Beware: Children at Play

In 1996, before the debut of Tromeo and Juliet at the Cannes Film Festival, Troma showed the trailer for this movie, Beware! Children at Play. Half of the audience got up and left.

Chances are you’ll never see this film. Chances are, most people wouldn’t want to. That’s where I come in – the reviewer of bad, horror films. As you loyal readers have already heard, the movie section of White Trash Devil is going away. That’s bad for me, a guy who wrote a bunch of Halloween movie reviews sitting around half-finished. Better late than never, I’m sending them in! Consider this a going away present to the movie section, and a tip of the hat to Halloween, the greatest holiday.

Mik Cribbin, director of this mess-terpiece, explains during an interview included on the DVD that before filming this movie he was working as a cameraman on another horror film. After getting the money, investors, and special effects lined up, the movie fell through. So, with everything but a script, Cribbin pulled one of his own scripts out of the file and began to film it. Cribbin had never made a motion picture before. It shows.

So, following is pretty much a summary of the film, with a few comments here and there. There’s plenty of spoilers, not that it’ll matter – the fun isn’t in figuring out the plot, it’s … well, I’m not sure where the fun lies, I guess it’s somewhere between the bad acting and the ton of blood and fake organs used on the set.

Beware! Children at Play (BCaP) starts out with a father and son on a camping trip out in the woods. You can tell that they’re related – they have the same acting ability (very little). Their relationship seems to be pretty normal, save for dad’s bad habit of singing about mythological creatures to junior around the campfire.

Things seem to be going pretty normal until dad steps in a bear trap, falls, and hits his head – a fairly normal chain of events, as far as Troma films go. Dad and Glenn aren’t able to get the bear trap open. Dad gives up after 10 seconds of trying to free himself, and sends junior back to the campsite for provisions and water. Their plan (or lack of one) is to stay put, hoping for someone to come rescue them (they don’t seem to be THAT deep in the woods, but whatever.)

Of course, no one comes, and dad starts getting a little loopy after sitting out in the woods for three or four days. After rambling on about demons and goblins and maggots, dad finally kicks the bucket. Apparently the kid’s a little loopy as well, because after dad’s been dead for, oh, 30 seconds or so, little Glenn gets tired of the canned provisions and pulls out a hunting knife, cuts dad open, and starts eating his guts.

We’re five minutes into the film, folks.

Time passes. Enter the peachy clean family of John, Julie, and cute daughter Kara. The nicest family in the world is on the way to Uncle Ross’s house. Uncle Ross is a little upset – seems his oldest daughter wandered off about three years ago, and the family hasn’t quite recovered.

During a cheap plot development, the family stops to help a travelling salesman who is having car trouble. The salesman goes off on a 10 minute exposition speech that has little to do with anything, other than to set up the facts that the townsfolk are inbred, and that at least 12 or so kids have recently come up missing. A few minutes later, the traveling salesman gets what all travelling salesmen deserve – a clean severing of the bottom half of his body from the top half.

More boring expose’ goes on. Ross and John have a conversation about how one kid every two months disappears. That salesman was right, these people are pretty slow, seeing as though Ross is the Sheriff and isn’t out looking for his daughter. Instead everyone’s sitting around the house, talking about why people are missing. This is where John comes into the story – he’s a pulp fiction writer, and Ross has invited him out because he thinks maybe he might know a mind reader or something. There’s lots of weird plot twists that don’t go anywhere. Another friend of the family, the family doctor, has also shown up to the party – so now, the town Sheriff, the pulp-fiction writer, and the town doctor (Dr. Fish) are putting their heads together, hoping to solve the case.

If this is starting to sound like a bad version of Children of the Corn, well, you’re right. Scenes of kids whispering in the woods are intercut throughout this portion.

Another kid gets abducted, and the sheriff holds a press conference … on the sidewalk, outside of city hall, with no cameras, just one lady in a pantsuit asking questions with a microphone. Our three protagonists are meeting to pick out a psychic, to help them crack the case. Now at this point, kids have been disappearing every two months, and there’s now 13 kids missing, so whatever other method of detective work they’ve been doing hasn’t exactly been turning over a lot of clues.

At this point they also introduce the “Brownies” – no, not the junior girl scouts, but crazy cult like people who live in the woods. They reference them about 20 times in 2 minutes, so even the densest of viewers know to take note.

