Children of Darkness

Children of Darkness

1983, Health  -   67 Comments
Ratings: 8.42/10 from 114 users.

This is an Oscar nominated 1983 documentary film exploring the issue of mentally ill children and the institutions they lived in. The film not only exposed the abuse in mental institutions but it also educated people that mental illness can happen to anyone.

Hundred and sixty mentally ill and emotionally disturbed children lived at the Eastern State School and Hospital (now closed) in Trevose, Pennsylvania.

They were psychotic, schizophrenic; they suffered from organic brain damage and autism. Some were hyperactive, some totally withdrawn, some were suicidal. Many of the children at Eastern were chronically mentally ill and never saw what we see, heard what we hear, thought in ways we do. Eastern State was the largest children's state psychiatric hospital in America. Each child got food, mediation and a place to sleep.

For those who could benefit from it there was almost no one-to-one or any other form of psychotherapy. The major therapy at Eastern was drugs. Almost every child there was getting some form of psychotropic medication; medication that alters the brain's chemistry in an attempt to control psychotic behavior.

Another popular place for dealing with out-of-control teenagers was the private residential treatment center Elane (now also closed). If you broke one of the rules or your attitude wasn't right you get yelled at which was the main method of "therapy." The teenagers who went there were not mentally ill, psychiatric hospitals didn't work for them. They were alcoholics, drug addicts and drug pushers. They were teenagers who had victimized others and themselves.

The kids at Elan were almost all white, from upper-middle class and wealthy homes. Their parents paid more than $20,000 a year to send them there for treatment. But those were children who had acted out often violently against their parents. Day in, day out, life in Elan was constant confrontation and unrelenting pressure. The feelings and negative attitudes were broken down, dissected and torn apart. The idea was to change the children's behavior.

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67 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Cameron

    Anyone else just shocked by the way Autism Spectrum Disorders are depicted on this documentary?? I’m a speech therapist who’s been on a diagnostic team with kids/young adults on the spectrum and I was just completely blown away at how misunderstood and stigmatized Autism Spectrum Disorders were not even that long ago. I realize this documentary was written in the 1980s but goodness… Brain damage?? Virus that destroys the brain???? Come on people!!! My heart breaks for these kids on the documentary.

  2. Margaret

    I was there in 88 and 89 90

    1. Fufu

      Really? What was it like there? I like to do research on asylums, state hospitals, etc. It's ok if you don't wanna answer. I just really like to hear people's story though I do respect you and your comfort

  3. Liz

    Was anyone there in 1970s or 80s? Do you remember Dr. Jerome E Thompson?

    1. Julie Lewis

      It was hell. Just unspeakable that dark hole. And no one even cared what went on behind all that concrete.

    2. Julie Lewis

      I don't remember him. I had Miss Nora in unit 2. But after witnessing a girl beaten to death.....I couldn't even tell Miss Nora bc she asked why did DeeDee just suddenly disappear? But I was too scared to tell her. Most the staff were just assholes n probably there just to be a threat to us all. I hated that shit hole.

  4. Malcolm Mcewan

    Doctors of darkness more like, using people as experiments , they are scum and should be given a taste if their own barbaric treatment and left to rot,

  5. Lori Halderson

    Insanity is all mandated under the laws of the United Nations. The devil has taken the non-subjective scientific definition on this planet and turned it into a pure lie. Kensington, PA, the Irish baby concentration camps, the abomination mental institutes and other defiling concentration camps was all created to defile normal life with ungodly unneeded garb as an image of the devil. You are disgusting and that is why you hated the family and the creator of this planet...

  6. Greg Demeter

    I was there in 1975-76 and I ran away from there, when I was supposed to be there for 6 Months....I remember having a Guitar there too and their Psych Doctor told me that all I had was an Anger Problem, Ha! They had Dances there and it was Co-Ed we smoked Cigarettes and were given Thorzine....I was put in a Straight Jacket and Rubber 12 years old?! I was in those kinds of places for most of my Younger really was painful to go through and it really hurt my life.....Being subjected to so much Emotional rejection and pain, I had to learn how to grow up very fast...

