Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things
You're invited to Orville's "coming out" party... it'll be a scream... yours!
Year of Release: 1972
Also Known As: Cemetery of the Dead, Zombie Graveyard, Revenge of the Living Dead, Things from the Dead, Things from the Grave, Zreaks
Running Time: 87 minutes (1:27)
Director: Bob Clark
Alan Ormsby ... Alan
Valerie Mamches ... Val
Jeff Gillen ... Jeff
Anya Ormsby ... Anya
Paul Cronin ... Paul
Jane Daly ... Terry
Roy Engleman ... Roy
Robert Philip ... Emerson
Seth Sklarey ... Orville Dunworth
Led by mean-spirited director, Alan, a theater troupe travels by boat to a small island graveyard for buried criminals. Using a grimoire, Alan begins a seance to raise the dead. The group finds more than they bargained for when the dead return from their graves, forcing the troupe to take refuge in an old abandoned caretaker's house. Can they stay put until daylight against the undead onslaught, or do they flee into the pitch black night?
Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, remindin' us that all of our greatest directors have commanded the respect of their players. So if you can't even keep your rotting extras under control, you probably don't have what it takes to squeeze a moving performance out of the hungover college drama students who've come to you lookin' for a place to belong. This guy prolly shoulda found a profession better suited to his talents... like hairdressing, or rearrangin' yuppie furniture. The actor playin' the director, I mean, not Bob. If we had more Bob Clarks an fewer J.J. Abrams' these days the world'd be a much happier place. An speakin' of people who're completely outta touch with reality, I'm beginnin' to notice a trend in this country that involves somebody wearin' either a 3-peice suit or a ridiculous hat strippin' away our rights because of "religious discrimination." Our city council's actually considerin' bannin' the annual Labor Day rattlesnake bake that we have every year in the parkin' lot at Mack's Stacks of Manly Snacks after these lunatics from Mulepiddle County got wind of it an bused a buncha tongue talkin' gibberish dribblers over to stop the consumption of their props. You've prolly seen 'em around, they've got teeth like an ear of Indian corn, wear rattlesnakes around their necks like Mr. T wears gold chains, an talk like Bill Cosby after 6 hours of huffin' diesel fumes. Anyway, it wouldn't really've been a big deal, cept for the fact that we keep the snakes alive til they're ready to fry, an while Mack was choppin' the heads off a fresh batch these idiots show up in this school bus that looked like it'd been sittin' at the bottom of Lake Erie for the last 18 years an start wavin' their arms around like they're tryin' to signal a rescue plane from Gilligan's Island while recitin' passages from the Necronomicon. Then, when we just stared at 'em like the old folks sittin' on porch swings over at Mom & Poop's Senility Acres Hospice Care watchin' the street sweeper go by, they unleashed their zealot strength. Broke clean through the servin' line an smashed open the crate faster'n a hummin' bird consumatin' a marriage. Next thing you know we had P.O.'d rattlers crawlin' all over the place scarin' the tar outta the tourists an Richard Fawner, our obnoxious, but proficient town florist. In the confusion they got away in their prayer powered jalopy while Sheriff Hardassian was chewin' out a coupla 8-year-olds for their questionable use of sidewalk chalk, but they'da prolly gotten off the hook anyway claimin' we were threatenin' the future of their religion or some crapola like that. An what's the city council do when faced with these cowardly bullies? Course, they cave. Never even got a third trip through the servin' line, the bastards. It's alright though, those of us who practice the one true faith know that Drive-In Jesus will provide.
Let's not get bogged down in that ugly situation, though, cause we got an even uglier situation to occupy our attention this week - Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, directed by the great Bob Clark. Bob never really got the kinda respect he deserved, an you know what happens when people get snubbed at the Emmys year in and year out? They hafta make Baby Geniuses just to put food on the table. I hope all you judges out there choke on your $50,000 a plate one-day-air imported veal de baboon platter from Gabon, cause the blame for that movie lies squarely on YOU. Anyway, Bob also directed Dead of Night, Black Christmas, Porky's, AND A Christmas Story, now that's what I call range. That's right; the same guy who filmed a man bein' betrothed to a corpse made the most beloved Christmas classic of all time. That's somethin' for all you stuffed shirt critics out there to think about when you're packin' away the cranberry sauce here in a coupla months. So, to show my gratitude for Bob's uncanny ability to depict a zombie onslaught and a heartwarmin' holiday classic with the same level of skill an vision, let's all have a quick look at a few of the most valuable kernels of wisdom that can be taken away from this flick. First, stealin' a corpse for a Satanic ritual is one thing, but makin' fun of its complexion is takin' the disrespect to an unacceptable level, an may result in some pretty serious monster mashin'. Second, zombies, like actors, thrive on motivation. So when somebody deliberately summons 'em with magical mumbo-jumbo, their desire to eat your brains is intensified tenfold over what you could expect from resurrection via radioactive space probe, or the super syphilis. An third, commitin' felonies with your actors is only acceptable when your last name is either Polanski or Allen.
