Beware! Children at Play (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review + Screenshots

Vinegar Syndrome takes another trip to Tromaville with their blu-ray release of the notorious video store classic, Beware! Children at Play.

Studio: Vinegar Syndrome
Release Date: November 24th 1989 (video premiere)
                           February 22nd, 2022 (blu-ray)
Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes 44 seconds
Region Code: FREE
Picture: 1080p (1.85:1 aspect ratio)
Sound: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
Slipcover: Yes (limited)
Digital Copy: No
Starring: Michael RobertsonRich HamiltonRobin LillyLori RomeroJamie Krause, and 
Sunshine Barrett
Written by Fred Scharkey
Directed by Mik Cribben
Rating: Not Rated (strong graphic violence involving children, language, and a rape scene)




What's It About?

The film follows the inhabitants of a small rural town in New Jersey whose children are disappearing at an alarming rate and whose adults are simultaneously being killed in a ritualistic fashion. It is revealed early on that the kids are being inducted into a cannibalistic cult that live in the woods. The cult is somehow inspired or influenced by the legendary tales from the Old English epic poem Beowulf. (from Wikipedia)

Film Review

BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY has always been a video store staple. I remember seeing it on the shelf at countless video stores throughout my life and even rented it once or twice with the intention of watching it. I never did, until today.

Why are there not more people talking about this film? I mean, there are countless YouTube channels that “specialize” in “crappy” films and the only one I have seen talk about is Whang! I would have thought that some of the bigger channels like Red Letter Media would have covered this, but no. No one really has. Why is that? Probably because the film was released by Troma. We have all of these bad movie channels who claim to be experts on the subject, but they never cover Troma films. When it comes to “bad movies”, Troma has a ton in their catalog. But these channels never cover them and if they do, it’s in passing or they cover THE TOXIC AVENGER or CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH.

BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY is a film that is very notorious because the audience at Cannes who saw a trailer, not the film but a trailer, walked out of the theater. This happened in the mid 90s, so it’s pretty believable. I haven’t seen this trailer that made audience members run for the exits, but the film is pretty shocking.

Well, for the late 80s that is.

The film is about an hour and a half long and nothing really happens for the first hour and twenty minutes. We have our lead, who is a writer, who has moved to a small town and he knows the sheriff because they served in Vietnam together. The sheriff’s daughter has gone missing along with quite a few children from the town. No one seems to care though. They aren’t even trying to find these kids. Anyway, the sheriff’s other daughter is taken and this means action needs to be taken. The author and the sheriff slowly discover what is going on and it is up to the author to stop it.

So, what is going on? Someone is kidnapping these kids and brainwashing them with BEOWULF. They have become cannibals and eat whoever they kill. They live in the woods, and in the scene leading up to the shocking ending, the author goes to find them and does. It takes him like five minutes and he has found where the kids are and tries to save them.

Then the shocking ending happens.

The townspeople have followed the author to where the kids are, and after shooting the unarmed author in the head, brutally murder all the kids in the camp. There is no reasoning with the townspeople for they too have been brainwashed by a farmer. The killings are pretty graphic (for the time) and are still kind of shocking today. Then the film ends.

I went into this film not really knowing anything about it outside of what I had read, which was very little. I knew that Troma released it and that they had claimed that audience members walked out during a viewing of the trailer, but there had to be more to the film. At the end of the day, BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY is a bad film. The acting is some of the worst out there and the dialogue is either exposition or characters spouting out “wisdom” about how people’s faith can be used against them. There is a character who is a bible salesman. The main character meets him on the side of the road and he spends the next few minutes talking about how he is the number one bible salesman because the people of the town where the rest of the film takes place will buy anything that has anything to do with God. We can tell he is being set up to be a victim because he says “goddamn” all the time. I mean, ALL THE TIME. I don’t think that there is a sentence that comes out of this guy’s mouth that does not contain that word. The filmmakers clearly find this funny, but it is so badly done that it goes beyond being funny, landing in the annoying area.

There are other things that I found really weird. Dialogue is said as if the person is reading it off an off-screen card or was just told the dialogue right before shooting. There are also dialogue exchanges that made me laugh uncontrollably. In one scene, the author is talking with his wife and the sheriff (i think). They are trying to figure out what is going on with these kids and their chanting (the kids chant whenever they kill someone). The author says the chant a few times with his wife seemingly recognizing something:
Wife: That sounds like something out of Beowulf!

Author: Beowulf?

Wife: Yeah. You know, the Anglo-Saxon classic.

Who the fuck talks like this. I am not expecting world-class, Tarantino-like dialogue in a film about a tribe of kidnapped, killer kids, but I am expecting them to sound like real people and not robots thinking they are human.

The filmmaking is off too. There are scenes that go on forever or shots that don’t know when to end. The filmmaking is so bad at points that my wife noticed it and she never notices things like this. The film is fun in a bad movie way, but watching it by yourself might make you think it is the worst thing ever made and thus not have any fun. It is worth checking out even if for the ending, which is something to behold.


Presented in the film's original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY looks great. This is the first time the film has been available on home video in it's OAR and I also think it is the first time the film has been remastered. Colors are vibrant, detail is impressive, and skin tones are accurate. Gone red faces and piss yellows of the old DVD. It is a shame that it has taken this long for the film to get the attention it deserves but I am glad it finally happened. The audio is nice too with a good DTS-HD MA mix. 


Commentary with director Mik Cribben This is a pretty good track. Cribben has some good stories to tell.
"Why I Don't Have Children" (51m 6s, HD, 1.78:1) A making-of documentary featuring interviews with the cast and crew. It seems like everyone involved at fun making this film. They all speak very highly of the director and all have a few amusing stories to tell. The composer talks about his inspirations for the film and the everyone talks about the film's release and how they discovered it after all these years.
Brand new interview with Mik Cribben (15m 32s, HD, 1.78:1) He speaks highly of his cast and crew and his stories are really great. His story of how the film came to be with Troma is short but sweet.
Archival interview with Mik Cribben (3m 54s, SD, 1.33:1) Talks about how he got the money from investors for a different film.  He owned all the camera equipment and he speaks briefly on how he saved money on the production.

Except for the archival interview with Mik Cribben, none of the special features from the decades old Troma DVD are here. The film's trailer is also missing. With the stories of how audience members left in the middle of the trailer for this film. It should be on here. That is the second most famous thing about this film. It could be that Troma doesn't have a film print of the trailer and the only version of the trailer is a standard definition version and Vinegar Syndrome didn't want it. That wouldn't make any sense because the archival interview is in standard definition so that theory is out the window. Oh well. It would've been really cool if it were here.

BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY comes house the type of slipcover that Vinegar Syndrome has become known for. The artwork is pretty striking, although I would have loved to have the original theatrical poster on the slipcover, but that's ok. The slipcover is limited to 5,000. The clear blu-ray case is next with reversible artwork featuring the slipcover artwork on one side and the film's original theatrical poster on the other side. 


BEWARE! CHILDREN AT PLAY is the type of bad movie that anyone can get into. I know that it carries the Troma logo, so that is going to be a turn off for some people, but it shouldn't. This is a bad movie through and through and there is a lot of enjoyment to get out of it. I am so glad that this film finally got the love it deserves. 




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