Friday, March 19, 2010

REVIEW: Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things

Watch out! These titles were made for 3D.

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things
Director Bob Clark
Year 1973

I figured I'd do my first review on a rather obscure flick that not too many casual horror fans know of, yet is directed by a man that has created possibly the most memorable christmas movie in history. Bob Clark, director of the classic A Christmas Story (1983) brings us a low budget zombie flick that's carried mostly by its strong theatrical presence and its odd characters.

The movie starts out like most movies of this time period and 80's slasher flicks do, with a group of kids out at night and up to no good. The group of kids are a theatrical troupe and they've just sailed to a creepy island to invoke demons and disrupt a cemetery all under the orders of their employer and troupe leader Alan played by the entertaining as hell Alan Ormsby. Most of the group hate Alan's guts, but if they want to succeed as actors and keep their jobs then they have to put up with his flamboyantly overacted gestures and his "prickish" attitude. Cue the bastard.

Alan the wonderful prick!

After Alan lays down the law and some thick exposition about how murderers, thieves, and rapists were buried at the cemetery they're visiting, they set off to their destination, a seemingly abandoned caretakers cottage. When they arrive, we get to know our characters some more, and they are characters. We have the jock named Paul played by Paul Cronin, the 70's beauty and Paul's main squeeze Terry played by Jane Daly, the hippy gypsy Val played by Valerie Mamches, the pants peeing big boy Jeff played by Jeff Gillen, and finally the "out of her god damned mind" Anya played by Alan Ormsby's real life first wife Anya Ormsby. Throughout the entire film these characters banter back and forth spewing jokes and little quips that might annoy at first, but tend to build up to a sort of rhythm that keeps the film moving forward.

I really can't think of any other film that uses this kind of mechanic, but it really helps you get involved in the characters lives and makes you feel like you're along with them in the woods. Friday the 13th used this sporadically but not to this effect in my opinion. After we get to know the characters some more and the zany Alan displays his prick status some more, the group sets off to the graveyard to.. you guessed it.. exhume a corpse.

A sweet shot from six feet under.

Alan, being the sly witted prick he is, has got a little surprise for our unsuspecting group at the cemetery. He's switched a corpse with one of his pals and they plan to scare the bejesus out of his underlings. Alan's plan comes to fruition and the group gets pissed off, but Alan throws them a curve ball and tells them that they really are going to be exhuming a corpse. Cue Orville.

Orville's about to get a new best friend.

After Orville is presented to the group they rest him on a crucifix and Alan proceeds to invoke the forces of darkness by reading from his book of tomes. He goes all out in his performance commanding the dead to rise, but alas nothing happens. He whines like a baby at the ill effects of his black magic and conjuring and then Val steps up to the plate to rip Alan a new one. She mimics his failed attempts and the group gets a hardy laugh out of it, so pissed off Alan decides he's going to bring his new friend the corpse, Orville, back to the cottage for some fun and possibly some wedding bliss.

As they leave the graveyard behind on their long walk back to the cottage we are given the glimpse of a hand rising up from beneath a freshly buried grave. Soon we have an entire cast of Michael Jackson's Thriller stalking the graveyard in one of the creepiest "Dead rising from their tombs" scene in any zombie movie. Many people may not take this movie very seriously, but there's one thing they have to admit and it's that this scene is pretty amazing in its grittiness and sheer atmospheric impact that it brings to the film. There may be a lot of talking in this movie but when the zombies show up, they show up in decrepit style.

Arise you filthy zombies! You have a wedding to crash.

Back at the cottage there's bells ringing, because Alan and Orville are saying their vows. Well at least Alan is. Orville's just kind of standing there, but in the end that's good enough for Alan. Anya, sensing that something other then the uncomfortable union between a man and a corpse is wrong, begins to freak out and basically say that they've gone to far and something bad is going to happen to them all. Alan doesn't want to hear anything of the sort, especially on his wedding day, so he takes his party upstairs while the rest of the group comforts Anya downstairs.

For awhile, things seem rather peaceful. That is until the shit hits the fan in the form of an angry mob of wedding crashers aka rotting smelly corpses. They attempt to tear the group apart and succeed for the most part, but are then finally barricaded out of the cottage.

Make sure to invite everyone to your pals wedding
or this could happen to you. Damn zombie wedding crashers.

