Distance absolutely makes the heart grow fonder. Having left the once-highly-active Theater of Mine a dust-filled cesspool of lost dreams forfar too long, I’m back in effect, hungrier than ever. The balance of dollar-free passion here and pays-the-bill, necessary passion there is a tight rope stroll, but it’s time I regain some traction. More than before. Work a good amount of literature coverage into the pot; show the world what I’m gassed about in the 2-0-1-0. It’s like that.
And what better to stick a needle in inspiration proverbial ass than a trashy zombie film from the early 1970s. Last night, I finally caught up with the late Bob Clark‘s schlock pseudo-classic Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972), an early no-budget gem from the man who’d go on to direct the great Black Christmas (1974), Porky’s (1982), Porky’s II: The Next Day (1983) and the interminable A Christmas Story (1983)—–yes, the one with Ralphie and those damn Bumpus hounds.
Written and directed by Clark, Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things is my favorite of his films (that distinction goes to Black Christmas), but it certainly falls above the Red Rider BB gun flick. The characters are awful, a large amount of the dialogue grates like fromage, and the gore effects are a mere step away from using cherry Kool-Aid in the place of authentic life liquid. The first two acts slither along like a finger digging through marshmallow, and the scares are telegraphed. Somehow, though, through all of this ineptitude, Clark emerges as a magical auteur, yanking heaps of entertainment from the lame-brained festivities. That I was never bored throughout the film’s lean 85-minute duration speaks volumes.
Continued after the jump:
The best C-grade horror films know exactly what their target audience desires, not the least of which is a justified comeuppance for all of their abhorrable characters. Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things comes equipped with a grand master of vileness, its main man, Alan (Alan Ormsby, who also co-wrote the script), a flamboyant filmmaker partial to falsely heavy monologues and moral creeps. The moustached lame convinces a small crew of fellow movie-makers to step foot on a deserted island, the endgame being a witchcraft-bent seance to raise the dead. The spell doesn’t work at first, so Alan and his chums head to a nearby cabin (in the woods, natch) for a bit of the old drinkie-drink and probably fornication, while a suit-and-tie-sporting corpse is stashed in an upstairs bedroom for lord-knows-why. Thankfully, the party is cut short when the dead do in fact return to movement and run amok, dispatching of our breathing protagonists in quick succession.
All that leads up the film’s final 15 minutes is perfunctory at best, harmlessly enjoyable at worst. Clark interjects sporadic wit into the characters’ exchanges, funniest of which arrive at Andy’s expense (no surprise there). After the flesh-eaters introduce themselves in an extended crawling-up-from-under-the-dirt sequence, no doubt influential to similar setpieces in Return of the Living Dead (1985) and Return of the Living Dead 2 (1988), Clark wisely scraps the humor and plays the carnage straight. The zombies, covered in gray and blue-ish makeup, look like second-rate ghouls, a bonus if you’re, like me, a lover of cheese-covered horror. Lapses in execution are forgivable (one moment, the zombies walk George A. Romero style, the next they break into light sprints) when you close the show with the window-smashing, boarded-up openings and many-dead-versus-few-living action first owned by Romero in his 1968 game-changer Night of the Living Dead, and brought to super-gory brilliance in its follow-ups, Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985). To me, a zombie film is nothing without a climactic siege, and Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things fortunately adheres.
My recommendation of this films purely rests on said finale. It’s during the undead assault portion of the picture that Clark exhibits a real gotta-love-it quality in his delivery. When the most macho of the group takes charge and offers to run through the swarm of zombies in order to get help, the set-up manages to conceal his fate—–he’s immediately chewed upon by a lady ghoul and left partially devoured for dead. Not before letting out a girlish scream that’s choppy in editing but nice and hilarious in presentation. The should-be hero, in his ’70s shag of a haircut and taco-meat-exposing V-neck sweater, is taken down by only one zombie, without so much as a fight; Clark could give a shit about his characters, clearly in the same mindframe as the viewer (or, at least, yours truly) that none of them are worth saving.
Just to remind us of how despicable a guy good-ol’ Andy is, we watch him throw the only other still-alive character directly into the grabby arms of about 15 zombies; the ghouls even give Alan a look of “Damn, you really are a piece of scum,” before they go to work on the sacrificed girl. So when Alan is taken down seconds later by the now-mobile corpse he brought into the cabin earlier, it’s a real “Up yours!” moment.
Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things is the kind of film I’d love to watch with a clan of folks that collectively appreciates bottom-feeding horror, just as I do; if only I knew some heads of that variety. My reasoning is this, though; how could anyone without a stick up his or her ass not want to dig into a movie with that title? Check your pulse.