Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Children

Had an impromptu bad movie night the other night. We watched the 1980 horror film, The Children. And yes, it is still wretchedly bad.

But bad in interesting ways. The story in brief: a school bus carrying most of the kids from the small town of Ravensback passes through a cloud of toxic gas that leaked from a nearby nuclear plant. The exposure turns the kids into zombies with black fingernails with only one desire: to hug people. Unfortunately, their hugs kill the recipients. They burn until they are half-melted, unrecognizable husks.

So yes, it's awful. Filmed on a low budget in a small town somewhere (but a small town with some huge houses--maybe a suburb of a larger metropolitan area), there are no stars. Not one. Not even a cameo by a minor B-list celebrity has-been to pique an audience's interest. The script is awful, and the acting is worse. But it is not entirely amateurish. There are a few stylish shots, and some camera movement.

And the score is interesting. In places, it's reminiscent of the Friday the 13th movies, minimal keyboards with a hollow echoey feel, which just makes sense because the score was written by Harry Manfredini, who scored the Friday the 13th films. But in places, he also "references" (or rips off) Bernard Hermann and Leonard Rosenman. It just seems odd for this low-budget little piece of nothing to have an orchestrated score, even if it is just strings and keyboards But this was before synthesizers became ubiquitous.

Directing choices are also strange. The movie introduces us to many residents of the town, and it seems as if a lot has been left on the cutting room floor. Two women living together, one of whom seems really angry at the sheriff, for some reason. It looks like there's a history there, but it's never explained. Another rich woman is set up to be a major subplot--she shares a fairly big scene with the sheriff, and later, someone coming to see her is able to talk his way past a police roadblock--but then she disappears. we never hear from her again, there are no consequences to her scene with the sheriff, and her body is not even discovered when the sheriff visits her place later. The other people with her are found dead, but she's just gone. It just feels like a lot of stuff got left on the cutting room floor.

But as Sargon aptly observed, it's not as if they had no time for character stuff. Much of the running time is filler, dead space, as characters get in their cars, turn around, and drive into the distance, just so we know they're going someplace.

But perhaps the most fascinating thing about the film is the subtext. Stephen King in Danse Macabre talks about how horror movies often have a subtext that serves as an accurate barometer of what concerns society at large--Cold War paranoia, economic concerns, the Generation Gap. And that might be true for movies that are broadly successful. But what about a movie that found little to no audience?

Might it just be a look at the filmmakers' private fears? And what does it say about the filmmakers in this case? I mean, you could look at it really abstractly and say that it all about people we should trust implicitly being our enemies or something, but at base, the monsters are little kids who want hugs!  What about that spelled "terror" to Carlton Albright and Edward Terry, the credited writers?


Naamah said...

You're right. Their decision to leave in all the driving shots is even more inexplicable given what was apparently cut. Clearly they weren't just filling in time, because there were plot elements that never paid off, and in places it's pretty obvious that they were meant to, so it's not just that particular kind of incompetence.

I don't understand the message, either. If they had leaned harder on the hideous mutation caused by toxic nuclear contamination angle, I could see it maybe being about "killing the future" or "poisoning the next generation" or something like that, especially with the closing shot, but they really didn't go into that at all.

It's like they wanted to do a creepy zombie movie, and while brainstorming for a unique angle said "The whole point of a zombie movie is chopping through hordes of zombies. You know what would be awesome? CHOPPING THROUGH LITTLE KIDS. DUUUUDE. SO HORRIBLE." And then they snorted some more blow off a hooker's ass and fucked off the writing deadline until the last minute.

Then again, it could be more related to that sub-category of "eeeeeevil chiiiiiildren" movies, which I have never really found very compelling(possibly because it isn't done well very often).

Once they got to the hacking and killing part, it was much more fun. What cracks me up is that those kids were clearly having a great time.

TheyStoleFrazier'sBrain said...

I think you're right about how they came up with the concept. And there are a couple of scenes that illustrate that pretty well.

The scene of the old woman with the shotgun running eagerly out to the missing kids is one. It's late in the movie, so we clearly know what's going to happen to her. And the joy with which she runs out to greet her doom could have been really affecting, if we had not spent so much time on dead-end subplots and instead developed the core characters a little more. As it is, the scene is sort of halfway between creepy and funny.

And the scene at the end between the man and his daughter is better than it should be given how completely we've written off taking the movie seriously by then. But the girl sells her performance right at that moment, and for just a couple of seconds, you get a glimpse of what a better movie around this premise would have looked like.