You would imagine that everything would be fine as long as they stayed inside, but for some reason our main characters are determined to make their way back to the boat instead of waiting it out and waiting for the sun to rise. They sneak out, seeing that the coast is clear, but the zombies are only pulling their chain cause as soon as they reach the woods the dead bastards bum rush the group and begin to thin out their numbers. The survivors retreat back to the cottage but it is now overrun with the dead heads, so Alan leaves the remaining troupe members to die downstairs as he heads for his room and his new bride Orville.  He locks himself inside the room in a last ditch effort to save his skin, but ends up making a huge blunder. His brides awake and inside the room and extremely pissed off!

Honeymoon jitters. Alan proceeds to shit his pants.

All in all, the movie ends on a downer other then Alan getting his come up-ens, but I wouldn't have it any other way. It's a silly film but under all of that campiness is a morality tale. Don't screw around with the dead or you'll join them in death.

Many people have written this film off as, like I mentioned above, campy, but there's something deliberate in the tone that the director crafted for this film. He loaded the script with silly lines and inside jokes that you would traditionally hear when in close quarters with a theatrical group such as this one, yet offsets that harmless scenario with the hauntingly macabre idea of a group of kids desecrating a cemetery and then walking off with one of it's inhabitants to just goof off with it. I think the combination is both fun and demented and I enjoy those ingredients each and every time I view this film.

The characters are so off the wall and have such different personalities that you just enjoy listening to the ridiculous things that come out of their mouths. There's enough one liners and quotable lines in this one that it's hard to get bored and that's not including the hauntingly vibrant soundtrack.

Orville is ready for his close-up.

I've never heard a soundtrack with as much strange and out of this world sounds in my life all composed by a synthesizer. It's almost like someone just took an entire sound library and just randomly started pushing buttons, but through all of the hectic nature of the composition, there's a maddening simplicity to it all. This overall effect works to great results and leaves one of the most original scores that I've heard in recent memory. 

You can literally, and I've done this before, just close your eyes and you know what is going on by just listening to the vibe of the sounds. The groans of the zombies, the sounding of some strange bird (a lune I think) in the distance, and the screams of the fallen victims, give such a visual image to the soundscape that it sets the tone for the film from the get go and never breaks from that first highly set standard. I really wish more horror movies and movies in general had the guts to make such an unorthodox sounding soundtrack. As in Bob Clark's A Christmas Story, I'd give the soundtrack an A... Plus!   Plus!   Plus!

I also think the direction was spot on for this kind of low budget feature. The conversations were natural between the characters and the story was always pushed along to the next set piece. There was never a stagnant section of the movie where I just wanted them to move on. I always felt like I was just there in the moment, hanging with a bunch of interesting characters and just enjoying listening to the banter between each character and wondering what was in store next. 

All in all, this movie is one of my absolute favorites of this time period when it comes to delivering a film with atmosphere. From the mist filled graveyards, to the lantern guided walks through the woods, and to the dilapidated real life cottage this one delivers. The balance between creepy visuals, an outstanding sound scape, and out of this world supernatural setting brings this flick up to the top of my zombie movie collection. It may not be for everyone, but for the people that enjoy obscure low budget films that have a soul and the direction to back it up, this one is definitely recommended.

5 out of 5 stars          CLASSIC!

8 comments:

  1. This movie is definitely an underrated gem and a mainstay in the Martin household. Also that dude with the black eyes above your profile is creepy looking. I'm going to have nightmares about him.

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  2. Hahahaha! Yeah he is a real CREEP!

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  3. One of my favorite zombie movies from my childhood. Although I am a loyal NOTLD fan, this one was always in my top 3.

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  4. Yeah, you have to respect NOTLD, but Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things always holds that special place in my heart for its great atmostphere and outstandingly original characters. Definetly in the top of its kind.

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  5. I just found your review minutes after I posted mine. I liked a lot of what you said here, we especially agreed on that freaky soundtrack.

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  6. Loved your review! Yeah the soundtrack is just great and I think it gives the film most of its creepy quality. Definitely a favorite of mine.

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  7. One of the best films ever to appear on Elvira's Movie Macabre Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things

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  8. I have to agree with you on that one Thomas, but I must confess, I'm ridiculously in love with this demented film so no matter what company the movie is against, I'll always side in its corner.

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