But the thing that really scrapes my grapes about this one is how blatantly commercialism has taken over the occult industry an made a laughin' stock of it. I mean, just look at the summoner's robe on this goof; we're talkin' graduation gown with patches from a magician's hat sewn on the back. But it ain't just that. You know who makes the majority of all the Ouija boards bein' sold in this country? Milton Bradley. So basically, the same guys who created Monopoly'll help you summon the devil for only $11.99. They're usually next to the Scrabble boards. As if that ain't tacky enough, then you find yourself in the craftin' aisle lookin' for some wood glue, an what do you see? Magic wands made outta plastic. An people actually BUY these things. In my day, if you wanted somethin' that'd get you run outta town by the Catholic Church, you went down into a dusty old tomb (usually below street level) that was lit entirely by candles an had a live snake slitherin' around loose on the merchandise. These places'd have skulls, paintins with eyes that followed you wherever you went, shelves fulla books that you couldn't actually read cause they were all written in extinct languages, an were operated by a creepy old guy who was at least 100 years old an whose face you could never quite get a good look at. Nowadays though, Wal Mart's your one-stop shop for pale imitations of this stuff. You can get your stone gargoyles an some deli chicken in the same buildin', it's pathetic. Specially since so many people wanna be "spooky" these days just so they'll have some vague sense of identity, an the big box stores're so damn greedy that they cater to it. I dunno about anyone else, but it makes me sick.
The movie begins with this cemetery caretaker who's just mindin' his own business makin' sure no cheap husbands show up to steal flowers for their angry wives, when he spots these guys diggin' up a corpse that looks like Herk Harvey from Carnival of Souls with Krusty the Klown hair. Cept when he tells 'em to go Ed Gein it someplace else, one of 'em whips around an goes nose to nose with 'im in full Papa Smurf face paint an the caretaker ends up gettin' tied up like a Type O Negative fan in the back row of a theater showin' 50 Shades of Grey, while one of the grave robbers plops down in the coffin for a little six feet under siesta. He don't say nothin' on account of bein' dead, but you can tell the Herk is just fumin' at the fact that the jackass is gonna mash his worm bed all outta shape, doomin' 'im to an eternity of creature discomforts. Meanwhile, this fruity stage director (Alan) who looks like the product of an orgy between Dr. Bombay from Bewitched, The Master from Manos, an Ralphus from Bloodsucking Freaks makes landfall with a buncha actors who dress like they're on call for clownin' duty at the rodeo. Seems they've landed on an island that's home to a cemetery for all the guys Texas's deep fried in the electric chair over the last century, an he wants to dig up a dead body to star in a Twilight stage adaptation on account of his inability to find anybody pale an emotionless enough to understudy the Kristen Stewart role. So he leads the teen actors guild through the corpse copse like Vincent Price givin' a guided tour of the nine circles of Hell, stoppin' periodically to point out which sections have the biggest brownie point deficits to make up with God, until they reach the caretaker's cottage an hafta break in when they realize Burke an Hare forgot to leave a key under the mat. This's where they set up shop for the night, an right outta the chute Anya starts pickin' up evil psychic radio waves with 'er slay-dar an warnin' everyone that somethin' is gonna happen. You're a little skeptical at this point, but Anya says all 'er lines just like Jennifer Tilly an constantly has this look on 'er face like she's one of those girls you're afraid to fall asleep next to cause you know that within 10 minutes of noddin' off you might wake up to find a blender cupped around your cooch smoocher with a thumb on the "Smoothie" button after she goes rootin' through your phone an finds the name of another woman in the contact list. Then Alan starts pawin' through his occult preparedness trunk an grabs his judicial cultist robe an the Necronomicon an spends several minutes explainin' why he don't hafta explain what the book's for, before immediately tellin' 'em what the book's for an how there's a 12 step program inside for gettin' into Satan's country club. So, once Alan finishes masturbatin' to the sound of his own voice, they head out into the cemetery an dig up a grave, only when Jeff hops down into it the corpse sits up an grabs 'im around the neck, resultin' in a whole mess of terrified actors, an Jeff landin' the lead role in I Shit on Your Grave.
