Thursday, September 3, 2015

Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972)

The first horror movie directed by unpredictable filmmaker Bob Clark—whose body of work includes A Christmas Story (1983), Porky’s (1981), and several gruesome fright flicks—Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things is a schlocky enterprise redeemed by its sense of humor. In fact, the picture is a full-on comedy/horror hybrid, with the satirical aspects of the story connecting more strongly than the would-be scares. Set on a tiny island off the Miami coast, the movie is about an eccentric theater director who brings his company along while performing a black mass. Things get out of hand when the ceremony actually works, so the actors and designers who thought they were out for an evening of kinky thrills find themselves running from bloodthirsty zombies. The story, credited to Clark and leading man Alan Ormsby, is forgettable. However, the execution is enjoyably whimsical, at least with regard to dialogue. Ormsby, who went on to pen scripts for several fine movies (including the 1980 feel-good hit My Bodyguard and the sexy 1982 remake of Cat People), has special fun contriving lines for his own character, using absurdly elevated patterns of polysyllables to ensure that the theater director comes across as a pompous ass. Interestingly, Ormsby also received credit for doing the picture’s special-effects makeup, so his immersion in all things macabre permeates the project. To be clear, Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things is a film of meager pleasures, and there’s no overlooking the shoddiness of the production values. Photographed entirely at night, the movie has a garish look because bright lamps were used to illuminate shadowy locations, and, generally speaking, the lights were hung without much artistry. The sound is poor, as well, with many scenes obviously looped to compensate for inadequate location recording. The acting is amateurish but lively, and Ormsby’s makeup effects for the undead creatures runs to the campy side of the spectrum. Worse, the movie grows tedious once the zombie attack begins. Nonetheless, there’s a certain acidic wit to the piece, and the filmmakers clearly have no illusions of generating high art. Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things may also include cinema’s only black mass riddled with Borscht Belt one-liners.

Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things: FUNKY


Unknown said...

I enjoyed this a little. If I recall correctly, at one point the Ormsby character flings his presumed girlfriend at a horde of zombies just to keep them at bay while he gets away, but there's a wonderful pause as the horde, while taking the girl, all stare at Ormsby, as if to say "Sure, we're a mob of evil flesh-eating zombies -- and yet even we are astonished by your horrible behavior!"

Bob Johns said...

This is one of those movies I have been trying to watch. If anything just for Bob Clark.

squeak said...

Actually, the opening and the start of the zombie attack are the best parts of the film, and yeah, it is funny up until then. It kind of sucks that Clark didn't make more horror films, since he was so good at making some good and truly creepy ones. This one really creeped me out after seeing it as a child, so that's another reason I like it.