Every Once In a While, They Still Get It Right: The Children

Not every deliciously nasty killer kids movie dates back to the 70s and 80s.  Sure, that was the apex, when The Bad Seed grew teeth and cult films were at their grittiest; but if you're not already familiar, please allow me to introduce you to 2008's The Children.  Many horror hounds may've passed over it because it's part of Sam Raimi's largely disappointing line of Ghost House Underground films.  Apart from Raimi's own Drag Me To Hell, even their more lavishly produced theatrical line of Ghost House Pictures have mostly fallen somewhere between mediocre and embarrassing, so fans should be forgiven for not panning through every single one of their goofy DTV titles to find an elusive gold nugget.  But here one is.
Of course, Raimi had nothing creatively to do with this film.  The Children is a British film, which Ghost House just scooped up to distribute in the US.  And it also has no connection to 1980's The Children apart from the shared title and fitting into the same creepy subgenre.  That Children is campy, demented fun with grown men chopping the hands off radioactive tots so they don't receive lethal hugs that turn adults to dust.  This is an earnest, and more successfully disturbing horror story that embraces the drama and moral challenges raised when a few parents have to decide what to do when their innocent babes slowly turn unmanageably violent.  Monsters and psychos can be ethically done away with quite mercilessly, and even in zombie films the protagonists usually deduce rather quickly that their loved ones are genuinely deceased and can be shot in the head with maybe some nostalgic anguish, but no moral quandary.  But you can't really retaliate against your own little children.  And this film adds the extra complication of a teenager, untrusted and adrift somewhere between the two factions.
It's also a Christmas movie!  And you can never have too many quality Christmas horror flicks.  It's written and directed by Tom Shankland, whose career has since diverted into prestige television (The Leftovers, House of Cards, etc).  He made one horror feature previously, the somewhat promising but ultimately silly WAZ, but this is a marked improvement, making one long for the day he finds his way back to a third endeavor.  He strikes a nice balance between a slow burn, as the kids gradually turn against their families while still keeping a gripping, tight pace.  This isn't one of those horror thrillers where nothing juicy happens until the last act, but it's also one of those rare horror films that doesn't lose sight of its emotional core for the sake of following its premise to its schlockiest logical conclusions.  There's some solid gore with well crafted special effects, but Shankland never forgets that each scene is first about the characters and performance.  Admittedly, most of the adults feel like they've been plucked directly from Central Casting, and it's obviously a challenge to draw true menace and gravitas out of a pack of toddlers during a short shooting schedule.  The ending could've stood to be a little more personal rather than grandiose, but overall this is incredibly effective, and Shankland makes it all work far better than anyone has a right to expect.  Every time I revisit this film, I'm pleasantly surprised.
2008 Lions Gate DVD top; 2008 Lions Gate BD bottom.
Now, when a label (in this case Lions Gate) releases the same movie on DVD and BD at the same time, you don't expect many surprises when doing a comparison.  The same identical transfer, struck from the same DCP, except softened up for SD on the DVD and looking crisper on the blu...  That last part's certainly true, but here's something interesting: the blu is in 1.85:1, but the DVD is 1.83:1.  Now, that's no big deal, right?  The DVD is probably ever-so-slightly squished; we've certainly seen that before.  But no, look at those caps.  The DVD is zoomed further out, revealing a noteworthy amount of information along all four sides.  I can only guess that the BD is more likely to be correct purely by virtue of it being the BD, where more care ought to have been taken... maybe?  I realize that's pretty thin, but honestly, what else is there to go on?  It's very odd.

Anyway, assuming the AR's right, the blu's pretty solid.  And even if it's not, look at those screenshots - it's not exactly a disaster either way; both framings look pretty fine.  According to the imdb, this film was shot on 35mm (as opposed to digital), and assuming that's correct (not always the safest bet, relying on imdb info), then it could look better.  Grain isn't explicitly retained, like, at all.  But as a lesser known, lower budget 2000s film whose time has come and gone, I wouldn't hold my breath for a 4k restoration.  As it is, the HD is certainly a nice improvement over the DVD, and the 5.1 mix is presented in lossless DTS-HD on the blu.  Optional English - both standard and SDH - and Spanish subtitles are also included on both editions.
Ghost House hasn't given us the fully decked out special edition we expect for our cult favorites, but there is a decent little extras package here.  We get a few interlaced deleted scenes including an extended ending (the shorter one already on the film is better, but it's interesting to see what they were considering) and five behind-the-scenes featurettes, which don't quite add up to a full-on documentary, but provide considerably more substance than your basic EPK piece.  There's also the trailer, some "micro videos" (partial heavy metal songs set to clips from Ghost House Underground films) and a series of bonus trailers that play on start-up.  A director's commentary would've rounded out the package nicely, but c'est la vie.
So if you're looking for a worthwhile modern horror movie you may've overlooked, another rare entry in the rather select killers kids genre, or just a respectably grisly Christmas horror flick, Ghost House surprisingly delivered.  And it's the kind of disc you can pick up nice and cheap now that it's gotten a little old, plus that are similar editions released in nearly every region, though this one's already region free.  Treat yourself!

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