CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS - DVD review

On any absolute scale of movie ratings, it should score pretty low. However, there is no accounting for the amount of fun one can have with it.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio

If it's schlocky old B-grade horror movies you're after, VCI Entertainment has the market cornered. They have one of the biggest, if not THE biggest, catalogues in the world of old B-movies of all kinds, most of them non-horror, some of which are pretty good, some pretty ordinary, and some absolutely dreadful. Of course, it's the absolutely dreadful ones that can be the most fun, and this season's horror offerings from VCI include titles like "The Stitcher," "Kiss of the Tarantula," "Blood and Black Lace," "Horrors of the Black Museum," "The Swamp of the Ravens," and "The Demon." If a person can't find something in there worthy of viewing, a person just isn't trying.

For instance, how can you not admire a film with a title like "Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things"? The title alone must have made it the cult classic it's become. I mean, they just don't make titles like that anymore. Nor do they make movies like that anymore, either. This one is awful. Classic awful. Maybe not "Plan Nine from Outer Space," Ed Wood absolute classic awful, but plenty bad just the same. Yet it's like VW Beetle awful; it's so ugly it's cute. The prologue describes it as a "little horror comedy," and one has to admit there is a certain endearing charm to a film this bad. Looking much like a home movie, 1972's "Children" is campy nonsense of the best (or worst) kind.

The late Benjamin (Bob) Clark co-wrote, produced, and directed "Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things" (also known as "Revenge of the Living Dead," "Things from the Dead," and "Zreaks") as one of his first feature-length pictures. Clark was the same man who would go on to do the excellent Sherlock Holmes mystery "Murder By Decree," the popular "Porky's" and "Porky's II," the underrated "Black Christmas" (a.k.a. "Silent Night, Evil Night"), and everybody's favorite holiday treat, "A Christmas Story." So, it's not as though the guy wasn't going someplace. He just got a little sidetracked getting there. Of course, among the last things he made were the "Baby Geniuses" films, so maybe he eventually went back to where he started.

Anyway, "Children" stars Alan Ormsby as Alan, a young, conceited director (with an apparent Vincent Price complex) who takes his crew to an island cemetery to practice a little witchcraft and do some movie making. Ormsby doesn't so much act his part as he does recite it. Most of the time he seems in the throes of badly parodying John Carradine (as well as Price). Horror movies can be grim in a lot of different ways. But it turns out, Alan is only fooling with the witchcraft stuff. He's really interested in playing practical jokes. So when they dig up a fresh corpse, well, don't be surprised. That Alan, he's such a cutup.

Among the supporting cast are Valerie Mamches as Val; Jeffrey Gillen as Jeff; Anya Ormsby as Anya; Paul Cronin as Paul; Jane Daly as Jane; Roy Engleman as Roy; and Roy Philip, Bruce Solomon, and Alecs Baird as characters with first names other than their real ones. Nevertheless, the real star of the show is not Ormsby or anyone else but Seth Sklarey playing Orville Dunworth, a member of the recently deceased community who steals every scene he's in.

Little does Alan know, however, that his goofy satanic rituals are actually waking up the dearly departed, and before long it's "The Night of the Living Dead" (which came out some four years earlier) all over again, with flesh-eating ghouls and zombies everywhere.

Say, why do the dead always walk so funny, and why do they suddenly crave live human flesh? And why did they all get buried no more than a few inches underground? And how do their bodies manage only to decompose a little bit after a period of years that should have left them no more than bones? Better not to ask. This is a cult classic, after all.

Video:
The disc case proclaims an "All new film transfer, digitally restored, uncut version." It's certainly an improvement over the reproduction VCI offered a decade ago. In any event, be aware that the original print probably gave the restoration engineers fits, because the results here vary from reasonably good to somewhat blurry, fuzzy, and muddy, with the occasional white fleck and lines still visible. VCI present the film in an anamorphic transfer that measures about 1.70:1 or so (there's an odd black strip on the left side of the screen where the image ends). Despite the odds, the colors are bright and glossy, and for a change over the first transfer a viewer can actually make out much of what's happening in the dimly lit scenes. Facial tones (on the actors playing live people) are much too intense, giving them a cartoony look, but that just enhances one's appreciation of the cartoony nature of the movie. Then, too, the low-budget quality of the film stock shows up in an abundance of grain, which we wouldn't want any other way.

Audio:
The Dolby Digital monaural audio, also restored, is much cleaner, smoother, and quieter this time around, although the noise reduction seems to have taken some of the bite (no pun intended; OK, pun intended; what the heck) out of the high end. So we get a mono track that sounds quiet but soft. There isn't much in the way of bass or dynamics, either, although dialogue is clear and easy to understand.

Extras:
This "35th Anniversary Exhumed Edition" features a slew of all-new bonus items, starting with a new audio commentary (in stereo) by stars Alan Ormsby, Jane Daly, and Anya Cronin, and moderated by writer, director, and film documentarian David Gregory. The stars reminisce in good humor, never taking the film too seriously and clearly having a good time getting together again. After that is a ten-minute featurette, "Memories of Bob Clark," followed by "Confessions of a Grave Digger," a twenty-two minute interview with construction head Ken Goch. Then we get another twenty-two minute featurette called "Grindhouse Q & A," where members of the cast and crew got together at a Grindhouse Festival in L.A. in 2007 and answered questions. After that are a pair of music videos by The Deadthings: "Dead Girls Don't Say No" and "Cemetery Mary," followed by a two-minute homage to the movie, "A Tribute Video to CSPWDT," some "CSPWDT" trivia, and about two minutes of text on actor-writer-makeup artist Alan Ormsy.

The extras conclude with a photo gallery; twelve animated scene selections; a delightful original theatrical trailer; and English as the only spoken language.

Parting Shots:
To sum up: The movie is dreadful; the acting is dreadful; the sets, make-up, and special effects are dreadful; and the picture and sound quality are next to dreadful, even "exhumed." On any absolute scale of movie ratings, it should score pretty low. However, there is no accounting for the amount of fun one can have with it. In other words, connoisseurs of camp will love it. Especially that title.

Ratings

Video
5
Audio
5
Extras
7
Film Value
3