  7. Steven

    I was there at the forensic unit locked down for over three years beating and drugged daily by doctor Camille and Dr wolf they didn't care strapped to a bed for days or locked in a room with a mat for days crazy once I turned eighteen transferred to Norristown hospital and a year later a free man only thing good was the teachers school made time fly by still have scars from the beatings but moved on and life goes on but vivid dreams haunt me daily

  8. Susan Wood

    It seems they don't teach this in college anymore ? The study of places like this still marks my memory.

  9. Jesse Cassidy

    I lived there for over 4 years and I was actually one of the last kids to leave when it shut down. It is my personal belief that this place was a large scale test facility for the pharmaceutical industry to test psychiatric medication on children who were wards of the state (which I was) with full immunity. The amount of times my medication was changed without good reason or before the current medication was allowed the time needed to actually have an effect is what substantiates my claim. Every couple days my medication was changed and this went on for years. I cannot tell you how many times I was physically assaulted via dangerous restraining techniques and 4 and 8 point restraint beds accompanied by shots of thorazine and lithium. Waking up with my hip and leg saturated with blood from them violently shaking the needle during injection.
    The amount of kids (myself included) I've personally witnessed having their faces rubbed into the rug while being restrained and not resisting which resulted in serious burns & scabbing to one whole side of the face was appalling.
    The majority of the staff that were relied upon to restrain the patients were early 20's to early 30's males who obviously had no credentials or proper training when it came to working with troubled and mentally disabled youth and a majority of them should have been brought up on charges of assault and battery with intent to maim and disfigure.
    I was told during one of my last days there "and remember I was one of the last ones to leave in 1996" by a business person that was on a tour of the facility which I believe was being led by Governor Tom Ridge that the property was sold to Boeing and that they planned on using the property as a place to test 1/4th size experimental aircraft.

    I am glad this place is gone.
    Good riddance.

    1. Tatjana

      Hey Jessie..How terrible for you and the many kids that experienced these atrocities. Im sure youll never forget what happened but I sure hope and pray your living a relatively peaceful and happy life. Soo awesome this place is gone...scary it even existed.
      Waves from Australia

  10. Arthur Garrett

    It is very amazing how almost 90% of you guys said that Eastern State School and hospital was pure hell after watching that video I was in eastern state school and Hospital between 1990 to 1995 my fiance was Yvonne farmer now Yvonne had manic depression and every time when she cut herself or try to harm herself the staff there in Jameson and Eddington always treated her with respect they made sure not to hurt her when they brought her to Eddington so for all you people who keep downgrading and making it seem like eastern state was such a bad place maybe you should have looked at yourself and thought what could have I done that could have made it better because from 1990 to 1995 none of that stuff was happening and I know because I was very popular in eastern state school and hospital with my friend Jason Conklin

    1. Julie Lewis

      Don't judge us by things you know nothing of. It's hard now to do anything about the horrible things that happened, even deaths,sex abuse. Who are you to judge others without a clue to what happened to alot of the kids there. And things witnessed. What do any of us have to gain anymore about sharing our reality realistic memories and experiences? Nothing at all. So til you know the real facts. You just insulted very very many people with your comment.
      No further comment, BECAUSE e yours really just offended and upset me.

