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Monday, June 28, 2010

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (1972) review


Alan Ormsby (Alan), Valerie Mamches (Val), Anya Ormsby (Anya), Jeff Gillen (Jeff), Paul Cronin (Paul), Jane Daly (Terry), Seth Sklarey (Orville Dunworth)

Directed by Bob Clark

The Short Version: Ultra cheap, but supremely spooky fun from the late Bob Clark. The grainy photography adds to the overall fog encrusted atmosphere and the unusual and unsettling musical score enhances the low budget ambiance guaranteeing a goose bump, or two.

An acting troupe take a boat to a secluded island to perform a ritual in the hopes of raising the dead. Alan, the arrogant and pompous head of the group has set up shenanigans to scare his fellow actors once they get there as an elaborate prank. Only the joke backfires and the dead rise from their graves. Alan and his friends hole up inside an old house to try and survive the night from the flesh eating dead.

Bob Clark's first stab at horror is an atmospherically spooky affair. For such a micro budget, Clark and company successfully capture an eerie look and feel for this minor, but fun footnote in cult film cinema. The near constant heckling between the actors becomes a bit tiresome, but the creepy ambiance of the island with its creaky house, fog enshrouded graveyard, the otherworldly and often times nerve-jangling soundtrack and the zombie make-up effects (some of which were done by a young Tom Savini) make for a great and ghoulish midnight movie experience.

Alan Ormsby (who plays the main "bad guy"), also contributed to the startlingly effective make-up as well as performing duties behind the camera as a writer. He and Clark worked on all their horror pictures together. Ormsby plays himself as a dictatorial "director" of his subjects whom he considers lesser actors. He frequently abuses them verbally reminding them of their status among the lower echelon of the talent pool. Once all the jokes involving scaring his colleagues are out of the way, the final joke is on all of them as Alan digs up a corpse named Orville. He commits blasphemy against the dead man by hanging him over his own headstone, talking sarcastically towards him and dancing around with the corpse amidst the jovial participation of the others who were at first hesitant to join in.

Ormsby's real life wife, Anya, plays a bit of a loon here. She seems to be not altogether there and follows Alan around like a puppy and heeds to his every whim. After the others have had enough of Alan's desecration of the corpse, they wish to call it a night. Only Alan isn't finished yet. He decides to bring Orville back to the caretakers house to continue the "party" there. Once inside, the degrading of Orville's corpse continues as Alan now begins to go beyond a mere joke. Anya's character goes over the deep end as she apologizes to the corpse lying on the sofa. She thinks the corpse is talking to her and begs it to forgive them. In an unsettling moment, she goes into an hysterical frenzy and the others decide enough is enough. Alan then has the body placed in his room on his bed where he lies down next to it and talks to it.

Meanwhile outside in the graveyard, a mass resurrection takes place. The dead come back to life and lay siege to the house. The remainder of the movie reminds one of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) as the group board up the house to stave off the mass of zombies. They eventually get inside and do what zombies do, although there is very little gore. The finale is effective especially the last scene that takes place in an upstairs bedroom. Despite the slant towards black humor, Clark's movie not only deals in satanism performed by a group of hippies (shades of Manson?), but also hints at necrophilia.

The character of Alan is an interesting one. He constantly bullies and berates his fellow actors and truly believes he is capable of resurrecting the dead. Once his failure is apparent, one of his female colleagues steps in and puts on a more impressive show belittling Alan in the process and giving him a taste of his own medicine. Alan, a selfish and egocentric sham, doesn't take the joke too well. He descends further into sickening behavior when he has the corpse taken back to the house where he attempts to get the "last laugh" on them all.

The aforementioned zombie assault is very well done and the ghouls are a bit more energetic than the ones seen in Romero's B/W classic. The ghastly make-up effects were Ormsby's creation. Savini assisted him as well as working on two other Clark-Ormsby collaborations; the superior and supremely creepy DEATHDREAM (1974) and DERANGED (1974). The latter is one of the most accurate account of Wisconsin cannibal Ed Gein.

CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS didn't really warm up to me until the second time I sat down and really watched it. I remember a babysitter and her boyfriend were telling me about it as a kid and didn't realize until later I had seen had seen it on SHOCK THEATER. Renting it years later, it didn't really stand out to me. Seeing the first DVD edition from VCI gave me a new outlook on this movie. I think it has a lot of very nice elements that belie its woefully low budget. All of Clark's horror pictures are now considered classics of one sort or another. Clark himself was directing a CHILDREN... remake back in 2007. In a shocking turn of events, Clark and his son, Ariel were killed in a car accident by a drunk driver in the early morning hours of April 4th, 2007 just as shooting was about to begin.

Clark's legacy of classy, original and diverse horror pictures will remain forever. His sole excursion into zombie cinema is definitely unique in a lot of ways and offers up a nice sloppy tray of fog encrusted surrealism, ghoulish guffaws, crusty, yet effective zombies and an occasional scare, or two. Well worth one viewing and a prime choice for a midnight show with some popcorn, or pizza.

This review is representative of the VCI 35th Anniversary Exhumed Edition


I Like Horror Movies said...

This is a personal favorite, V, but I wasnt able to fully appreciate it until the second viewing either. By the third watch, I was in love with it. The ridiculously over the top performances grew on me more and more, but like you said it is a very dark and atmospheric little flick. Ive heard mixed murmurs in various reviews, and it seems like most viewers watching it for the first time never tend to 'get' the black comedy aspects. I find myself wanting to rewatch it every 6mo or so, its just such an odd and entertaining little zombie flick!

venoms5 said...

Me, too, Carl! It was just another bandwagon movie to me and the first time, I thought it was boring and couldn't see what the big deal the babysitter had made over it. But seeing it again years later, I appreciated it a lot more. Ormsby and Clark were damn talented filmmakers for sure.

Jay Shatzer said...

My favorite Bob Clark film and one of my top 10 greatest zombie flicks. Love this film and can't get enough of the soundtrack. I used to just pop this baby in the dvd player and go to sleep just listening to the banter between the actors and the atmospheric soundscape. Yeah I know kind of weird, but the audio is top notch and has a great creepy quality to it. Really great film and another great review. Keep it up.

venoms5 said...

Yeah, this one just has a spooktacular quality about it that seems to seep in with each viewing. I agree about the soundtrack. It's weird and unsettling, but adds a lot to the movie especially during the last half.

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