Thursday, August 23, 2012

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things

As a rule of thumb, if you're making a zombie movie, and there's a point in the script when a couple of the characters dress up as zombies, the makeup on the actual zombies should probably be substantially better than the makeup on the fake zombies. Otherwise, your movie comes off as cheap.

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!).

A group of actors led by their director Alan (Alan Ormsby) arrive on a mostly-deserted island. Alan is a  rather big prick to everyone, referring to his actors as his "children" and threatening to fire anyone who doesn't go along, and he's planning a night of fun and games on the island, particularly in the cemetery. For some reason, Alan has a book he intends to use to call up the dead. When the ritual seems to fail, Alan has the others drag one of the bodies back to cabin where he berates them and the corpse.

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.

When the dead do show up, it's a much welcome relief. The makeup on the ghouls isn't too impressive, but the scenes of zombie attacks are decently staged and even a little tense. The living "children" have been disrespecting the dead the entire movie: goofing around a cemetery, digging up graves, mocking the dead, etc. Now karma has come back to bite them. It's not very gory or scary, but at least something interesting is finally happening.

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.

1 comment:

  1. I still think it's one of the best movies to ever appear on Elvira's Movie Macabre. Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things