Course, it's all just a setup to scare the bejezus outta everybody an get the girls breathin' real hard so their boobs'll start bobbin' up an down like Alan's head used to do pretty regularly in the high school toilets, an once he's had a good laugh he gets his two grave-jobbers (Emerson an Roy) to prop Herk's body (it's his grave) up against a tombstone so Alan can draw a Star of Day-vil on the coffin an light some scented candles to mask the soiled underpants smell. Then he has everybody kneel next to the grave an cross their arms like they're about to do the Macarena while he reads an incantation at the same speed as the disclaimer at the end of a radio ad for cut rate life insurance, but nothin' happens. Alan's P.O.'d, an it don't really help none when the gal dressed like a Gypsy prostitute (Val) gets down in the grave an starts sassin' the devil by talkin' like an old Jewish broad an givin' the "live long an prosper" hand gesture to Herk's tombstone. Then Alan has Paul an Jeff lug Herk back to the house an preside over a mock wedding so Alan an Herk can make it official, which can only be a good thing for Alan since it'll be the first date he's ever been on that won't end in either a slap or laughter. Might do 'im some good to settle down anyhow, maybe shave off that facial hair so he don't look quite so much like the guy on the deviled ham can. Terry don't think think any of this's funny an proceeds to tell Alan what a creep he is, at least until Alan threatens to fire 'er an send 'er back to takin' orders through a clown's head in a little paper hat. Then Anya starts givin' this big dead lives matter speech about how we gotta treat corpses with respect or else they'll grow up with a complex an end up threatenin' female video game critics over the internet from their grandmothers' basements. So Alan hasta get Jeff to drag Herk into the next room so Alan can reassure 'im that it ain't his fault an that Anya's just been in a lousy mood ever since she bulked up to 59lbs last semester. Elsewhere, unbeknownst to the goof troupe, it ain't so much that their ritual didn't work, rather, it's just pretty tough to Uma Thurman your way out of a grave, an pretty quick the whole cemetery population starts poppin' outta their graves like in the Thriller video an next thing you know Emerson gets pulled apart like that perforated Hot Pocket in the tv commercial. Back inside, the rest of the distressed thespians've decided they'll never move beyond regional theater with Alan at the helm an start headin' for the boat, only they don't get too far before Roy shows up lookin' like he's just arisen from a night of bein' passed out on a pepperoni pizza to warn 'em about the risin' tide of those who've died washin' down the hill at 'em, an they pile back into the house after narrowly avoidin' a graveyard smash. Gonna cut off the description here, so if spoilers're your thing, you'll hafta find somebody with less journalistic integrity'n me.
Alrighty, Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, lest they become dead things. Kind of a weird one, and definitely made on the cheap, but still pretty fun despite its technical shortcomings. Anybody who hasn't seen this one's probably wondering where the heck they came up with that title; well, the reason is that the director in the movie who's runnin' around with the facial hair that looks like somebody smashed a tarantula on his face refers to all his actors as "children." This's gotta be the weirdest movie Bob Clark ever made though, at least before his career started circlin' the ole toilet and he hadda start makin' flicks like Baby Geniuses and The Karate Dog. Bob was actually planning a remake of this movie, but died in a car wreck back in 2007. Probably would've been pretty interesting too, because even though it's impossible to recreate that gritty '70s feel, there's definitely a lot about this movie that could benefit from a modern remake. Normally I wouldn't advocate for a remake of anything made after 1969, but this flick was made for around $70,000, so you can see how simply by having a budget, a remake might have allowed for a whole new twist on an interesting concept. Of course, with Bob gone, nobody better remake this flick now, but it would've been fun to see how a modern update would've come off. I've probably just alienated at least five or six people by saying that, because this movie's actually become kind of a cult favorite among horror fans, and even though I think it's just so-so, it's easy to see why so many people love it. They love it because it's so goddamned weird, and not only that; it's weird in a way that's completely different from all the other genuinely weird movies of the era. The closest you can get to this particular species of weirdness would be some of Herschell Gordon Lewis' stuff, but his stuff is a whole lot more explicit. I think maybe part of the reason why it's so different from the flicks released by other weird guys of the era is that Bob's movies were usually played more or less straight (Black Christmas), or completely off the wall goofy (Porky's), and this one is really more of a horror/comedy. Some of that's gonna be the fact that the screenplay (while adapted from a script written by Bob) was written by Alan Ormsby (the guy playing Alan in the movie), and he comes across as a lunatic. Still, when you're on such a limited budget, there's usually going to be a natural shift towards the comedic, because the reality of the situation is that most people aren't going to be able to take the movie seriously if you set it up that way. Trying to overcome an insurmountable defect, or defects, is a good way to end up with a Mystery Science Theater movie. So it's usually a good idea to play at least part of the movie for laughs when you're short on cash, although, to its credit, the movie doesn't tread in Troma territory, which makes it far more palatable. Black comedy is the best description for it, and it's pretty good in that regard, with respect to the dialog and a lot of its situational comedy.
