Beware: Children At Play (1989)

Director: Mik Cribben

Starring: Michael Robertson, Rich Hamilton, Robin Lilly, Lori Tirgrath

“Tear her to pieces! Bite through the bone! Gulp the blood! Gobble the flesh!” (Glen Randall, Beware: Children At Play)

The fine people at Troma specialise in making and distributing incredibly low-budget films that, while lacking in spectacle, certainly aren’t lacking in ambition and sheer balls. Beware: Children At Play is one such movie, one with a plot so taboo there’s no way it’d be distributed by a big studio.

It tells the story of John DeWolfe, an author who specialises in crime and the paranormal. He travels to the countryside with his wife and daughter to visit his friend Ross, who’s a sheriff in a tiny country town. Ross’s daughter has been missing for weeks, as have many of the other children in the area, and he wants to know if John has any ideas on how to find them.

It's so much like Children Of The Corn they've even got a corpse up on a cross

What they don’t realise is that all the missing kids – Ross’s daughter included – have formed an odd group of feral children who, under the leadership of an older, manipulative teenager, roam the woods killing and eating anyone who steps onto their turf. Sometimes one of them will head back to the town to lure adults into following them into the woods and to their death, or at times if it’s a woman who’s been trapped the older teen will rape her to try and keep the evil seed going. Or something, I dunno. It’s just an excuse to get some baps on the screen, though it’s pretty dodgy. 

What you then have is a relatively slow-paced film sprinkled with fun little set-pieces where numerous adults are offed in inventive ways. It’s odd, because the rest of the film can’t decide whether it’s a piece of low-budget shit (the acting quality is generally on par with that of a four-year-old with chocolate on his face trying to assure you he didn’t get into the Milky Ways) or a hidden gem (the script may not be getting the best delivery, but it’s clearly well-written with some great one-liners).

The fifth Karate Kid film went a bit too far

Anyway, all of these thoughts you’re having while you watch the film quickly dissolve when the grand finale makes its appearance. Now, since we’re just dealing with brainwashed children here you’d think that the best way to deal with this situation is to get the cops involved, head into the woods as a large group, use strength in numbers to apprehend the kids using tasers, handcuffs and the like, then take them to the nuthouse to try and knock the creepy cannibal side out of them. For some reason however the police and the rest of the adults (who are these children’s parents, remember) decide enough is enough and it’s time to kill them all.

This results in a fucking INSANE final five minutes in which numerous children aged five to fourteen are slaughtered in increasingly brutal ways. One gets a pitchfork in the throat and is pinned against a wall, another is stabbed in the back by her mum, while yet another is shot at point blank range with a shotgun and their head explodes. I could only watch in stunned silence, awe and admiration at the sheer balls displayed by the filmmakers as I watched slaughter after slaughter. In the most memorable shot, a villager puts a pistol in an eight-year-old’s mouth and blows his brains against the wall behind him. I’m not even joking. In total, eighteen children are killed in around two minutes. You can see most of these scenes in the trailer below, incidentally.

Yes, this actually happens

Most of this is all done cheaply enough that it clearly looks fake, but the fact they’d even have the gall to try filming a whole village of children being brutally murdered in gory detail and not even try to pretend they’re zombies or anything is the sort of controversial decision that stirs a feeling of respect in me for some reason. I could understand that in some people’s eyes these filmmakers are morally bankrupt and the lowest of the low, but to me this is the perfect example of someone taking a genre clearly built around fantasy and pushing it to the limit to show people something they’ve never seen before.

Beware: Children At Play is basically Children Of The Corn with a budget a twentieth of the size, woodlands instead of cornfields and a far bloodier, more outrageous conclusion. And for that reason, I like it. If you want to see a film that is absolutely guaranteed to show you something you wouldn’t see from a Hollywood production, this is it. Just don’t watch it with a kid or they’ll never trust you again.

WHERE CAN I SEE IT?
You can’t. At least, not in the UK. For fairly obvious reasons, Troma seemingly didn’t even try to release Beware: Children At Play on DVD over here. If you have a multi-region DVD player though you can import the US version, which is being sold pretty cheaply through Amazon UK here.

If you enjoyed this review and would like to read more, here’s a complete list of reviews on That Was A Bit Mental.

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