Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972) aka Revenge of the Living Dead
Dir. Bob Clark
Written by Bob Clark, Alan Ormsby
Starring Alan Ormsby, Valerie Mamches, Jeff Gillan, Jane Daly
A weird theater troupe under the command of a seriously weird dude named Alan (Alan Ormsby, also screenwriter and makeup) arrives at an island cemetery in order to dig up a corpse and maybe conduct a satanic ritual to revive the dead, for absolutely no good reason whatsoever, in this weird, low-rent zombie flick from Bob Clark. They hang around, bicker, grave-rob, sit on a couch and argue, and eventually, near the end, a few zombies show up.
Honestly, I’m not quite sure what to make of this one. What the hell is going on here? What is the purpose of this expedition? What does this have to do with them being a theater troupe, except that Alan is the director and hence can pressure his employees to go along with it? What is he trying to accomplish here? Is this some sort of weird joke, or is he really hoping to raise the dead? And if so, why the fuck would he want to do that?
|Apparently the Scooby gang actually COULD look wussier.|
It’s a weird movie, populated by deeply weird characters. First and foremost, we got Alan, who speaks every line with arch theatrical flair and dresses like a traffic cone at a renaissance fair. Then we got Val (Valerie Mamches), some sort of failed actress/witch(?) who acts as his foil, constantly calling him a loser but inexplicably still doing what he says. Then we got Anya (Anya Ormsby, Alan Ormsby’s real-life then-wife) a spaced-out hippie who seems like she must be gobbling ‘shrooms like tic-tacs, or maybe talks to dead people? Then we got Paul (Paul Cronin) and Terry (Jane Daly) who seem pretty unimportant, I dunno, then we got Jeff (Jeff Gillen, Santa in A CHRISTMAS STORY) the one likeable guy anywhere in sight, and finally two gay guys* (Roy Engelman, Robert Philip) dressed like Dracula. Again, they’re out here to dig up this corpse named Orville (Seth Sklarey) and then sit next to it on a couch in an abandoned house, and argue. Any of this making sense?
Not really, but I gotta admit that the overt oddness of the cast and setup sort of has it’s charms, at least for awhile. While Alan is an incredibly annoying, unlikeable character, Ormsby’s fearlessly outsized performance makes him a memorable one, and, crucially, a unique one. I got no idea what Ormsby is going for with this guy (maybe he’d be more familiar to theater enthusiasts?) but I can safely say I’ve never seen another actor try for it. With good reason, perhaps, but it does make certain that this particular performance, in this context, stands out and manages to provide a little bit of entertainment while you’re waiting for the zombies to show.
|Keep an eye out for this guy.|
Unfortunately it takes a really, really long time for that to happen, and by the time the obligatory zombie siege begins, whatever offbeat charm the movie once had has long since passed. They might have been able to save it with some real over-the-top walking dead action, but unfortunately these are pretty middling zombies in the Romero mode, and the last section pretty much plays out like a ripoff of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD with an even less likable cast. It’s not completely without its merits; there are a couple decent-looking zombies, one or two good horror ideas, and the cheap natural lighting gives added menace and atmosphere to the lurching corpses. But merely competent doesn’t quite cut it when you’ve had to wait this long for the climax, and really the only thing that makes it worth sticking it out is the hope that Alan will be adequately punished for being such a dipshit (spoiler: he is).
Honestly, the only reason anyone still remembers this movie is that it was directed by Bob Clark, who would go on to improve significantly and become a beloved director of horror classics (BLACK CHRISTMAS, DEATHDREAM), horny teen epics (PORKY’S) and charming Christmas favorites (A CHRISTMAS STORY), before declining again and ending his career in shame and ignominity (KARATE DOG, SUPERBABIES: BABY GENIUSES 2)**. I don’t know that having watched it without knowing the director I would have guessed he would go on to make so many beloved genre movies, but despite the iffy script (written in ten days, says IMDB, which probably explains a lot) I think Clark does manage to get some broad, entertaining performances from his actors and at least manage some good horror framings, if not necessarily classic horror ideas. You can see some level of talent here, even if it’s mostly misdirected. Even so, this one is at best a mildly interesting curiosity. Skippable by all but the most dedicated zombiephile completists who might find something worthwhile about it’s minor offbeat nature.
*IMDB claims that this is one of the first genre films to have openly gay characters who contribute positively to the plot, so gay people of the world, you have CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS to thank for the universal acceptance you now so widely enjoy.
**Apparently Clark was planning to remake this film in 2007, before he was tragically killed by a drunk driver. I would have loved to have him return to the horror genre, but really that sounds like a terrible idea, this isn’t a premise which is worth revisiting at all and without Ormsby would be utterly pointless since he's the only really unique thing about the original.