Anyhow, let's exhume this thing and bring it home so's we can find out whether it's the life of the party, or just another stiff. The plot, when looked at from a distance, doesn't seem too interesting. Ritual summons the living dead back above ground to menace the living - that's basically what you're looking at. But there are enough little eccentric details about it to keep you engrossed, even if it's a tad predictable. When you get right down to it, the last 15 minutes are basically Night of the Living Dead stuck on fast-forward, with the exception of the very last shot. It does hold another distinction that didn't happen too often in movies made before the '90s with regard to who survives, but I'm not going to spoil the ending by quantifying that statement. The acting, by all accounts, is pretty amateurish, although not painfully so. Fortunately, Alan Ormsby is ridiculously over the top as the shithead director, and he gives such a goofy, entertaining performance that it partially makes up for some of the other characters' shortcomings. Maybe "uneven" is a better way to describe the other performances, because with the exception of Paul Cronin, everyone has at least one scene that's either funny, creepy, or horrifyingly realistic, depending upon the situation. Also kinda interesting is the fact that with the exception of Jane Daly, all the other principal cast members were given the same name for their characters as their real life names. Take from that what you will. Here's who matters and why: Alan Ormsby (Dead of Night), Anya Ormsby (Dead of Night), Jane Daly (Dead of Night), Bruce Solomon (Night of the Creeps), Bob Sherman (Little Shop of Horrors 1986, Hellboy, Lancelot: Guardian of Time, Dark Tower, Superman IV, Time of the Apes). Surprisingly, two of the cast members managed to keep this flick off their resumes (or get onto one of Bob's more socially redeeming casts *because* of it) and land a coupla mainstream roles. Jeff Gillen went on to play Santa Claus in A Christmas Story, and Bruce Solomon played Dennis Foley on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.
The special effects are abysmal, and I take no pleasure in saying that. Convincing zombie make up is tough to pull off, and you've either gotta have a decent budget or be shooting in black and white to accommodate that particular demand. Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero don't come cheap, ya know? So be advised that the zombies are pretty pitiful, with the exception of Orville, who's kind of a cross between the Herk Harvey zombie from Carnival of Souls and The Joker. He doesn't have any rotting flesh, though, so that's a whole different animal. There's also a scene where the camera lingers on Orville's hand and shows off pretty plainly that the ghoul hands were just gloves, as you can see where they end and his regular skin begins. We've also got a pretty pitiful batch of pizza sauce blood, however, because of the PG rating, the use of it isn't too liberal. See also: styrofoam tombstones. So the special effects are unquestionably the Achilles heel. The shooting locations aren't too bad, as the flick utilizes a method seldom witnessed since the 1980s that goes like this: find a hovel that looks like it's about to cave in on itself, and risk the lives of your cast/crew to film there. Apparently the cottage was owned by a local photographer, and I've gotta believe that the guy was either one of those "arteests" who likes to look for the inherent beauty in rat droppings, or the shooting crew had to really trash the place to give it that lived-in Ed Gein feeling. The movie was shot back to back with Dead of Night in and around Miami, although you'd never know it from looking at any of the scenery, and the outdoor areas being utilized are neither eye-catching nor particularly memorable. Part of that may be the fact that the entire movie takes place at night, because it seems like the outdoor scenes might be akin to those of The Evil Dead, if you were able to get a good look at them. The musical score, while kinda plain much of the time, does create a little atmosphere from time to time, while primarily lurking in the background and utilizing a coupla different varieties of horn. There's also a weird little track that resembles a leaky faucet dripping into a sink, and some of those classic spooky noises that sound like an old radio tuner moving between stations like they used to use in the old science fiction movies. That said, there's a god-awful racket standing in for music during the scene where the corpses rise from their graves, and it's ugly, distracting, and detrimental. Credit where credit's due, though; the composer went on to do the soundtracks from all of Bob Clark's best movies, and the musical scoring here does come out to a net positive. Overall, I'm inclined to agree with the IMDb rating for this one, as there are a whole lot of people who think the movie is either one of the best zombie movies ever made, or one of the worst horror flicks in existence rating it, causing the score to balance somewhere in the middle. Definitely worth checking out for fans of the zombie subgenre, and if you don't go in expecting Dawn of the Dead, you'll probably have fun with it.