    2. Amy struble

      my name is Amy struble and I lived at easternstate school and Hospital from 1986 to 1990. I had a good experience, maybe because I came from a very neglectful home. I was a ward of the state. I was on meds but very little. Miss celeste, and miss Alice were on my unit. (Unit 1). They practically raised me there and gave me the love and guidance I really needed. Alot of the staff there really cared about the kids there. Everything else aside, there was some good points about living there. Finally got dental care, got my first job while living there at neshaminy mall, felt loved by most staff, went on many day trips, and actually got married and had my only child by another patient I fell in love with there after I left. Amy Struble

    3. Jenn Bolyard

      Hey its me Jenn. I do have to agree with Jesse about the restraints. Not only did i witness but i experienced it my self and sad to say but so did Yvonne. It was ridiculous. Other people have also told me stories just like jesses here includong back then when we were there. Hell jesse would tell me personally.. We dated at one point. So yes i do believe this happend up on the units.. Cottages werent as bad but it still happend

    4. Liz

      Julie, do you remember psychologist, Dr. Jerome E Thompson?

  11. Jule Lewis

    I'm at this again ....I did not watch after I last commented. Been curled in a ball awhile now in tears squeezing my eyes because of my own memories and experinces. About Briam. I knew him there. And there's more to than what's shown. He was a very fun and nice kid. But it always seemed staff would single him out and provoke him. I was on Unit 2. He was in unit across from that did not have seclusion rooms. Unit 2 did. Often in evenings doors bagging loudly 5 , 6 , 7 males having half on the floor or carrying him face down to secluded him. I saw a young girl beaten by male and female staff in unit 2. Punching her in the head and twisting her , kicking her. One of my worst memories because the girl died hours later. And those staff walked around acted like it never happened. No remorse , nothing. It was a place of terrible violence and abuse. Always on guard. I was quite a few times for no reason attacked by girls in elevators. They would push staff out and I'd be alone in there with them being beaten. And I was punished as much as they were. It was horrible. Absolute dark living hell.

    1. Jessie Brandt

      This is very true this place was hell I was there in 1990 spent two years there.i started off in the units and then I saw staff put hands on a kid Adam Myers for no reason I then became that person who I was that got me put in there.i started protecting people who I was friends with.i bounced lot's of staff on the floors and off the walls it was bad one day that they put hands on a new boy who didn't feel comfortable he was crying they yelled at him to shut up even grabbed him pushed against the wall I went off and then became violent I was so mad and had enough I beat six staff badly and fought with more that was called in to help them I barricade myself in the staff office state police was called in it took four hours for them to get me and when they got to me I was strapped to that metal bed staff would say we will get you back my reply was you may get me tied down but when I get out I will repay each of you that did me wrong being tied down.state police kept a trooper there with me three days later I was sent to the JFU of eastern shit hole staff there had lot's of respect for me they treated me like I was a person and they helped me get through. T Keith and many more staff were good to me that part of Eastern state was very helpful

    2. Linda

      I was there at the same time. It was pure hell. I remember the little girl who always wanted her fiber cookies and would beg for them and they always made fun of her. I wish I knew how she was today.

    3. Melissa HESS


    4. Liz

      Do you remember psychologist Dr. Jerome E Thompson?

  12. Jule Lewis

    I was here 150 days in 1984-1985. I hated it and faked and lied my way out. Too much scarey and horrible stuff I saw. I'm only 5 minutes into this don't think I can take much more watching it , I'm in tears from my own memories. I already remember 2 of these boys..... sorry but i can't watch any further.

  13. Franco Catucci

    I was there from 1974 - 1976 i remember it was a horrible place . State of pa sent me there for evaluation i was a child of the state could do anything they want with you in those days , that what i was told in later years.

  14. Paul

    ESSH was my home in 1987-88.
    We were there to survive. It was a very bad, dark, sad experience. I've found life after Eastern to be at times much more difficult than being there. What I find heart wrenching is that one hand, I'm happy to know it's been demolished and is now a mall/hotel; the other hand, there were more than memories there, but many deaths. Both unborn and born. So I see it as a desecration that there are no memorials. No signs, or even scant information about it. Like it never even happened. Just forget it. This documentary barely scratched the surface of EESH. I was a fortunate case. I had caring, loving, devoted parents. I also had a very good doctor who got me back home, but it's the state. It took six months. But it was all about survival in the end.
    Thank you to those who worked there; who cared about us. Your work was not in vain.
    Unit 7(December 1987); Croyden cottage(January 1988-June 1988). Treated by Dr. Conrad. No medications, no restraints, no seclusion. But many other traumatic events befell me which I won't speak of here.
    I'm finally getting some help for flashbacks, insomnia, anxiety.
    Thank you for reading my brief story.

