The Children (1980)

Radiation.

We all know what it could do in the Fifties: make things bigger or smaller, or invisible, or telepathic, or capable of seeing through things, or even, in extreme cases, turn them into giant monsters.

But it is strange to learn that its curious powers lasted into the 1980s.

After all, a big radioactive cloud, released by the local nuclear plant could still turn little children into unstoppable killing machines.

This is one of those classic drive-in horror movies which still has a minor cult following these days, probably wouldn’t get too much attention were it to come out today.  It actually did quite well at the box office and was one of the higher rated films of the year.

Seriously.

Now glowing eyes — as in The Village of the Damned — were obviously too expensive for a production this minor, so the children merely have black fingernails and a touch of eye makeup. Rather than telepathic powers, the children can burn people up just by touching them.

Still this did give them the opportunity to do some moderately impressive burning effects, mostly through icky makeup.  There are a few, more ambitious shots of bodies being incinerated, which, like the transformations in the classic Forties version of The Wolfman are done with multiple takes (although the budget obviously didn’t allow them to do too many).

Despite its tiny budget and the largely negative reviews it gets in our day and age, I was pleasantly surprised.  We have a small town with a number of interesting people living in it — some of whom are downright strange — and a slow and suspenseful buildup which isn’t afraid to take its time letting us know what’s going on.  The Sheriff finds the local school bus empty, but it is some time before the bodies start piling up and we finally learn what is going on.

It is tense and scary and even makes a few attempts to bring a little personality to all the monster fodder inhabitants.  Maybe the Sheriff is a bit to scared early on (verging on Don Knotts territory) and we all know that the waitress he plans to date (who only gets two scenes) was probably the producer’s girlfriend.

But that doesn’t keep this from being an outstanding B-Movie, one which any Drive-In would have been proud to show.

Or any VHS company would have gladly released.

It would even fit right into any midnight movie marathon.

Just be sure to bring plenty of popcorn — and sarcastic friends

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