The Children (1980)

Another week, another movie I was exposed to by my brothers when I was younger – The Children!

What’s great about a company like Vinegar Syndrome is that they have a wonderful eye for obscure horror, sci-fi, and erotica.  The Children came out when I was really young, and somewhere along the way, my brothers watched the movie.  I sincerely doubt they saw it at a real movie theater, but I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if it played at one of our local drive-ins.  However they saw it, they saw it and brought it home from the video store or recorded it on cable or something, and then I watched it.

Now, I don’t want you to believe they made me watch these horror movies when I was a wee tyke.  That simply wasn’t the case.  No one made me watch these horror movies.  My brothers weren’t complete monsters.  Nah…  I could have, at any point in time, simply closed my eyes or fallen asleep while they had me strapped and chained down to the chair to make me watch these movies.

I kid.

There’s something really satisfying when you have kids in one of two situations: they are in peril, or they ARE the monsters in a horror movie.  It’s the latter we have going on in this movie.  Basically, these kids on a school bus go through a strange cloud.  They are transformed into killer zombie kids with black fingernails.  When they touch or embrace their family and other loved ones, their victims are burnt to a crisp!

That’s what makes this movie really memorable for me.  When I was little, I remember being very heavily effected by things that should be good and kind turned into ghastly creatures or are just evil little shits.  The kids in The Children with their black fingernails.  Those purple Smurfs that transferred some sort of rage disease from one Smurf to the next by biting their tails.  The Village of the Damned kids?  Those kids were really really scary.  My point is, my young brain couldn’t understand the idea of character changes based on some sort of “contamination” or outside influence or just a simple spin on a regular thing – like evil kids.

Without a further ado, let’s get into this classic, low budget, scary kid flick!

The movie starts with a couple guys working at a chemical plant.  Apparently there was some sort of pressure drop at the plant and these guys were sent to make sure there were no leaks.  They don’t seem to find anything, but they aren’t going back to the control room because, goddammit, it’s quittin’ time and they aren’t going to get any OT for going back out to check for a leak yet gain.  Half-assery…  The American Way!

Of course, there is a leak, but I should maybe give these guys the benefit of the doubt.  They didn’t see or get any readings on a leak so is it really their fault that a super small, undetectable leak is somewhere that only two guys in a giant chemical plant are sent to find but can’t?  I mean…

Okay, actually, that is quite large.  Okay, maybe not “large”, but you’d have to think that you paint the pipes and seals and what have you white or light gray or what have you if it isn’t to catch when there’s a leak?

That leak creates a big yellow cloud not unlike what’s seen from the back of my pants when I eat White Castles.  Some jovial kids who seem real nice and pleasant and coming home from school singing “Hail to the Bus Driver” are on a bus that drives through the cloud.  Additionally, a young girl in a VW Beetle also drives through my fart.

Cut to sexy diner lady…  This is Sally and she’s got a thing for Sheriff Billy.  She flirts with him pretty heavy and eventually does the asking out for him.  They make plans for a dinner date that night when she gets off.  Meanwhile, the Deputy, Harry, is chatting up the sexy farmer’s daughter, Suzie.  After passing Suzie’s family farm, Sheriff Billy finds the school bus seemingly broken down on the side of the road.  When he investigates, he finds no one inside.  Even the driver is missing.

So, here’s something kind of weird for a 1980 movie…  Sheriff Billy decides to find the closest house where one of the school kids might be and stops at Leslie Button’s place to see if her son Tommy has come home from school yet.  He talks to Dr. Joyce Gould who is sun bathing with a scary doberman at her side.  She’s real bitchy toward Billy, but that’s not what’s kind of weird…  Joyce is Leslie’s lover.  There is a straight up lesbian couple in the 1980 horror film in a small New England town.  That’s kind of nutty.

Anyway, Joyce gives Leslie some codeine to keep her goofy and decides to go with Billy to check out the empty bus.  She gathers Tommy’s things.  Again, Joyce is super bitchy toward Billy.  Maybe having a lesbian in a movie during this era isn’t so weird.  What would be weird, I suppose, would be if she wasn’t treated as a complete and utter bitch.  I’m not going to get into social studies or quasi-political talk about this, but usually in movies from the 70s and 80s, lesbians were utter assholes, gay dudes were complete fairies, and they were all potentially “crazy” – that is a relative fact in how they were portrayed in movies.  Don’t take my word for it.  Just look that shit up on the Google box.

But don’t worry, Dr. Joyce, the main gay character in town, is the first to die.  She sees Tommy in a cemetery across the road from the empty bus.  She finds the charred remains of the bus driver and when Tommy approaches her for a hug, the yellow smoke like from the chemical plant leak smokes her body until she’s a charred husk too.