    1. Evan

      Wow, thanks for sharing that. I'm sorry you had to suffer though that experience..

    2. Margaret Lette

      I was there is 89 90

    3. Jule Lewis

      Right up there with you. Probably one of the darkest scarey and horrible experience I've had to do. I was in 84 and 85. I too never ever the same again. Especially emotionally. Sweaty nightmares. Fearful. I trust absolutely no one as hard as i want to. I feel like im a horrible worthless monster ever since. Was definitely a traumatic.

  15. Jo

    Forcing him to lay down on his bed, not listening to him saying "get off me"... then injecting him with some sh*t. Well done dickhead.

    1. Nick

      They skipped the scene when Brian
      was being held down and then given the drugs. Kinda sick in my opinion

  16. Joe

    Billy is the real deal

    1. Julie Lewis

      You've no idea the the abuse and death I witnessed and experienced in there. No one can understand but for those in that dark hell hole. Idk why now ppl even care at all. Us still alive still live the hauntings of that place to THIS VERY MINUTE.

  17. Babs

    Not sure I should watch this after reading the comments. I watched the history of the mad house, my mental health lecturer recommended and was very interesting but also slightly disturbing. This came up recommended next. Caution required I think ?

    1. Mary

      Caution is required but only if you can't handle REALITY!!!! Unfortunately, this is what it is and the people that have to live this on a daily basis are the true angels of God. They have no life other then what you hear of in this documentary. Psychotherapy drugs are all we have left in treating these people. Sad as it may be, that's all.

  18. Marshall

    I'm utterly lost for words...

  19. Trish

    I was at Eastern in 1991. That place was a dumping ground for kids they didn't know what else to do with. Many of the staff should have been charged with abuse. Even sexual abuse was going on. Kids died there then they closed it. There should have been a class action lawsuit for all the damage that place caused.

    1. Margaret Lette

      Trish i was there in 89 90 and they are part of why i have issues with my shoulder i miss some of my old friends but thats it

  20. alyr

    There is a large level of BS and bias in this film and description. I VOLUNTEERED in a cottage with these boys and yes they were mostly autistic and mentally ill. My kid threw a caseworker through a plate glass window.

    But....Not a day went by without volunteers working with them and we went out ALL THE TIME at least 3 times per week on field trips. To play at the state park or to Greenwood Dairy for ice cream, etc. Even though they'd rip off their clothing, fondle themselves and other typical behaviors.

    The REAL pity was NO PARENTS or family members EVER showed up when I was there.

  21. jenn

    I was in Eastern State in 94-95. Thank god some things had changed by the time I got there. Eastern State closed back in 95 or 96.

    1. Kristy

      Hi my name is Kristy I was there in 1994 something happened to me when they did these test on my brain I'm looking for answers

  22. Kathy

    In 1985 I used to volunteer at Eastern State School and Hospital. I had a puppet ministry at their chapel on Sundays, took a few kids clothes shopping in the fall, chaperoned at school dances and donated pillows. Other Christian groups and individuals volunteered there however they certainly could have used many more. I especially remember boy named Ray who was such a wonderful kid. I wish I could find out how he's doing today.

  23. Steven

    I found this news report about Brian McAnally:

    This is Michael Mixerr. This news review will be an update about Brian McAnally. This news review will be about the death of Brian Mcanally.

    On the date of July 28, 2016, Brian McAnally passed away in the group home he was living in. At the time of death, Brian was found dead in his dorm at the group home he was living in at the time. It was due to conditions regarding his health that he passed away. His mania had taken a turn for the worst despite getting emotional healing through therapy. Brian attended meetings with a behavior therapist and counselor on a regular basis. Despite all that, Brian was thriving in his group home better than he did at Eastern State School. Brian McAnally was 53. He left several family members behind whom he hadn’t seen for years.

