenes. The movie is also quite well paced and if it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the ‘twist’ that happens at the end, it hardly matters. Anyone who can appreciate a good, quirky horror film ought to get a kick out of this one. It isn’t heavy on effects but the makeup used to turn the victims of the children into the melted/burned bodies that they turn into is sufficiently goopy and rather well done. The script, written by Carlton J. Albright and Edward Terry, the same team that wrote Luther The Geek (in fact, Terry played The Freak in that movie), is solid – offering us some interesting characters to latch on to as the more horrific elements play out.

    As to the performances? Underrated character actor Gil Roger does most of the heavy lifting here, he’s got more screen time than anyone else and he’s pretty damn near perfect cast here as a small town top cop. He looks the part and he has the right mix of authoritative demeanor and ‘awww shucks’ small town charm to make it work. He and Martin Shakar make a fine team here, we like them and we want them to save the day. Gale Garnett is also pretty solid here, her concern once she realizes what is happening palpable enough to work in the part. Really though, it’s the atmosphere and excellent cinematography from Barry Abrams that helps push this one above the rest. The score from fellow Friday The 13th alumni Harry Manfredini might be derivative, owing a debt to Herrmann’s work on Psycho and Carpenter’s score on Halloween, but it’s cool and effective enough that you don’t mind so much.

    The Children – Blu-ray Review:

    Vinegar Syndrome brings The Children to Blu-ray mostly scanned from the original 35mm negative. Some missing bits had to be taken from theatrical prints to create a complete version, and we do see some noticeable drops in quality when that occurs, but the bulk of the AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer looks really nice. Framed at 1.85.1 widescreen, this leaves the old fullframe Troma DVD release that came out in 2005 in the dirt. Colors are, aside from the print inserts, very nice looking and black levels are solid. There’s minor print damage here and there but nothing super distracting. Grain is prominent, as you might expect, but never distracting. Skin tones look great. This isn’t a pristine transfer, but it’s a very film-like one and again, a very big upgrade over what has come before it.

    The English language DTS-HD Mono does have some sibilance in a few spots but it is otherwise just fine. Levels are properly balanced and the dialogue is easy enough to understand. The score sounds pretty solid here too and there’s decent depth for an older single channel mix. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.

    There’s a LOT of extra on this disc, starting a commentary track from director Max Kalmanowicz moderated by Vinegar Syndrome’s own Joe Rubin. It’s a good track that covers a lot of ground, opening with how and why the opening scene that we see in the finished version wound up there, how that cene leads into everything that happens (he does refer to the kids as ‘wild zombies’), Kalmanowicz’s life in New York and time spent in The Village in the seventies, his background in the arts, how he came on board to direct the film, the importance of the quirks of certain characters, the trickiness of trying to shoot in fog, Kalmanowicz’s approach to the visual side of the movie and plenty more. It’s a good thing that Rubin was there as there are times where Kalmanowicz just narrates what we’re seeing on screen or clams up, but as a good moderator should, Rubin gets him back on track and engaged and the end result is a pretty informative track with a lot of good information in it. Carried over from the old Troma DVD is the commentary track from producer Carlton J. Albright. This track is okay, if a bit too narrative. Albright talks about what we’re seeing on screen fair bit and clams up here and there throughout the movie but he does offer up some insight into how some of the background players that appear in the film wound up in the picture, the locations and more. The fact that there’s a lot of dead air in here kind of sinks the track, but it’s great that it’s here for posterity’s sake.

    After that, dig into Childhood Memories, a featurette made up of interviews with Albright and production manager David Platt. In this seventeen-minute featurette we learn how they came up with the project, getting money put towards the film, the influence of the events that happened at Three Mile Island, shooting on location in CT, MA and NJ, dealing with the film’s financiers, the contributions of Ed Terry and how his problems with alcohol led to his not directing the film as originally intended, getting the cast and crew needed signed on to the film, and the difficulties of getting a dog to ‘fall out of the fucking closet.’ This interview is fantastic, worth the price of the disc alone. These guys do not hold back, they shoot entirely from the hip and tell it like it is. Great stuff.

    Return To Ravensback is a ‘locations then and now’ featurette spends ten-minutes comparing some of the film’s iconic locations as featured in the movie compared to how they appear now. Hosted by Mike Gingold, we visit the covered bridge, the power plant, the remote country road where the bus is found, the cemetery featured in the film, the gas station/general store, the diner featured early in the movie and more.

    The Lost Scene is audio from a scene that was shot for the feature but for which the film elements have obviously been lost. This runs just under three-minutes and it is presented with clips from the movie that come before it to give it some context. The clip features the cops telling some parents that their kids are missing – it’s a pretty neat addition to the disc.

    Vinegar Syndrome has also carried over the extras from the old Troma DVD starting with an archival interview with Carlton J. Albright. In this seven-minute piece, Albright talks about how he came to produce the film, he’s debut in 1980, co-writing the film with Ed Terry, how the birth of his own son led to the idea for the story, how they used many of the same crew members that were used on the first Friday The 13th film (and how Manfredini stole the music from The Children to use in that film, NOT the other way around), how his relationship with Terry deteriorated, getting Max Kalmanowicz to direct and plenty more.

    Also carried over is Memories Of The Children, which interviews Carlton J. Albright, Patricia Albright (who worked as ‘children supervisor’ on the film) and Gil Rogers. It’s a quick three-minute piece but it’s great to have it here as it’s the only piece that Gil Rogers is involved in and he’s got some great stories about starring in the picture and what it was like to work on the film. Making The Children interviews both Albrights as well as David Platt. This quick three-minute piece is highlighted by Platt’s memories of living in NYC, his efforts to become an actor, meeting Carlton and how they wound up collaborating on this picture.

    Last but not least we get The Children: The Musical which is an archival interview with Stan Richardson, the co-creator of the ‘musical rendition’ of The Children. Here over the span of eleven-minutes Richardson talks about seeing the film for the first time, how and why he decided to make a musical version of it. There’s also some fun clips from the stage version of the story included in here as well. He also talks about Carlton J. Albright bringing his own kids to see it and his response to it (spoiler: he loved it!).

    The Children – The Final Word:

    The Children is a creepy and effective ‘killer kids’ film with solid atmosphere and some memorable set pieces. It’s also got a decent cast and a strong, if derivative, score working in its favor. Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray release presents the film in very nice shape and not only carries over all of the extras from the older Troma DVD but throws some nice new ones into the mix as well – don’t miss out! This release is pretty killer.

    Click on the images below for full sized The Children Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Alison Jane's Avatar
      Alison Jane -
      Love this film so much!