Beware! Children at Play (1989)
By: Devon B. on October 12, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Stomp Visual (Australia). All Regions, NTSC. 4:3. English DD 2.0. 93 minutes
The Movie
Director: Mik Cribben
Starring: Michael Robertson, Rich Hamilton, Robin Lilly, Lori Tirgrath, Jamie Krause
Screenplay:Fred Scharkey
Country: USA
Beware! Children at Play opens with a father and son out camping. The father soon does a Larry Talbot and finds himself stuck in a bear trap. He then spends three days stuck in the trap waiting for help. Why doesn't he try to get himself out? Good question. The father then goes crazy, which I guess is why he still just hangs out in the trap while he becomes maggot infested, and spouts inane drivel at his son. The son logically decides to remove some vital organs from his father, who is evidently made of rubber.

10 years later a family is heading to the area. The father is an author who supposedly writes good books with garish covers. The wife doesn't approve of the covers, and a social political debate ensues during their car ride. This is the first major warning that something is wrong with the script, aside from the standard "all characters are idiots" issue many screenplays have. Obviously, the screenwriter fancies himself skilled at deep literary allusion, but as he draws such attention to his masterful references, he appears more pompous than either of the Crane brothers.

Anyway, the family is heading over to see the local sheriff, who's a friend of the author. The author is going to help the sheriff try and locate his missing daughter. When the family arrives, they find out that many children have gone missing. One wonders if they would've brought their own daughter along if they'd known that little bit of info ahead of time. The religious locals think the missing children have become possessed by evil.

Beware! Children at Play was a bit hard to find in America for many years, and I had wanted to see it thanks to a still printed in Fangoria of a boy with a gun in his mouth. Lethargic as ever, I never went through the effort of actually obtaining a copy, but I must be fair and admit that I did have nearly a decade's worth of slight anticipation when viewing the film.

The ideas here COULD have been presented in a good and interesting fashion, but the end result is like a lacklustre remake of Children of the Corn. The film is too slow, and the gore is mostly remedial. The performances vary, as is to be expected in a low budget outing. Aside from a scythe death, which is one of the best worst death scenes ever, and a highly unconvincing rape, the film is never bad enough to be funny. Unfortunately, it's never quite good enough to be, well, good. The film earned some undeserving notoriety for its "stomach churning" ending, but by the time 90 minutes have gone by, I can't imagine anyone caring. To compare it to other Troma releases, it's not as bad as Surf Nazis Must Die, but is a long way from Cannibal: The Musical (or even Dead Dudes in the House).
Okay for low budget flick, but the print still suffers frequent specks and grain. The quality of the image changes in degrees of sharpness, but often the picture is not very sharp. I'd say it's overall passable given the film was shot on the cheap.
Surprisingly clear mix, with the dialogue remaining audible throughout. The score sounds good, if extremely dated even in the late 80s when it was presumably written. Occasionally things go missing from background sound within a scene, but this is presumably the fault of the source material, not the audio mix on the DVD.
Extra Features
As usual with Troma releases Lloyd Kaufman, President of Troma Studios and creator of the Toxic Avenger, introduces the film. This time he promotes the Troma Intelligence Test (T.I.T.) which he says is found on the DVD. It's not. More on that below. The disc then takes you to the actual movie scene selection. Odd.

The layout for this disc nearly gave me a headache. The words are split on the menu, I assume to appear cracked, but they're just hard to read. The menu also resets to the top as you look at each extra, which meant I had to try and figure out where I was on the menu again each time. No problem normally, but then most menus are legible!

The Coming Distractions section and the T.I.T. are merely crossed out on the menus, which is just lazy. The T.I.T. is a 20 question game where if you answer Troma trivia correctly you get some nudity, if you answer wrong, violence. Answer all 20 correct to get an extra nudie clip. According to Refused Classification, the T.I.T. was refused classification in 2000 because it "depicts violence in such a way that is offends against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that it should be classified RC." The site goes on to claim many of the violent clips actually come from Beware! Children at Play. I honestly can't remember, because most of the Troma discs I have seen had the second installment of the T.I.T. If it is true that it was Beware! Children at Play footage that got the T.I.T. knocked off, it might be worth resubmitting, but I heard at the time it actually had more to do with the montage effect the clips made. However, the disc also includes Aroma Du Troma, a series of Troma footage set to Motörhead's "Sacrifice," which seems like it would be of similar nature to the T.I.T. to me. Honestly, the loss of the T.I.T. isn't a big deal, but losing out on the trailers sucks. The trailers are very handy, because, given the WIDE variety of quality on offer from Troma, they give you some idea of what to totally avoid. It is also unclear why the trailers are missing, which makes it doubly annoying.

Also available on the disc is Ron Jeremy and Charisma Take Troma Naked. This is Ron talking about his involvement with Troma, then prattling on about how good Troma is. I think this was recorded for the Tromeo and Juliet Laserdisc. Charisma doesn't say much, and they don't actually take anything naked. I'd heard that this extra had them storming Troma's offices in the altogether, so I don't know what's going on here.

Beginning the disc's slew of standard Troma DVD extras, there's the Troma Tour, an interactive tour of Troma. A selection of clips can be viewed here, some with lead-ins of similar quality to the Troma's Edge TV show and featuring familiar faces for Troma fans. The clips can feature nudity and gore. Again, why is this is okay and not the T.I.T.? Press left on "Theatrical releasing" to highlight the Hollywood sign. Hit enter to see Lloyd Kaufman, President of Troma Studios and creator of the Toxic Avenger, presenting a clip on Troma's relationship with big studios.

More familiar things abound on this DVD. There's the Radiation March short. Lloyd Kaufman, President of Troma Studios and creator of The Toxic Avenger, must fucking LOVE that thing; it's everywhere!!! The ad for the book by Lloyd Kaufman, President of Troma Studios and creator of the Toxic Avenger, is also here; Troma contact details are offered, not just once, but twice; and three "public service announcements" from Troma's Edge TV. The first announcement is to discourage masturbation, the second to enable it. I've always been partial to the third one though. I think it's just because it features Al Gore, and the actor playing him is creatively cast. The Gyno Chat is just a brief interview with a Tromette. All of these extras are available on multiple Troma DVDs.

As for the extras relating specifically to the film in question? First there's a series of a few uninteresting stills! Not good enough? There's also Lloyd Kaufman, President of Troma Studios and creator of the Toxic Avenger, being held hostage by his children, a skit taken from the Beware! Children at Play screener. Still not good enough? Well, don't forget the commentary by the director…oh, wait, it's not a commentary at all! It's a short interview! For shame, Troma. This is downright false advertising. The interview is interesting enough, and does mention that the film was shot on a variety of stocks, which might explain why the image quality fluxuates.
The Verdict
Most of the extras can be found on many Troma DVDs, and the film itself is a snoozer. If you want something similar in nature but actually entertaining, I say keep an eye out for ¿Quién Puede Matar a un Niño? (AKA Who Can Kill a Child?). I would be hard pressed to even recommend Beware! Children at Play as a rental.
Movie Score
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