Beware! Children At Play Like You've Never Seen Before

I know it's just March, but I think we may have found the biggest upgrade of the year.  Now, to earn that title really relies on two factors: first, of course, a beautiful transfer that exceeds expectations and all previous editions.  But then, if we're honest, a pretty terrible precursor.  Like, even if Warner Bros releases the world's most beautiful UHD of A Nightmare On Elm St. (and seriously, why haven't they already?), it still wouldn't be a contender, because the existing blu is still pretty respectable.  Not exactly cutting edge 4k, but still a good looking blu.  To elicit viewers to really exclaim, "wow, what a difference," you need the extra advantage of following up something awful.  But that's fair, because it means you're really filling a need.  Like, do we really need another edition of Carpenter's Halloween?  Sure, the mono track could use a good remastering, and maybe they could encode it slightly better.  But the options we already have are pretty strong.  That sure wasn't the case with Beware! Children At Play before Vinegar Syndrome stepped in.
As a long time owner of Troma's DVD, I never imagined this film could look this goodnd the movie looking this good has raised it overall in my estimation.  I believe I've mentioned before that children are my favorite movie monster, so this movie was always going to be in my collection no matter what.  A thoroughly nutty plot with Jersey kids going psycho in the woods?  Sold!  So what if it's a thoroughly no budget junker with terrible acting and no technical merits?  It's no Who Can Kill a Child? or The Children... or even The Children, playing more like MST3K fare than a proper film.  There's a reason this film resides in the house of Troma.  But it's chock full of over-the-top kills, aspirations to medieval poetry and possibly the most deliriously, bloody climax in cinema history, at least in concept.  I had to have it.
But while the performances and costumes (Farmer Braun's fake grey hair and beard were a heck of a choice) are still just waiting to be Rifftrax'd, seeing this film restored, I take back the "no technical merits."  This film was shot on 35mm, and holy crap, is there steadycam in this thing?  Seeing this film matted into its proper widescreen shows that this film wasn't just mindlessly composed to fit the action into the shot; actual care was taken.  It's certainly a flawed, very low budget film, but once you start to see the qualities, you start to realize even some of the unintentional yucks the film provided were actually intentional.  Well, sometimes at least.  And yeah, Troma bought this film and has been distributing it since day 1, but it's not a Troma original.  So isn't mired in that hopelessly juvenile, everything is a Second Grader's dirty joke nature.  It's a silly horror film, sure, and a major part of its charm is its total irreverence regarding its child characters, but this isn't a "Troma movie."
Troma first put this out pretty early, back in 1998, just two years after their VHS release.  Even their tape was a special Tromatic edition, with an introduction by Toxie and the Tromettes.  Their DVD dove even deeper into all that craziness with a ton of Troma clips (though not the Toxie intro), but just barely improved on the VHS; you could certainly be forgiven for believing the film was shot on video.  So Vinegar Syndrome's new 2022 Blu-ray is a total transformation, and a loaded special edition to boot.
1998 Troma DVD top; 2022 Vinegar Syndrome BD bottom.
I mean, just look at this.  Where to start?  The ugly red hue cast over the whole picture, that VS thankfully cleaned up?  The nasty interlacing, which again, really made the old transfer look like a video tape source?  Of course, that's gone now, too, revealing some really deep colors and fine, photo realistic detail.  It's like night and day.  There are still some wonky moments, including a wildly out of focus overhead shot; but that's down to the movie, not the home video transfer, which is scanned in 2k from the 35mm original camera negative.  About the only good thing you can say for the DVD is that it's at least open matte rather than pan & scanned or just cropped to 1.31:1.  Although even then, VS's matting doesn't just restore the proper 1.85:1 framing to reveal the intended compositions, it actually does reveal a little more picture that had been shaved off of both sides.

Naturally, both discs just offer the original English mono, but VS clears it of a lot of hisses and hum while upgrading it to DTS-HD.  They've also included optional English subtitles for the first time.
Now, like I said, Troma's DVD is packed with stuff... just not much about the actual movie.  There's "the first ever interactive Tour of Troma Studios," and a bunch of odds and ends.  It's sometimes a little hard to discern which clips are part of the tour or not, but basically it's a whole ton of tongue-in-cheek video clips.  See the staff throw their papers in the air in their offices, Ron Jeremy interview an actress, a model perform various strip teases, and of course plenty of Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman.  There are trailers and sometimes just random snippets from their films, like a 30 second clip from The Class Of Nuke 'Em High.  But they do have a tiny bit pertaining to what we're actually here for, specifically the trailer and a four minute interview with the director.
Beware! Troma at play
Well, for whatever reason, VS lost the trailer, but they did hang onto that interview.  It's really just for collector's, though, because they also conducted a brand new interview with the director which covers everything he said in the old clip plus a lot more.  And he provides an audio commentary, but oh boy, I'd skip it if I were you.  It's 95% dead air.  At one point, I timed over eight minutes between one single sentence and another.  And that's not me cherry picking the most egregious example; that's just the time I finally decided, "this is madness!" and that timing a break was the only thing that hold my attention long enough to stay in my seat for the excruciating experience.  Although, to be fair, I have to say that there were a two or three points where, when he did speak, he actually dropped an interesting anecdote or observation that you won't find in any of the other extras.  But you'll have to work your way through an awful lot of awkward silence.
But don't get dishearted.  There's also a terrific, nearly hour-long documentary, which interviews a bunch of the cast, the composer and the special effects guys.  They found several of the kids now grown up, and everybody has great memories to share.  It's funny, but it's not just them taking the piss.  If anything, you'll probably come out of it appreciating Beware even more.  This doc is a treasure, and combined with the new director interview, more than takes care of all our fanboy needs.

VS's blu also includes reversible artwork and a limited edition slipcover with the first 5,000 copies.
So there you go.  It's just early March, but I'll be surprised if we see a greater leap in quality between releases this year than we just have.  I'm sure we'll see better looking releases; there are some exciting 4k UHDs I'm looking forward to.  But none of them fill as big a need as this.  Heck, most of 'em are just UHDs of the same 4k restorations released on 1080p blu a couple years ago.  But this one, boy, I had no idea how much Beware! Children At Play was dying for a restoration before I saw it.  It's actually kind of a real movie.

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