Tuesday, October 8, 2019

BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY (1989) Blu-ray Review

Scare-A-Thon Totals to Date:

Total Movies Watched: 6
Total First Time Views: 2
Amount raised for AMAZON WATCH: $281.76

Beware! Children at Play (1989) d. Mik Cribben (USA) (94 min) (2nd viewing)

While enjoying a little father-and-son bonding time in the woods, a college literature professor named Randall accidentally steps into a bear trap and is, well, trapped, with no means of getting back to safety and civilization. His son, Glenn, waits helplessly and tearfully by his side until he expires… and then promptly drives a large Bowie Knife into his dead dad’s belly and pulls out his liver to admire by the campfire.

Wait, what?

Yes, this is the brand of WTFery director Mik Cribben has in store for viewers in this, his one and only feature film. Having served on the sets of any number of bigger budget flicks, mostly within sound or camera departments, from the early 1970s, Cribben finally took the leap in the late 1980s. After another project fell through, he decided to use the funds raised to helm his friend Fred Sharkey’s screenplay about a group of missing children in the Pine Barrows area of New Jersey who have escaped into the woods and formed a prepubescent cannibalistic cult that recruits the younger set and murders the elder.

Though completed in 1989, Beware! Children at Play languished in obscurity until Troma Entertainment released it on home video almost a decade later, where it instantly became a cult sensation due in large part to its controversial content throughout and its gory, youth-splattered conclusion in particular. (According to Lloyd Kaufman, when the film’s trailer played at the Cannes Film Festival before a screening of Tromeo and Juliet in 1996, nearly half of the theatergoers walked out in protest.)

The main plot concerns the town of Ellenburg, where a dozen children have gone missing over the past three years, including the sheriff’s (Rich Hamilton) eldest daughter Amy (Lorna Courtney). The townspeople are understandably upset about this, although their primary act of protest is to mill about in front of the town hall and wait for the antagonistic reporter (Lauren Cloud) to antagonize the sheriff for his inability to locate the missing tykes. As a last resort, he contacts hotshot author and former Marine pal John De Wolfe (Michael Robertson) to come down and assist with the investigation. Seems De Wolfe’s literary efforts deal in all manner of the strange and unexplained (UFOs, ESP, etc.) – much to the chagrin of his disapproving college English teacher wife Julia (Lori Romero) – and the hope is that he can recruit some of his unconventional associates to solve the mystery.

En route, John, Julia, and their eight-year-old daughter Kara (Jamie Krause) stop to assist a traveling salesman, Franklin Ludwig (Herb Klinger), whose car has broken down by the side of the road. Dispensing cheap bibles and cheaper exposition, Ludwig reveals that descendants from a group of religious fundamentalists called “Brownies” still live in the area, and we are promptly introduced to one in the form of one Farmer Isac Braun (Cribben, with some profoundly unconvincing gray in his beard). In the next scene, we learn from the sheriff’s younger daughter Mary Rose (Sunshine Barrett) that there is a group of strange creatures living in the neighboring forest called “Woodies.”

Over the course of some extended and uninteresting dialogue sequences, we learn that both stories are true: the Brownies are the offspring of those easily swayed God-fearing townspeople and the Woodies are their offspring who have run away from home to enjoy a rustic, hedonistic life of murder and flesh-eating. The stage is set for a final and bloody confrontation between the two parties and it ain’t gonna be pretty.

In contrast to the decidedly non-professional performances from all concerned, and Sharkey’s confused screenplay which careens from Anglo-Saxon literary references (Beowulf in particular) to inane conversations about the merits of pulp fiction to scenes of rape, murder, and disemboweling with all the delicacy of a chainsaw, the awesome DIY gore gags by Mark Dolson (Video Violence) are genuinely well-executed and gleefully abundant, especially during the grand taboo-smashing finale. With bodies scythed in twain, pitchforks through necks, and all manner of explosive laceration and gunshot trauma (most of it doled out on kids too young to vote), the audaciousness on display is clearly the film’s raison d’etre and it delivers the goods, with a wingding finale packed with “no way” mayhem and lots of “dead” kids (obviously still breathing) on the ground afterwards.

The technical elements, including the camerawork (also by Cribben) and sound, are actually not bad either, considering the meager $40,000 budget. While most of the cast and crew never amassed any further professional credits, it’s worth pointing out that costume designer Dianne Finn Chapman worked both on Jeff Lieberman’s beloved 1976 killer worm flick Squirm and James Ivory’s art-house classic Roseland within a year of one another!

In this day and age where school shootings are increasingly commonplace, I realize it’s potentially insensitive to regard the movie as a piece of harmless escapism. But the shoddy performances, the sheer outrageousness of the venture, and the fact that this group of performers (ESPECIALLY THE KIDS) is clearly having a whale of a time takes the sting away. Instead of being truly shocked, there’s instead an undeniable sense of catharsis and play, leaving us shaking our heads with a knowing smile at the knowingly bad taste on display.


Introduction by Troma President Lloyd Kaufman
Interview with director Mik Cribben
Original trailers for Beware! Children at Play and other Troma releases
The first-ever interactive tour of Troma Studios
Troma Intelligence Test
Ron Jeremy at Play
Troma Tromettes in action
Troma's Edge TV
The Aroma du Troma

Beware! Children at Play is available now on Blu-ray or DVD from Troma Entertainment and can be ordered HERE:



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