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Beware Children At Play (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

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    Ian Jane
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  • Beware Children At Play (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: February 22nd, 2022.
    Director: Mik Cribben
    Cast: Michael Robertson, Rich Hamilton, Robin Lilly, Lori Romero, Jamie Krause, Sunshine Barrett
    Year: 1989
    Purchase From Amazon

    Beware Children At Play – Movie Review:

    Directed by Mik Cribben, who went on to have a pretty solid career doing sound work, a1989’s Beware Children At Play was produced independently before it was picked up by none other than Troma, who gave the film a pretty wide release on both VHS and DVD years back.

    When the film opens, a young boy named Glenn Randall (Erik Tonken) and his father (Bernard Hocke), an English literature teacher, are goofing around on a father/son camping trip out in the wilds of New Jersey. Everything is going fine until Glenn’s dad gets his leg caught in a bear trap. Glenn does what he can to keep him alive but they eventually run out of food and his father dies. With no other food available, Glenn, somewhat salaciously, cuts open his father’s stomach and eats his heart.

    Ten years later, an author specializing in the supernatural named John DeWolfe (Michael Robertson), his wife Julie (Lori Romero) and their young daughter Kara (Jamie Krause) take a ride out to the small town where John’s friend Ross Carr (Rich Hamilton) lives with his wife Cleo (Robin Lilly) and daughter Mary Rose (Sunshine Barrett). Ross also happens to be the town’s sheriff and he has been stumped by a series of child disappearances that have taken place in the town over the last decade. A nosy reporter doesn’t help matters any. When Ross’ own daughter disappears next, John decides to use his knowledge and his connections, including the world’s most annoying medium, to help crack the case before Kara goes missing too – but that won’t be easy when adults in town start turning up dead in increasingly grizzly fashion, causing the locals to form a posse led by Isac Braun (Cribben himself) in hopes of doing what they believe the cops cannot.

    A weird mix of elements is at play here. The most obvious is the use of the story of Beowulf, taken from the Old English poem written a few thousand years ago. The script from Fred Scharkey does an interesting job of weaving different elements of this poem into the storyline, with certain quotes from the poem actually playing a very important role in what happens, particularly some of the film’s death scenes. The film also borrows elements from Stephen King’s Children Of The Corn, at one point one of the younger characters even calling one of the adults an ‘outlander,’ and other ‘killer kid’ movies, but Beware Children At Play gets enough of its own thing going that it never really feels like a knockoff, even if the influence can be obvious at times.

    Not all of the acting is great in the movie, but the leads do a decent enough job of carrying things that, even if some of the supporting players are less than perfect, for the most part it works. The movie definitely benefits from a very cool score and some pretty solid practical gore effects, some of which are stronger than you might expect them to be. There are a few neat twists in the last half hour of the film as well, which help to keep things interesting, although there are some definite pacing problems in the middle stretch of the film that don’t do it any favors.

    Beware Children At Play – Blu-ray Review:

    Vinegar Syndrome brings Beware Children At Play to Region Free Blu-ray “newly scanned & restored in 2K from its original 35mm negative.” Framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, this looks about a zillion times better than the old Troma DVD from years back. The elements used were obviously in excellent shape, you’ll be hard pressed to find much in the way of print damage at all. Colors look fantastic and we get nice black levels and skin tones as well. Detail is very strong for a low budget film shot fast and cheap, and while some shots look better than others in this department, the vast majority of the film looks very crisp. There are no issues to note with any noticeable noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression issues.

    The only audio option for the feature is a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo but it’s a good one. Clarity is solid and there’s nice depth to the mix. The track is clear and balanced and the effects and score both sound really strong but there is some sibilance in a few spots. Otherwise, no problems, it sounds decent enough.

    Extra features start off with a commentary track with director Mik Cribben that really should have had a moderator on board as it's got a lot of dead air in it and plenty of long stretches where he goes quiet. When he does speak, he covers the use of music in the film and how Herschel Dwellingham was brought on to do it, casting the film and choosing the different child actors that appear in the movie, how it was tough to find an actual bear trap for the opening scene, where some of the ideas for the movie came from, his thoughts on the actual dangers inherent in wandering around the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, where some jokes were worked into the script, why certain angles were used and more.

    Why I Don’t Have Children is an extended fifty-one minute making-of documentary featuring interviews with cast and crew members SFX directors Mark Dolson and Mark Kwiatek, actors Lori Tirgarth, Peter Riga, Thatcher Long, Anthony Cartinella and composer Herschel Dwellingham. It goes over how a movie like this would be unlikely to be made today, the influence of Beowulf and Children Of The Corn, what Mik Cribeen was like to work with, how the different cast members came on board, the film's shooting schedule, creating some of the effects work, working with a pretty low budget, creating the score, what the child actors had to go through on the shoot, what the locations were like, getting along on set, how they feel about the movie these many years later and lots more. It's quite interesting and well put together.

    Brand new interview with Mik Cribben is also included. Running just over fifteen minutes, he talks about his background and training, getting into theater when living in Canada for a while, the decision to make the movie independently, working with writer Fred Scharkey who worked as a school teacher, where the Grendel ideas came from, casting the film and working with the different kids on the shoot, his thoughts on the use of gore in the film and the effects in the movie, how the cops were called when a few hunters came across what was happening on set, how exciting it was to be making a feature movie for the first time, the movie's release history and budget and how the movie was a real boon for his career.

    The disc also includes a four minute archival interview with Mik Cribben ported over from the old Troma DVD where he talks about being influenced by Combat Shock to make a low budget movie, getting investors, commissioning the script and making the movie independently.

    As far as the packaging for this release goes, Vinegar Syndrome provides some reversible cover sleeve artwork and, for the first five thousand copies purchased directly from Vinegar Syndrome’s website, a limited edition embossed slipcover designed by Richard Hilliard.

    Beware Children At Play - The Final Word:

    Beware Children At Play is a weird one, but it’s a pretty entertaining killer kid movie with some strange elements of black humor, a solid bit of gore and a really strong ending. Vinegar Syndrome has done a really nice job bringing it to Blu-ray with a great presentation and if the commentary isn’t so hot, the rest of the new extras are genuinely interesting and worth checking out.

    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized Beware Children At Play Blu-ray screen caps!

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