Meanwhile, Billy starts mobilizing the forces.  He gets Harry to start setting up a roadblock and deputizes a couple local brother hicks to work the roadblock.  While he is talking with the bus driver’s wife, Molly, at her General Store, Billy talks with John Freemont, the father of a couple kids.  One kid, Clarkie, stayed home from school with a cold and the other, Jenny, went to school.  He plans to meet back up with John in a short bit after he goes to talk to another set of parents.

Here’s another weird moment in the movie.  Billy shows up at the Shores to ask them about their daughter Janet.  Dee Dee Shore is just bare chested and sunbathing while her husband is just greased up and pumping iron and gettin’ BIIIG.  Okay, maybe, technically, this isn’t all that weird.  Sure, people pump iron all the time.  Sure, ladies sunbathe topless all the time.  But a couple other things stick out.  First, Dee Dee throws some shade at Billy about him inquiring about 9 year old Janet saying, “Isn’t she young even for you, Sheriff?”  Okay, Sally at the diner is definitely younger than Billy, but that scene was initially cut out of the movie.  That means Dee Dee’s shade is really weird.

Second, Billy just sauntered into the backyard before she even had a chance to cover dem tittaes up.  Billy got a free peek and that’s kinda nice of her… or is it?  Should he just be sauntering into the backyard where a lady is topless and her husband is getting buff?  I dunno.  These two parents have no idea if Janet has come home.  I don’t think they really care.  I guess they care more about their tits getting tan and their muscles getting greased.

The point of this entire first act is that the Sheriff is concerned the kids have been kidnapped.  We’re also meeting the various parents so we can at least have some idea who the cannon fodder will be when things kick into gear.  We also get some world building around this small town.  The Sheriff is a decent guy, but will do his job.  He also apparently is into some younger trim.  We have good parents and bad parents.  Everyone in town knows each other and so forth.

Ellen Chandler comes home and calls for her mother out on the porch.  The mom, who just got word from Billy that maybe the kids are possibly missing is excited to see her and gives her a big ol’ hug and… oopsie daisy…  She’s toast.  Then daddy comes out to see Ellen and she chases him back into the house to make him into a melty, scabby corpse too.

To back up for just a moment, and to discuss the characters again.  I like that the characters are almost all entirely unique from one another.  It feels almost like the people making this movie actually either lived in or came from a small town with all these various characters.  Harry’s girlfriend Suzie seems like all she wants is to get the Deputy’s D in her V.  She doesn’t wear a bra (a thing I very much appreciate), and likes short shorts with those sexy 70s wedge sandals.  She basically just wants to get fucked.  She seems like a lot of fun.

Speaking of…  Remember topless sunbathing Mrs. Shore?  After Harry has to dispatch Suzie who just wants to make out with a Deputy while on duty, and after he has to take heat from the yokels working the roadblock with, a car pulls up.  This seems like a limo but it may just be a late 70s car because they were all pretty damn big back then.  Anyway, the guy in the back is maybe a pimp or a talent agent or possibly a porn director?  He’s here to see Dee Dee, but Harry won’t let him in until after he talks to her.  I don’t know what this guy’s deal is, but he seems like a guy who throws parties with hookers and drugs and overdoses and shit.  You know the type…  The kind of guy who winds up killing himself in prison before he can go to trial on charges of underage sex trafficking?

(Oooh… an almost timely joke!)

Anyway…  Sadly, Suzie runs afoul of her brother, Paul, who just wants to hug his sexy sister.  Now that he has a big ol’ douse of chemicals from the plant, he surely won’t catch anything she’s carrying.  While I will fully accept criticism that I don’t know how VD works or whether or not being turned into a chemical zombie will vaccinate you against it, I can say that he kills her with his embrace.

John comes home and talks to his wife, Cathy.  He and Billy tell her that the school kids are missing.  While they discuss that, Harry gets a call from Molly who says that Leslie Button called in distressed before the line cut out.  As he heads over to her place, he finds Paul, Ellen, and Tommy who reaches out for a big ol’ hug before the scene cuts away.

Molly finally reaches Billy and tells him that Harry found the kids and that they went to Dr. Gould’s place.  John joins him and they ride over there.  On the way, they find Harry’s body.  They continue onto Dr. Gould’s home to try to find the doctor and Leslie.  They think no one is home, but instead find Leslie’s melty body.

Now realizing that people are dying, Billy comes to the conclusion that he needs to get help and a lot of it.  He and John load up with shotguns and shells.  On their way back to John’s home, they find Janet Shore.  She looks pale and kind of confused, but has not turned into a chemical zombie yet.  They get her into the Sheriff’s car and plan to take her home.  In the car, she starts transforming as indicated by her fingernails turning black.  Yeah, that’s how you know if a kid is gonna give you a melty hug – they have black fingernails.  John tries to find the Shores to tell them they have their daughter, but they were apparently killed by some of the other kids.