    In 1983 (after Brian McAnally turned 18), he was moved to a brand new group home which was located 4 blocks away from his fathers home in Kensington, Pennsylvania near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania after living in Eastern State School for 4 years. Brian was thriving and doing pretty well in his group home better than he did at Eastern State School. He wasn’t as anxious or aggressive despite having been diagnosed with mania and schizophrenia earlier in his life. Later on, he was diagnosed with mental retardation.

  24. Deborah Jesic

    I wish I could do something,I live in Pa,but 100 miles away

  25. EveryVilenIsLemons

    I didn't like the screaming part.

  26. Wendy Lyne

    If you count being locked in a seclusion room for hours therapy? That was there therapy for us normal kids!! Thank God Eastern State is done!! Your documentary is mild to what really went on in there!! An

    1. Jule Lewis

      Thank you! This is mild compared to the true nightmares in that place. To tjis day i hate every staff i came across. But Revern Hunter was awesome. That was living hell literally.

  27. InvisibleHandInMyPants

    Where are the mentally ill of today? Certainly not in state institutions. St. Ronnie closed all state mental faacilities. They are roaming our streets in need of help. Sadly, America aint in the giving mood.

    1. mary

      My state still has a mental hospital and that is where alot of them are at. Many are diagnosed with autism dealing from those with mild to those with severe autism. I can not comment on conditions inside the hospital as I have never physically been in there. I do know that some of my family have been admitted from time to time. So sad that many people of today just don't care!!!

    2. Thomas Maresco

      Sagamore is still open, that was the infirmary, you spent around 3 days there first, I was there in 97 and it looked exactly the same way. It’s a state hospital and the youth version of pilgrim state in New York. Once you turned 18 a panel would decide if you went to pilgrim or not or didn’t meet the requirements and a lot were just sent to jail. It was a place of horrible abuse and things you could never imagine thinking of doing to any living being let alone a child

  28. mikeysbro

    This documentary is a great example of how ignorant humanity is on the topic on nutritional science. Dr Abram Hoffer was a pioneer in orthomolecular medicine and he mainly used various b vitamins to treat mental illness with great success. Though every person is different, his work proves that nutritional deficiencies affect many of those labeled with so called "mentally illness".

    1. InvisibleHandInMyPants

      You seem to believe, incorrectly, that solving mental illness is simple. Basic logic would dictate if the solution were as simplistic as B vitimans the problem would have been solved - completely - by now. Your solution is not by any means applicable to all mental illnesses. If you think Brian, at the 8 min mark of the vid, can recover from his dibilitating illness with vitamins, then you prly believe the moon landing was staged, that vaccinations cause autism and the tooth fairy is real.

    2. mikeysbro

      I find your comment interesting but lacking in nutritional information. Abraham Hoffer proved mental illnesses have a connection with nutrition.
      In addition, a lack of various nutrients can cause mental illness such as; serotonin, melatonin, omega 3 oils, b vitamins and so forth.
      Not to forget various substances cause mental illnesses such as; alcohol, drugs, artificial sweeteners, and so forth.
      Furthermore, you are attempting to convince a person with personal family experience including friends.
      You see witnessing is believing and those who are the most skeptical that make the most fuss, are the ones who never attempted such endeavours.
      All mental illness can be helped by proper nutrition, though it depends what the cause is. If a mental illness is caused by say an accident where a portion of the brain is missing or severely damaged then full recovery may not be possible. Though if the mental illness is caused by a so called chemical imbalance then full recovery is more likely using diet, nutrition, exercise and so forth.
      Thus to use the analogy that mental illness using natural means to recover is a fairy tale, a faked moon landing, and other claims is only theory based upon nutritional ignorance. Reality is that mental illnesses have a direct connection to nutrition as Dr Abram proved. Including the scientific study of various vitamins (from whole foods are best) and nutrients that are required for the brain to function normally.
      Therefore based upon; scientific studies, personal experience, experience of others, I disagree with your comment that mental illnesses treated with nutrition is only a fairy tale.

