Thursday, August 23, 2012
Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things
Reports have emerged online that Fangoria Magazine and Tom Savini, the legendary special effects makeup artist during the splatter craze of the 70s and 80s, are teaming for a remake of this Bob Clark directed effort, Children Shouldn't Play Things (1973). I wasn't keen on Savini's 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead, thinking he didn't bring much new to the material and that the original still held up. However, the original Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things is actually ripe for a remake, I think. Despite some cult appeal and a few good parts near the end, it's mostly a tedious and repetitive waste of a neat title.
Ever watch Steve Irwin or some other nature show host on TV repeatedly poke a snake, spider, or any creature with sharp teeth to the point you can actually see the precise instant the animal can't take it any more and attacks? This is essentially the plot of Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, but instead of a snake, we get zombies summoned by a Satanic ritual, and instead of a nature show host, we get a troupe of theater actors (Oh God, the horror!).
Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things is less than 90 minutes, and yet it's well over an hour into the movie before the dead actually rise and attack. Before that, it is an extremely long haul listening to all these characters complain about Alan and talk about whatever. The characters aren't very interesting, not even Alan in a love-to-hate-him kind of way; he's just a jerk you want to see be eaten. The dialogue consists of a lot of lame jokes and bad puns the characters laugh at (you know what they say about people who laugh at their own jokes).
So much of the movie just doesn't make sense. I honestly don't know what Alan was trying to accomplish. Everything he does appears as part of one big lark to mess with his actors, but I don't see what his payoff was going to be. Why go to all the trouble to set up a big joke on some island to prank people? The prank itself really wasn't that impressive. After his prank, Alan really tries to wake the dead but gets angry when the spell seems to fail. I also couldn't tell why the others put up with him so much. Yes, he's the boss, but there's a difference between working for a jerk and working for a guy who makes you dig up graves and commit similar crimes.
The movie's fundamental problem is how it tries to balance comedy and horror and fails pretty badly. The comedic aspects are played on the level of a farce, and without any underlying conviction or stakes, the horror just sort of withers and dies. A better example of this type of movie is The Return of the Living Dead; that was a horror movie in which the humor organically grew from the situations because the characters weren't acting like they were trying to be funny, so the joke was on them. The situation just grew worse and worse for them as they tried to make things better, making the proceedings darkly funny. Here, just about every character is obviously trying to be funny, and few things are as unfunny as watching someone try to be funny and failing.