Meanwhile, in the Sheriff’s car, Billy dodges Janet’s attack and she just gets out of the car and walks away.  They hurry back to John’s home where their daughter, Jenny, is stalking around outside.  In town, the three kids who killed Harry show up at Molly’s store and Billy and John hear her being killed over the radio.  They hurry back to John’s house where they get back just in time to help save Cathy from Jenny.

Like any good zombie movie, we learn that this is not a localized event.  Apparently, this chemical cloud that turned these little rugrats into monsters has gotten into the “tri-state” area leading to several reports of missing children.  The kids start to descend on the Freemont home leading to a good ol’ fashioned stand off of the adults fortifying the home and protecting against the little monsters.

It should also be mentioned that Cathy is pregnant…  That will be real important later.  Additionally, John and Billy learn that the touch of the kids will burn them when Jenny reaches out and grabs John’s hand turning it into a blistery mess.  It also appears that guns have no affect on the kids as they shoot the kids, they fall down, and they get back up.  To make matters even worse, Paul gets little Clarkie’s attention at the window and the little shit lets in that zombie.

Paul and Clarkie play a game of hide and seek that ends up with Clarkie getting his ass burnt to a scabby mess.  John shoots Paul, but it doesn’t do anything.  However, Billy has a fucking sword and cuts Paul’s hands off before he can touch and scorch Cathy.  The fingernails on the hands return to normal and Paul dies.

John, distraught over Clarkie’s death, decides they need to kill all the rest of the zombies – Jenny included.  Almost especially Jenny.  Trying to calm everyone down, Billy says maybe this thing that happened to the kids will pass and go away.  John still thinks they need to kill them all.  Cathy says she’d rather die than to kill Jenny which only upsets John that much more.

Billy and John go looking for the remaining zombies.  They know they need to cut the hands off after getting rid of Paul and chopping one hand off Ellen which apparently killed her too… or did it?  As they find that the remaining children go to the barn.  They feel like they will be able to corner them there and they approach to begin hacking them up.  John is distracted by what sounds like a normal Jenny calling out “Daddy!”  Billy pushes him out of the way and goes to town on the kids.

Unfortunately, Ellen was not dead after losing a single hand and she attacks and cooks Billy something good with her remaining hand.

The next morning, John hears Cathy screaming.  He realizes she is going into labor and she is going to give birth to their new kid.  You know – the one that will have to replace their dead kids?  I mean, that’s gonna be an awful lot of pressure on that kid.  She tells him to go get some hot water, a whole lot of towels (no shit), and sterilize a knife to cut the cord.  While we hear Cathy give birth, we get to see lots of hacked up kids and dead Billy.

Their new daughter is born!  Yay!  Happy ending!  Oh…  Oh nos!

What insidious leftist/feminazi plot is this to not only force us to see a lesbian couple earlier but now…  Now it’s BREASTFEEDING?!?  What in the actual hell, movie?  Wait…  Hang on…  Oh.  Yeah, kid’s a chemical zombie too I guess.  Better hack that little fucker up while you still can, John!

This movie is rad.  It is most definitely underrated.  It absolutely deserves its cult status as a gem in the horror genre.  Interestingly enough, the music for this movie was written by Harry Manfredini.  That’s the guy who did nine of the ten Friday the 13th movies’ scores.  It’s definitely something you can hear similarities too here too.  The dude really likes the Psycho theme and pays homage to it in all his horror movies.

The movie itself is well made with great makeup effects and some pretty solid acting.  Setting it in a small town that feels isolated also really helps the feel and atmosphere of the terror too.  It’s got a cool idea behind it too.  I pretty much figure that the genesis of this movie came from the writers and director just hanging out one Saturday night.  One guy takes a big drag off a joint and as he passes it, he’s like, “What…  What if when a child hugs you…  It kills you?”  Everyone goes, “Whoa… Deep.”  And a few months later, The Children was in the can.

I’m no film historian, but I can almost guarantee you that’s how it went down.

We’re closing in on Halloween super fast like.  As always, I make sure to release something celebrating the most fun holiday on the calendar.  So, instead of having to wait an entire 7 DAYS to get your next dose of B-Movie Enema, why not come back in 6?  That’s right, you’re getting a double shot of B-Movie Enema next week when I release something on both Thursday AND Friday!  Come back for the next B-Movie Enema as I celebrate Halloween with the 80s rock and roll and demon fueled classic Trick or Treat!

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