Friday, October 23, 2009

31 DAYS OF FRIGHT: Golly Mom, Don't Be Such a Pooper

It's been 20 or more years since I've watched the original version of THE STEPFORD WIVES and I've never seen any of the sequels (REVENGE OF THE STEPFORD WIVES, THE STEPFORD HUSBANDS), spoofs (THE BREASTFORD WIVES) or the 2004 remake with Matthew Broderick and Nicole Kidman. But thanks to its familiarity as pop culture shorthand, even the most rudimentary knowledge of the backstory is all you'll need to enjoy the trash-lite made-for-TV schlock of THE STEPFORD CHILDREN.

Like Ira Levin's WIVES source novel (written for the screen by William Goldman), CHILDREN features a family moving to the quiet little town of Stepford, Connecticut. Thanks to the late 80s setting, the high school-aged kids are cast as new wave miscreants, complete with a (gasp!) denim vest on David (Randall Batinkoff) and giant Jersey mall hair on Mary (Tammy Lauren of WISHMASTER), who hangs with a group of "punks" straight out of a DEATH WISH sequel casting call. Fed up with the noise and crime of the city - not to mention David's need to drink milk straight from the carton! - Dad (Don Murray) packs everybody off to his old hometown where his first wife died 18 years earlier.

Initially, Mom (Barbara Eden) is on board with the plan and even chastises the kids for being so selfish and hurting their father's feelings about the move. But she's no blonde bimbo and it isn't long before things like the school's lack of a PTA and the robotic non-personalities of the town's women and children start to raise her suspicions.

Naturally, Dad is quick to reunite with his buddies in the Stepford Mens' Association, including Lawrence Danton (Richard Anderson aka TV's Oscar Goldman) and former football star Dick Butkus, cast here as basketball coach Tom Wilcox. Anderson is suitably sinister as the organization's mastermind, pressuring Dad to keep wifey and kids in line... lest we have a repeat of that nastiness from 18 years ago.

Like I said, a little familiarity with the Stepford storyline goes a long way and the first hour takes its good old time getting going. You know why all the kids are polite, robotic creeps and all the moms are cheerful sex toys for their hubbies. But once David, his rebellious galpal Lois (Debbie Barker) and Mary crash the dance and short-circuit the teen robots with their rock and roll, the pace quickens. Lois' escape from her father's clutches goes awry, a rush job on Mary's "replacement" goes haywire and it's up to Jeanie, er, Mom and David to save the day.

I wish the copy I got my hands on was of a little better quality, especially during the final scenes when Mom and the kids square off against Dad and his over-sexed cronies. The newfangled replacements being grown in the lab look pretty creepy for an 80s tv movie and reminded me more than a little of the Hank and Dean clones from THE VENTURE BROS.

I've always had a soft spot in my trash-loving heart for stuff like this. Quite frankly, the made-for-tv shlockfest is a lost art and you could do far worse than paying a visit to THE STEPFORD CHILDREN.

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