Saturday, 13 March 2010

Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1973)

Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things is an attempt to combine a Night of the Living Dead rip-off with some gothic trappings and some hints 70s psychedelia. It fails on every conceivable level.

A troupe of actors led by Alan (Alan Ormsby) travel by boat to a deserted graveyard. Alan intends to raise the dead. But it’s really just a big joke he’s playing on them. Only it isn’t, because once the joke is revealed he has a further revelation. He really is going to raise the dead. He has a grimoire, and he’s been practising his spells.

To achieve his purposes he needs a corpse, so he has his friends dig one up for him. When the spell apparently fails he decides it would be fun to take the corpse back to the cottage in which they’re staying, and to conduct a mock wedding. But the dead are not so easily mocked. His spell has succeeded, much more spectacularly than he could have imagined.

The plot doesn’t really kick in until 68 minutes into the film, and when it does kick in it’s pure Night of the Living Dead pastiche.

Unfortunately most of the first 68 minutes of the movie consists of talk. Lots and lots of talk. This may be the talkiest horror movie ever made. Talkiness is often used in a desperate attempt to cover up the embarrassing fact that nothing is actually happening, and that’s very much the case here. Talkiness is bad enough when you have good actors, but when you have the unbelievably talentless crew that Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things boasts, it’s almost unbearable. Alan is supposed to be wicked and charismatic, but he merely succeeds in being annoying. Very annoying. So annoying that you can’t wait for the zombies to arrive to kill him. But it’s an interminable wait. And while we’re waiting, he just keeps talking.

And bad as he is, he’s the best of the cast, which just shows how stupendously awful and boring the others are. The word that keeps recurring when I think of this film is boring. Boring combined with annoying.

Eventually the zombies rise, and a short period of unimaginative mayhem ensues before the film mercifully ends. At 83 minutes this movie feels like it runs for three or four hours. You just keep feeling that it’s never going to end, that they’re going to keep talking forever.

The makeup effects are standards 1970s zombie makeup effects. The special effects are puerile. If you’ve seen Night of the Living Dead then you’ve seen the zombie attack.

The movie also tries to be a far-out with-it 1970s groovy teen movie and to combine humour with the horror, with dire results. Everything about the production just screams amateurish self-indulgent film school project.

At this point I feel I should insert my standard disclaimer, to the effect that I’m not a fan of zombie movies. But honestly, even if you like zombie movies there’s not much in this one to recommend it.

Director Bob Clark went on to make such cinematic classics as Porky's.

The Region 4 DVD release from Umbrella Entertainment is atrocious, although being a very low-budget film it’s possible that it always did look as bad as this. It’s so dark it’s difficult to know what’s going on. Perhaps it’s better that way.

I can’t think of a single reason to buy this film, or even to rent it.


cblaze said...

I like this review - I think it has the right amount of critic and the right amount of bite. It amuses me - far more than the movie sounds like it would.

Shaun Anderson said...

A stinging condemnation! - and one which I broadly agree with. It has some interesting counter-cultural themes, but aside from this it is pretty as much as you describe. Clark hit horror paydirt a couple of years later with the brilliant "Deathdream", one of the first films to explore in a subversive fashion the question of Vietnam.

Rev. Phantom said...

I can't and won't argue with a lot of your points here--it is talkie, the pay off does come way too late, but I still really like this movie. There's a certain atmosphere to the film that I really enjoy and find unsettling. I also enjoy the performances--albeit bad, and even annoying performances of the cast. Most people do not care for this one, and I wouldn't even begin to defend it. All I can say is that it works for me...but my taste in movies has always been and should always be in question.

Nigel M said...

agree with the review, this film I found to be really hard work. I think I lost interest at some point before things got interesting. so when the film got going I found myself past caring.

venoms5 said...

I actually really like this movie a lot. I saw it twice as a kid. Once on TV and a babysitter was very much into the film, so I suggested it to my dad to rent. I didn't really get into it until much later, though. It's got a bit of a following over here. I do like the atmosphere and the ending is quite spooky in the extreme. The US discs look better than those caps from the Umbrella disc.

Anonymous said...

"Unfortunately most of the first 68 minutes of the movie consists of talk. Lots and lots of talk. This may be the talkiest horror movie ever made."

And that´s why i loved it...

Sorry, don´t agree.