The Wednesday Children (1973)
One of the best things about researching regional horror films is that I occasionally come across a movie that not only have I never heard of, nobody else has either. So I was pretty excited when I saw that, as part of their "Endangered List" project, the folks over at the Temple of Schlock recently posted some info on an obscure Ohio film called The Wednesday Children.
I'd never heard of The Wednesday Children before, so I was quite surprised to see that it had been written and directed by one of my old professors at Kent State, Robert West. When I knew him, West was a member of the radio/TV department -- tall, stooped, wearing owl-like glasses and something of an eccentric, he handled most of the film classes, including a Cult Films course that I took my sophomore year. (I wonder how my parents would have reacted if they knew I'd spent some of my hard-earned tuition dollars to watch Flesh Gordon unspool one quiet Saturday afternoon.)
When this film was made, West was a program manager at Cleveland radio station WJW and a prof at John Carroll University. He was also a Universalist-Unitarian minister (he also plays a minister in the film), which would at least partly explain why this film so closely resembles the low-budget Christian films made during the same period.
Robert D. West
Intrigued, I did a quick Google search and discovered that not only did The Wednesday Children still exist, it had recently played on the Wadsworth public access cable station. I took a chance, sent an email to the station management, and within a week had a copy of this regional rarity spinning in my DVD player. (A big "Thank you" to Johanna Perrino at WCTV for providing a copy of the film.)
The film was produced by Wadsworth native Homer Baldwin. Baldwin, by the way, was a former mailman who later became a cable commissioner and producer for WCTV, which explains why the film is in their library. You can read his obituary here. When Baldwin was 40, he enrolled in cinematography courses and started his own film company in Wadsworth while working as a custodian at Wadsworth High. His office was at the school was next to both the AV department and Time Warner Cable's access studio, and Baldwin soon began taping school events and creating programming for the cable station. In the 1980s, he played a key role in getting Time Warner to relinquish control of the studio to the city, launching WCTV in the process.
But back to The Wednesday Children. The plot: Young Scott Miller's parents have subjected him to the type of banal neglect that was common in the laissez-faire 1970s -- dad (Donald Murray) works long hours and seems to care more about his model airplanes than his son, while Scott's stepmother, played by Marji Dodril, is a bit of a nag and wears a wig (evidentally a sign of her duplicitousness). Enter Mr. Fenton (Al Miskell), the weird church janitor who meets secretly with the local children in an old barn and promises to teach them how to get rid of the adults in their lives using something called "transference."
Although he's supposed to be diabolical (and more than just a bit creepy, what with his hanging out in barns with a bunch of little kids), Mr. Fenton's spiel is closer to the type of New Age claptrap you could hear from the streetcorner gurus of the era -- and exactly the type of stuff that so alarmed the likes of Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham.
Mr. Fenton - standard bearer for creepy janitors
This really isn't quite a horror film. The bulk of The Wednesday Children is the type of didactic, "are you listening to this important life lesson I'm giving you" stuff you'd find in a run-of-the-mill relgious movie of the time -- don't be such a self-absorbed jerk and spend more time with your kids, otherwise they will fall under the sway of diabolical, humanist hippies. (The scenes of Mrs. Miller wandering desperately through the abandoned streets of Wadsworth bring to mind Russ Doughten's The Thief in the Night.) But then there's the wacky climax.
If The Wednesday Children followed the pattern of the cautionary Christian films of the period, it could have ended any number of ways: A final act of selfless parental love could have saved everyone, or Mrs. Miller might have woken up in one of those "it was all a dream" cop-out endings, or Mr. Fenton and his minions might have triumphed, provding a lesson to lax parents everywhere.
But the last ten minutes or so definitely veer into horror territory, with all the kids swarming various adults while making sieg-heil salutes in order to magically “transfer” them somewhere; the father storming into a barn and screaming at the sight of .... something kept off camera; the mother frantically running around the empty streets and discovering that all the adults have vanished, rapture-style.
And just when you think you’re either going to get a good dose of “this is what COULD happen if you Christians don’t tend your children” -- I'll issue a big SPOILER ALERT here if you think you'll ever watch this movie -- the terrible tykes give the evil janitor a taste of his own “transference” medicine, then run outside, ring the dinner bell and dance with joy in the front yard like they just stumbled into the climax of a Ray Dennis Steckler movie. The end.
Since my initial viewing, I've thought a lot about The Wednesday Children and the questions it leaves lingering the in minds of the audience -- like, what just happened? Why is that little boy wearing his mom’s wig? Who’s going to cook for these kids?
I don't know if I'll ever find the answers, but I've come to the conclusion that if anybody ever makes a prequel to The Children of the Corn, it will probably look a lot like The Wednesday Children.