WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN (1986) An adaptation of a Mary Higgins Clark novel designed to cash-in on 80s kidnapping hysteria.

wherearethechildren_poster01Theme Song: Lots of emotive violins and tympani drums.

Interesting Dated References: Being a white guy who is excited about The Boston Celtics having a basketball game.

Best Line: All nonsensical yelling and dialogue delivered by Frederic Forrest.

Social Context: A long time ago (1984), children used to get “kidnapped.” Parents were terrified their kids would be “kidnapped” and returned or never returned. I remember spending the majority of my childhood being terrified this would happen to me. If my sister and I saw the same car drive down our street twice while we were outside playing, we would immediately tell our mom. This is what the 80s where about: Paralyzing your children with fear so they wouldn’t ever do anything exceptional. That’s why to this day I’m never friendly to anyone.

Back then everyone was under some sort of pretense that when you got kidnapped you were later returned unsodomized to your home. This idea differs greatly from the modern day concept of kidnapping, which has been renamed abduction and usually involves sodomy, some form of dismemberment, and a ditch. I don’t think it happened that way in the 80s, or perhaps they weren’t reporting on it as much back then. Anyway, typically the term “kidnapping” infers some type of eventual return.

Summary: Where Are the Children? is an adaptation of a Mary Higgins Clark suspense novel. By the time this adaptation came out, this book was already 10 years old, but since kidnapping was at the forefront of every mother’s mind in 1983, we get this plodding, overacted adaptation.

After a 20-minute scene of two unsupervised children bickering as they fish, we finally see their mother (Jill Clayburgh) call them in for lunch. I’m guessing she and her husband don’t work, because they spend the rest of the day lying around in leaves and playing football. Apparently this is some type of idyllic family setting, if one doesn’t factor in the sniper who is watching them.


The next day the family eats some more. Apparently Clayburgh’s husband (Max Gail) likes to go to his job (assuming he has one) looking like some type of nutty professor caricature. Across town we see the always awesome Frederic Forrest speaking with a child. Back at the Clayburgh homestead (the actual character names aren’t important), the little boy rakes leaves while the little girl begs him to go swinging. Aren’t children annoying? They are super inconsiderate and all they care about is eating and being materialistic and the only time they are nice is when they want something.

So while Clayburgh is taking a shower, her two annoying kids are abducted by Forrest. He’s really high-tech, too, because he had some type of tranquilizing dart. Clayburgh runs around outside shouting her kids’ names for 20 minutes.


Then she finally gets it through her head that her kids are gone and she jumps into the pond. Just then her husband returns home because he doesn’t seem to have regular hours at his job as a nutty professor impersonator. This whole time there’s some type of mysterious guy wandering around the property. The cops show up, one of who is Clifton James (Carr the Floor Walker in Cool Hand Luke).

Through a ridiculously convoluted series of events involving a stoned radio disc jokey, it is revealed Clayburgh is actually some chick from California who was convicted of murdering her two children, but was then released on a technicality. Police and the media catch the story and the whole quaint New England town goes ape shit.


Meanwhile, Forrest has the kids holed up in a giant old mansion. He acts awesome and entertains the kids. At one point he kicks a piano stool around and threatens the kids by telling them they won’t get any more jelly beans.


For some reason he also checks himself out in the mirror. The pacing on this movie is grueling. I’m trying to figure out what’s up with Forrest’s career. It makes no sense he’s always been a minor role type of guy. I’m wondering if One from the Heart tanking had a lot to do with it. I remember when I was in like 8th grade and watched Apocalypse Now for the first time, I couldn’t get enough of him as Chef talking about the gray meat.

As the plot progresses, a realtor comes to check out the giant house inside of which Forrest is holed up. He acts suspicious, but keeps the kids hidden. The cops also come to the conclusion the mysterious guy who was wandering around when the kids disappeared is a dude involved with the previous murder case in California. Clayburgh reveals her former husband (who killed himself after the previous child murdering trial) used to make her dress up as a kid. We then see a picture of said dead husband and realize it’s Frederic Forrest.


A bunch more drawn out, not suspenseful things happen, there is lots of bad child acting, more Clayburgh emotive dialogue, some yelling policeman, and lots and lots of rain. Annoying amounts of rain. Levels of rain that don’t seem to have any relevance to the plot.

The cops and Clayburgh eventually figure out where the kids are and they all separately descend on the old mansion. The final big reveal is that Forrest is her former non-dead husband and that he killed the original kids. He climbs up on the roof and then falls off into the lake. Everyone is reunited and it seems like they couldn’t end this film fast enough since the credits start rolling as action still goes on during the reunion.

Poster and Box Art: There’s nothing to say about this poster. Credit due for still being a painting even though it was 1986.

Availability: Used VHS on Amazon.

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