The three muskateers of crime fighting go from interview to interview, trying to crack the case. The writer, who has by now revealed he also thinks he has ESP, has taken the reigns in the investigation. While interviewing one crazy local, he spies a car under a tarp. The car belongs to the travelling salesman, and has blood on it. “What does it all mean?” the Sheriff asks. Now, how the HELL did he get to be Sheriff. I think we all know what it means at that point!

A psychic is brought in, and the numbskull trio give her a doll that belonged to one of the children. The psychic takes the doll, follows it’s “vibes”, and wanders off into the woods. Once in the woods, she is surrounded by all the missing kids! This is a happy reunion for about 10 seconds until the little munchkins jab her in the legs with sticks. Once on the ground, the kids slit her throat and eat her face, while chanting “Gulp the blood, gobble the flesh, tear her to pieces,” over and over. Some local teenagers witness the event, tell the Sheriff, and now the chase is on.

A few more townsfolk get killed by kid-made traps (the fence-post with stakes through it is particularly nice). The town is getting fed up with waiting for the Sheriff and crew to solve the case, and begin meetings to try and find “the killers” on their own.

Here’s where the case gets cracked. John’s wife is a literary teacher, who figures out that the thing they were chanting had alliteration. She places the line from the story Beowulf. In Beowulf, the main bad guy was named Grendal. Grendal was a cannibal. Remember the dopey kid from the beginning of the story? Glenn Randall? G.Randall? Grendal? Oh boy, this is thin. And I mean, this is the WHOLE plot development that cracks the case. When the cops look up old man Randall’s file, they find that yes, he taught Anglo-Saxon. Anglo-Saxon? When’s the last time they offered THAT class?

People’s wives and kids begin dying. In fact, John’s wife gets killed and Ross’s wife gets kidnapped by the children from Hell. “And now, it’s personal.” Oh, screw everyone else’s kids, even Ross’s kid, now that they ate his drugged up sedated wife, it’s personal now. Sheesh. So the Sheriff and John are planning their attack against the kids, but the townsfolk have another idea – a mass mob. They’ve decided they will attack the kids on site. The Sheriff pleads for them to be patient, but it doesn’t look good. The final conflict is coming up, hang in there.

The campsite is found. John finds Amy, the missing daughter, but the kids find her dad (Sheriff) and kill him. Now there’s some training, when the Sheriff can be overpowered by a bunch of 8 year olds.

John finds the hidden salesman’s car and steals it, with Amy in tow. John uses Amy to take him back to Grendal’s camp … but the townsfolk also follow. And now, for the exciting climax of Beware! Children at Play.

Spoilers below.

John shows up at Grendal’s site with Amy (their “Queen”). Grendal attacks John, and even though the 8 year old kids were able to overpower the Sheriff without much of a battle, John proceeds to kick Grendal’s ass pretty severely. John begins looking for his daughter (which has been kidnapped also in the melee). So, Grendal has been defeated, his daughter has been rescued … happy ended, no?

No. The townsfolk show up and decide to kill all the children, even though the danger has been averted. And I’m not talking about just killing the kids – slaughtered is more the correct word. John warns them that if they touch one kid, he will have them up on “Accessory to murder charges.” The first townsfolk answers that with a bullet to John’s head.

Then the rest of the townsfolk attack. Kids are stabbed in the neck with pitchforks. Kids are shot with shotguns. One girl gets a hatchet in the back. One takes a meat cleaver to the head. One gets his neck crushed with a 2×4. One gets an arrow to the chest. One gets a shotgun to the head at point blank range. One takes a machette to the chest. Pretty guesome stuff here.

Once done, the townsfolk go home. John, who took a bullet to the forehead, flops around a bit, and his daughter, who was stuck under him during the battle, lives, only to wander off into the forest.

The movie ends with about two minutes of footage that look like they’re from a Faces of Death video, just showing still shots of all the dead kids. Well, not really still shots, most of them are breathing, but that’s ok. Then at the very end, the little innocent girl is seen with a knife, about to cut and bite into one of the victims. THE END! HAPPY ENDING!

Beware! Children at Play has to be one of the worst films I’ve ever seen – and what’s even worse is, I own it on DVD, as part of a massive Troma purchase I made a year or so ago on Ebay. The acting is bad, the plot is bad, and the kids getting killed for no reason at the end of the film just bothered me for some reason. It’s a great movie to see with friends, because people are like, “they’re not REALLY going to kill the kids, are they?” and then you’re thinking “there’s no WAY they’re going to kill the kids,” and then they proceed to snuff them all in a very violent fashion.

Recommended for sick, twisted individuals, who love B movies with lots of gore and bad acting.

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