Color, 1980, 93 mins. 39 secs.
Directed by Max Kalmanowicz
Starring Martin Shakar, Gil Rogers, Gale Garnet, Shannon Bolin, Tracy Griswold
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Troma (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), '84 Entertainment (DVD) (Germany R0 PAL)

Better The Childrenknown to a certain generation of horror The Childrenfans as "that movie with the creepy kids with black fingernails hugging people to death," The Children is the kind of region horror oddity that wedges into viewer's memories for decades whether they like it or not. Critically drubbed at the time of its minimal theatrical release by World Northal, the regional production from two-shot director Max Kalmanowicz (who also helmed the crazy Dreams Come True) managed to earn a fan following through its occasional late night TV airings and its tenure on VHS from Vestron, complete with evocative artwork on the cover.

In a small town called Ravensback near a chemical plant, a blown pipe issues a large cloud of yellow toxic gas that drifts out onto the nearest road. A passing school bus drives straight into the mist, and soon Sheriff Hart (Rogers) passing by can find no trace of anyone who was aboard including its five child passengers. Sensing a possible kidnapping, the sheriff orders a roadblock and calls in help from his deputy (Griswold) and locals including store owner and dispatcher Molly (Bolin) and John (Shakar), father of one of the affected children. As it turns out, the five children are all turning into radioactive fiends with black fingernails -- and their touch immediately turns their victims into charred, smoking corpses. Now it's a race against time for the survivors to find a way to defeat the children and stop the evil from spreading even further into town.

It's best to avoid saying anything further since this film features a truly crazed climax complete with surreal imagery involving the children's fate that has to be seen to be believed. The introduction of semi-supernatural elements into the killer kid formula here gives the low budget production a strong dreamlike vibe that helped set it apart at the time and The Childrenensured it would have a firm place alongside other creepy The Childrencurios like Devil Times Five, right. down to the predictable but effective little twist at the end.

The Children's initial VHS from Vestron was about as bad as you'd expect with almost no color and a fuzzy detail; the first DVD from Troma in 2005 was better simply by default, though the open matte transfer still looked very underwhelming. On the other hand, at least it went all out with extras including a video interview with writer-producer Carlton J. Albright (7m9s) that pulls no punches in his opinions about some of the performances, while, "Making The Children" with production manager (and future Law and Order: SVU director) David Platt and Albright (2m55s) sticks more to the nuts and bolts of creating the town with available locations. "Memories of The Children" (3m14s) with Rogers, Patricia Albright, and Carlton Albright is lighter and looser, with Rogers recalling doing The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas on Broadway at the time and all of them discussing the pros and cons of casting six little kids in a feature film. Excerpts from "The Children: The Musical" (11m3s) mounted as an NYU project are framed with comments by co-creator Stan Richardson (who's had a solid theatrical career since), and the film itself comes with a low-key Carlton Albright audio commentary mainly focusing on locations and technical challenges. The DVD is also outfitted with a batch of the usual unrelated "Tromatic Extras" like a Tromadance PSA and trailers for Luther the Geek, Dreams Come True, and Rabid Grannies. The film itself clocks in at 93m6s but has a nonsensical 2m30s Lloyd Kaufman intro appended at the beginning.

For Black Friday in 2018, Vinegar Syndrome issued the film for the first time as a combo pack with a DVD. The main feature opens with a disclaimer that the film is "sourced from the best known surviving elements. Due to missing sections in the negative, large portions of the film had to be sourced from 35mm release prints." The patchwork isn't all that turbulent in practice; you can notice the difference right away in the color timing as surfaces like grass and The Childrenflesh tones look distinctly browner in the lower generation inserts with some element damage in evidence here and there, The Childrenbut it's still vastly superior to the DVD throughout. It's also longer than earlier versions with an entire scene in the diner right after the main titles. The DTS-HD MA 1.0 English mono track is also much clearer and cleaner than before, with optional English SDH subtitles provided. In addition to the preexisting Albright commentary, the film can also be played with a new commentary featuring director Max Kalmanowicz in conversation with Vinegar Syndrome's Joe Rubin. Right off the bat it's an interesting one as he chats about adding the opening explanatory scene after nuclear power panics like the Three Mile Island disaster, the restoration of the missing scene, his professional ties to Sean S. Cunningham (which ties into how Harry Manfredini scored this film), the story behind that out of nowhere bodybuilder by the pool, the concentration camp connection to the film's original title, the thankfully humane way they achieved that Doberman scene, and more. All of the prior featurettes (Albright video interview, "Making The Children," the musical, "Memories of The Children") are ported over here, with two new ones added. The outrageously candid "Childhood Memories: Making The Children" (17m4s) features Platt and Carlton Albright chatting about an alcoholism issue during production, getting Manfredini to score the film, the attempted casting of Kevin McCarthy, and the presence of a coke dealer in the film. (Not surprisingly, there's a disclaimer at the beginning of this one.) "Return to Ravensback" (9m42s) features Fangoria's Michael Gingold touring the familiar locales from the film including the story behind the diner and various spots around New Jersey. There's also an audio segment (2m42s) for a lost scene that... uh, doesn't seem like much of a loss given the caliber of acting.


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Reviewed on November 23, 2018.