Loren McWilliams and his sister Abby were both proud of their illustrious military careered father as well as adoring him immensely. When the teenagers’ parents set off toward Washington D.C. to receive a commendation from the President after foiling a terrorist hostage situation, Loren and Abby felt like the luckiest kids alive, but that all quickly changed with a phone call, announcing a deadly accident that killed both their parents. Somber in disbelief, Loren and Abby decide to take up on an offer from their uncle Eddie and aunt Fay who own a gas station and a joint rinky-dink amusement park in Glenby, Florida in hopes to whet the appetites of thrill seeking tourist right before hitting the major league theme parks of Disney. Settling into a new school system is relatively easy for the siblings who’ve often been use to moving from location-to-location with their father in military service, but acclimating to the local drug pusher, Dutra, along with his entourage of subversive delinquents, has placed a target on their backs. A cat and mouse game over dominance ensues with an unreasonable Dutra unable to ever settle the score until his complete satisfaction in punishing the new kids in town has been sated, even if that means Loren and Abby, and those close to them, have to fight for their very lives.
“The New Kids,” aka “Striking Back,” is a horrifying suspense thriller from the original “Friday the 13th” director Sean S. Cunningham and penned by the father of Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal, Stephen Gyllenhaal, and “Visiting Hours” screenwriter, Brian Taggert. Instead of a lurking serial killer stalking and massacring half-naked and carefree camp counselor teens on a secluded camp ground, Cunningham tackles felonious teenagers wreaking havoc on popular outsiders treading on their drug turf, especially those who give a good fight back. “The New Kids” bombards every scene with caustic, no-good trouble and when push comes to shove, the only rational is to give the razor-edge scrap right back in a serrated do or die narrative.
Before the face of the collegiate admission scandal and before being the beloved onscreen mother to twins fathered by Uncle Jess on “Full House,” Lori Loughlin co-stars with Shannon Presby as on the defensive Abby and Loren. Presby slightly overshadows Loughlin as a stronger character or presence on screen. Loren continuously evolves through the storyline beginning as a well-rounded, cool-headed, optimistic son who recently lost his parents and then blossoms through bullying and violence as a mad dog protecting what’s his – family. Abby staggers quite precariously and never quite finds her footing in the grand scheme of things other than being a passive victim of Dutra and his gang. Even the contrast between Loren and Abby’s respective love interests is lopsided as Loren and his girlfriend (“Silent Madness’” Paige Price) dominate the dynamically in comparison to Abby and an underused and very youthful looking Eric Stotlz (“The Prophecy”). The real stud of “The New Kids” is a young, slim James Spader (“Wolf” and “The Blacklist”). Pure platinum blonde hair topping piercing eyes with a pinch of a Boston accent really brought out the villain in Spader in one of his very first feature films. Many other familiar faces in the cast, some familiar amongst horror fans, including John Philbin (“Return of the Living Dead”), the late Eddie Jones (“C.H.U.D.”), and the legendary Tom Atkins (“The Fog” and “Halloween III”) in a brief role. The remaining cast round out with Vince Grant, David MacDonald, Theron Montgomery, Lucy Martin, and Jean De Baer.
On the surface, “The New Kids” might seem polar opposite to Cunningham’s franchise birthing “Friday the 13th” series, but if looking with a keen eye, Cunningham has slapped and slathered his style all over the bullying barraging thriller. Techniques such as the camera focusing on feet that come out from hiding, the sudden appearance of people behind objects, and the menacing atmosphere of being watched are sensationalized characteristics of his camper slasher flick. Also, though the soundtrack is akin to the likes of Harry Manfredini, it was actually composed by the renowned Lalo Schilfrin who more than like was given precise instructions from Cunningham to compose a companion like score with a twist of a new kind of fear.
Mill Creek Entertainment presents Columbia Pictures’ “The New Kids” onto a Blu-ray home video with a widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The region A release on a BD25 has a well preserved transfer with little to no damaging issues and lots of good, wholesome natural grain speckling on the solid and wide range color palate. Even the darker scenes have pronounced definition so nothing is obscured from the viewer. The English language DTS-HD Master Audio track is quite robust with no sings of hissing or crackling during the entire 90 minute runtime. Even with Loren is whispering to Dutra in an intense claustrophobic and apprehensive scene, Loren is audible and understood, completing a dialogue friendly release with a, as aforementioned, a baleful score by Lalo Schilfrin. English SDH subtitles are also included. Unfortunately, there are no bonus features on this release; however, the retro style slipcover, where the VHS tape looks to be protruding from the VHS box, is a nice tough by Mill Creek Entertainment, especially with the faux wear around the edges and on the facade. For director Sean S. Cunningham, “The New Kids” steered clear of being a Voorhees repeat, but was certainly a recapitulation of Cunningham’s strong suits and with a strong, confident cast, “The New Kids” is sorely understated and overshadowed and I’m personally pleased that Mill Creek Entertainment delivered a Blu-ray release to the U.S. even if there are no bonus features.