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Children of Darkness (1983)

| Documentary
A significant number of American children and teenagers - from all social backgrounds - suffer from mental disorders, schizophrenia, autism and emotional problems, leading them to isolation... See full summary »
Nominated for 1 Oscar. See more awards »


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Credited cast:
John Brooks ...
Himself - Child Care Worker
Billy Calhoun ...
Mary Calhoun ...
Herself - Billy's Mother
Gerald Davidson ...
Himself - Elan Psychiatrist (as Dr. Gerald Davidson)
Alice Dunn ...
Herself - Elan Therapist
Kenneth Kaufman ...
Himself - Director of Treatment Services New York State Hospital (as Kenneth Kaufman Ph.D.)
Richard Kotuk ...
Reporter (voice)
Brian Mcanally ...
Jim Mcanally ...
Joseph Ricci ...
Himself - Elan Executive Director
Peter Thomas ...
Narrator (voice)
Mark Williams ...
Himself - Child Care Worker


A significant number of American children and teenagers - from all social backgrounds - suffer from mental disorders, schizophrenia, autism and emotional problems, leading them to isolation from society while treating their issues in mental health facilities. But there's no end in sight for those young individuals when they face obstacles and mistreatments in inadequate places under the supervision of careless and inexperienced professionals. The documentary follows some of those public mental institutions and another private center dealing with troubled kids and reveals what's wrong with their procedures, and the irreparable harm they cause in those patients. Written by Rodrigo Amaro

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User Reviews

17 March 2014 | by (São Paulo, Brazil) – See all my reviews

Scarrier than many horror films I've ever seen, the real life tragedies and dramas viewed in "Children of Darkness" are a depressive tour-de-force into the corridors of psychiatric institutions dedicated to young patients, children and teenagers who early in life are put up against the most difficult of problems: the loss of their minds with mental disorders, schizophrenia, autism, and other emotional issues. And as if wasn't enough to deal with prejudice from society, living far from their families - who most of the time can't raise them properly or sometimes those kids are left behind in those places - they have to face poor treatments on the hands of disastrous and unprofessional doctors.

The movie enters three different institutions: the first one is an almost adequate facility, overcrowded with patients and with a small staff that can't help those kids properly. There isn't a psychiatrist there to listen to their problems; there's a bunch of workers who manage in doing the best they can while dealing with paranoid schizophrenics and their constant attacks on themselves and other people. Here we follow some of the kids and their truly hopeless stories. Of the group, this institution is the least problematic.

Now, the second place seems a little misplaced from the movie but it's not and the director proves his point. It's a place called ELAN, a sort of shock treatment for fortunate rebellious teenagers who are sent there by their parents before they cause more trouble or end up in jail or dead. The kids there are shoplifters, drug users, violent individuals and there's some suffering with depression or other emotional problems - and those last ones shouldn't be there at all. What ELAN does is more harmful, unethical and insane than real mental institutions. Their "treatment" consists of veteran guests harassing and yelling at the newcomers until they expose their wrongdoings, severe punishments to those who attempt to escape such as beatings (not shown in the movie but mentioned), put those fugitives to stay on a dumpster for hours under surveillance of a veteran, and if this one allows them to escape, he's punished as well. The place is an awful business that exploits desperate rich parents who don't know how to deal with their sons. ELAN's director appears fully confident that his institution is excellent and helps kids, and a simple jump into the future to see that it's not the case: one of the residents featured here was Amy Sedaris' sister, who years later committed suicide. For the record, ELAN has closed down a few years ago after many controversies involving their "treatments".

And we close with the third facility, a mental hospital in New York, whose staff under the name of a prominent (and still active) doctor, were accused of murdering several kids. The movie follows three cases, all similar in the way that procedures weren't followed, the staff ignored the patients and they died suffocated in their straight-jackets. Too bad the movie only mentioned future investigations on those and other cases, and I couldn't find much of what happened, if someone got blamed for the murders - all I know is Dr. Jonathan Katz is still practicing.

"Children of Darkness" remains in the dark, almost unseen and little known, yet it shines a powerful light on an overlooked issue. It's cute and good to see when "Girl Interrupted" or "AHS" presents those themes but reality doesn't get near the horror, the suffering and the desolation of every single kid presented here, young and full of life but already with shattered minds and with no cure in sight to many of their problems, neglected by almost everyone around there. Extremely hard to watch (the beginning, mostly) but it's important that you do. We need to be aware of those people, their difficulties, and learn about places who offer their best care and treatment to the ones we know and love in this situation. 10/10

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