Retro Review: ‘Beware! Children at Play’

Like some of you reading this, part of my Black Friday was spent going through the Blu Rays available from the good people at Vinegar Syndrome. Amid their vast collection of grindhouse, cult, and exploitation titles I found a 1989 Troma production that sounded too weird to pass up. When I finally watched Beware! Children at Play it did not disappoint.

On a camping trip with his religious fanatic father, disaster strikes when little Glenn has to watch as his parent is caught in a bear trap and eventually dies. Left with the final instructions to “gulp the blood and gobble the flesh” Glenn proceeds to cannibalize his dad. Over the next decade in the nearby rural community children have gone missing without a trace as have adults. With nothing to go on, the sheriff turns to paranormal author John DeWolfe to pursue a solution outside the box. As they investigate it becomes increasingly clear that Glenn has brought more younglings into his ways.

As with any beloved film from this cult favorite studio, Beware! Children at Play has all the hallmarks of a Troma production. There is over-the-top violence, snappy dialogue, and a certain fun camp factor. But there is an unexpected high brow-ness as screenwriter Frank Scharkey adds in some clever literary elements to this film. While many horror flicks are content being an “evil kid” movie or a cannibal film, Beware! is both with some nice dashes of a cult movie. Which ends up being as bonkers as it sounds as this is wonderful piece of trash cinema was seemingly made by those who saw Children of the Corn and went “we can crank this up to 11 easy!” and did just that. The madness culminates in a highly controversial climax where the people of the town have had enough of this cannibal child cult and proceeds to massacre them all. When this film was first revealed to the masses this scene made sickened audience Cannes attendees walk out of the theater. While the idea of adults brutally killing a bunch of children is a concept worthy of getting upset about the end product is so poorly executed from a production standpoints it is impossible to take the scene seriously.

Like many other exploitation and cult films I have Retro Reviewed for this site, Beware! Children at Play is not a movie for everyone. But those who it is for will get their entertainment from it, just the sight of a bunch of savage younglings growling and violently descending upon their victim is hilarious enough to warrant a watch. Many of those responsible for making this movie both in front of the camera and behind it had a trial by fire here as they were complete novices to the art of filmmaking. This amateur prowess is on full display on a technical level, but the fun they were having behind the scenes is clear and comes through in the final product contributing greatly to this ultimate cult favorite this became.