  29. Eric Lawson

    Brians Father is great kinda old to have a son of Brians age. He does love him though. The others perhaps even Brian and his girlfriend should be given birth control training.I doubt he will live any kind of a normal life. There is no easy answer to what to do with theses kids. Sad .Did not know there were so many. My heart goes out to them !!!

  30. shaody

    The human species is the only one that contains poor sods like these. In all other species natural selection would weed them out. It is a sad situation and will only escalate.

    1. johnBas5

      Don't worry. Most people with serious genetic problems aren't able sustain a relation leading to procreation. Some people should be sterilised of course.

      This is a temporary solution until gene therapy allows for curing genetic faults in adult people. With advanced gene therapy you could change their genes into fit ones. Selecting genes instead of people.

    2. Anothercoilgun

      Oh for god sake. Pseudo intelligent gmo, what gives?

    3. johnBas5

      Medical care gives? People not wanting to suffer horrible lives in excruciating pain for the rest of their life? Quality of life gives!

    4. Juci Shockwave

      The only suffering such people face are judgmental, arrogant, ignorant folks like you, who limit people with disabilities even further and thinks we ought to be gassed or put down like diseased rodents or dogs. Isn't it hard enough people with disabilities have to overcome their own limitations without a-holes like you making it harder still by stating there is something wrong with us and taking our freedoms and opportunities away. I think the narrowness of folks like you are what tormenting people with disabilities with excruciating pain. Treat folks with disabilities with dignity and respect and you would be surprised what they can do for you and others. Once more you oght to step outside your limited world view and read history, some of the greatest thinkers and inventors were men and women with disabilities.

    5. ,Becky Andrews

      exactly right u tell it!!

    6. liz

      Wow, congratulations — *slow claps* — thank you for sharing your highly scientific research and opinion. How long did it take you to think of that?

    7. Nurse Sarah

      Know who would agree with this statement? Hitler. We are human, and I choose through my humanity to care for those who are unwanted. People like you can sit at home and never have to deal with this, but until you care for mentally delayed people everyday, especially youth, then you have no idea what wonderful people they can be. I do not believe in advocation of death due to natural selection, and do not believe they should be put down, nor should any animal. You nor I have any power granted to us to choose who dies or lives. These people are important and have a purpose. These people touch lives and many serve our community much better than people who are not mentally impaired. You should be ashamed of yourself for considering them lesser, because they most certainly are not. While they may be different and require special assistance, many of them bring joy to those they touch, and bring out love, compassion, and empathy in others, and express it themselves. Thank you.

  31. Eric Lawson

    It is so sad to see these lives fall through the cracks. Money is the key to filling these cracks !!

  32. Danielle

    All those people and all that effort to strap him into a bed, when just one could sit there and stroke his hand. How often do you think they tried that?

  33. Brogan M

    11.02 - the social worker used the term "mildly r*tarded" IN FRONT of the kid. I could have almost screamed at my laptop when I saw that. In this was only 20 years ago - chees.

  34. bringmeredwine

    This was very disturbing and depressing.
    I might try and look up some of these institutions like South Beach and Elan, to find out more about them.
    Yesterday, a desperate mother of a mentally challenged 20 year old, with the mentality of a 2 year old, recently tried to drop off her daughter at a government office, because she couldn't take care of her any more, and there was no place to put her. This was in Arnprior, Ontario.
    The police were summoned, and some big shots finally met with her and miraculously found her daughter a spot in a group home. Only a week before, she'd been refused help.
    Canada has been in the process of closing psychiatric institutions and paring down the few group homes that are left for these children.

    1. SHIRLEY Drummond

      This is so so sad My heart goes out to all the children in this world