Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972)
Written By: Benjamin “Bob” Clark
Directed By: Benjamin “Bob” Clark
Starring: Alan Ormsby, Jane Daly, Anya Ormsby, Jeffery Gillen, Paul Cronin, Valerie Mamches, Seth Sklarey
Country of Origin: United States of America
Lately, I’ve taken a new interest in discussing films that were made solely to capitalize off of a picture that “revolutionized” the industry. In the horror genre, there are a good 10-15 different flicks that can be deemed revolutionary. And, in the wake of their release and success, there are more than 9000 clones waiting to make a quick buck off of their success. The same can honestly be said for any genre of film. Just look at the last decade. When The Ring made it big domestically, producers scrambled to adapt as many horror films as they could from Japan. Even that style of filmmaking, adding different views, colors, and even length, to a film (thank you very much Gore Verbinsky) was the focal point of copycats nationwide. Look at the Saw franchise. Is gore more important than a thrills and spills? How about the world outside of horror? I mean, The Watchmen is supposedly a novel that can’t possibly be filmed…or at least that was the theory ten years ago. You know, before X-Men and Spider-Man made a huge impact.
So what does it all mean? Well, when dealing with a picture like Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, you have to recognize that this zombie-esque satire was made just a few years after the monumental Night of the Living Dead, and, in recognizing this, you need to know that the only thing that can save it from being just another clone is a different and unique approach. Enter Benjamin “Bob” Clark, our writer and director. When he created this cinematic gem, little did we know what was on the horizon, but I’ll get to all of that a little later. For now, let’s just sit back and enjoy (or valiantly attempt to enjoy) Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things.
Open on the most incoherent man on Earth who, not surprisingly, gets eaten. Cue green slime opening credits. Already I know that I’m watching a film that would’ve played during an Unrated MST3K. The majority of the beginning of this movie is really hard to watch. There’s a lot of characters shuffling about, moving things around in an all-too-boring fashion, and if all that wasn’t nauseating enough, we have to listen to the inner sounds of the small intestine as our soundtrack. Luckily, we’re broken out of our deliberate coma by a foghorn, and more dark visuals. After roughly five minutes of this nonsense, we get our plot, setting, and characters in all of thirty seconds.
Alan, the leader of the pack, sports a killer Van Dyke and plans to dig up a dead body in a secluded graveyard next to a cottage. Alan’s a director of a small theatre group, and also, a gigantically homosexual pervert. Even though he hits on his newest acting member, Valerie, he’s still a flaming bag of asses. Alan leads his group of “children” through the dark woods and to the graveyard for this insidious, if not entirely unexplained, plot. The score of the film hasn’t improved any from scene to scene. Is this the woods, or fucking Jurassic Park? By the way, it might be important to note that every character is playing themselves. That’s right, the names haven’t been changed to protect the innocent. Rather, they remained the same to confound the imaginative. But hey, Writer Bob Clark was just spreading his wings with this hunk-o-junk.
After fifteen minutes (no joke, fifteen!) of walking through the world’s lamest ambiance while Alan narcissistically fellates himself, we finally make it to the cottage/dig site. I want to let it be known that I’m bored out of my mind right now. If this was intense and thrilling in 1972, then somebody should repeatedly fist 1972 until they find it’s spine. Thus far, no character, especially not Uncle Alan Assclown, has made themselves socially redeemable. What keeps me watching is the hope (and pretty much guarantee) that they’ll all be eaten in the next hour. As of right now, all we have is children. Children who are actually well prepared for any “mishaps” that may occur during the night. Where are my dead things?
Turns out Alan is harboring a secret from his theatre troop. Looks like he wants to conduct a little satanic ritual on the dead rather than just grave rob them. How sentimental! Alan explains himself and his intentions so homosexually that he makes Liberache look like a womanizer. Soon enough, they dig up a corpse only to find that it is part of a cruel trick Alan has masterfully crafted. What a douche this guy is. Alan planted his other cohorts in full zombie garb to scare his friends, and apparently it works. FIVE times good ol’ fat man Jeffery announces that he peed his pants. Does he want a bronze medal for pissing himself?
Anyway, even through all of the practical jokes, Alan actually has a real corpse to perform satanic experiments on. Why do people follow this guy? I mean really, what the fuck? Okay, I’ll try and go beyond all this stupidity, and back to the story. Alan’s best efforts to invoke Satan have failed, and now, he’s cursing the very thing he just embraced as we still lack any moving corpses. Instead, we have dissention in the ranks as the children call Alan out on his douchebaggery. Luckily, we have satirical summoning of the dead as well in an attempt to patronize Alan the Impetuous. Eventually, we learn that the gang has taken “Orville,” their corpse of reality back to the cabin where they can defile it in many ways non-sexual. Rule 1 of Zombie Movies: Don’t desecrate the dead. They hate that.
During these sequences, the film actually shows flashes of brilliance. We’ve spent an inordinate amount of time up until this point waiting for something good, and we finally get it with strong dialogue amongst the characters and some genuine chills from the impending doom in the graveyard. Yes, while it was poorly executed for most of the film, it looks like we might finally shatter through the glass ceiling if only we could get to the point in the express lane. Sadly, by the time it all comes to a boiling point, the intrigue has faded away. The Evil Dead is vaguely similar in these scenes, but the difference was that the doom hit early and hit often. Here, the doom is as lifeless and stiff as Orville.
Face it, you know what happens from this point on. The dead come back (finally) and take down the living one by one. Problem is, we simply don’t care. We only really want to see what becomes of King Alan the Douche, so the rest is all window dressing and high frequency noises. Thank God for a (if not all too predictable) payoff.
Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: The Sound/Music editor on the film needs to be killed. His use of EVERY STOCK SOUND IN THE UNIVERSE makes me wonder: did he inherit a soundboard for his birthday and then fall asleep on top of its keys? An owl hoot has never been and will never be scary. NEVER. Bank on it.
Best Name in the Cast: Jane Daley, who plays Terry, and by that logic, is the only main character that DOES NOT play herself. What, did they cast someone named Terry (like Terry Bollea) in the roll and then have a last minute replacement? And we were too lazy to go along with our already lazy theme?
Quote of the Film:
“I’d whistle past the graveyard by my lips are afraid to be separated.” -Jeffery, ever the comedian.
Final Thoughts: Through the majority of this satirical “masterpiece” made to capitalize on a true cinematic achievement, Bob Clark buried himself worse than he buried his bland, comatose cast. Clark didn’t achieve much in this film well, but he showed signs of potential in his script writing and humor. He understood what it took to make something entertaining and funny, but he hadn’t a clue how to do it properly. That’s why Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things serves as another copycat to the George Romero lineage. Luckily, there was still hope for Bob Clark. He may have started as the apprentice, but he soon became the master. Following his work here, he went on to create the film adaptation for A Christmas Story, and then, he created his own revolution: the teen sex comedy Porky’s. Not a bad way to make a living after he helped to set new standards for sub-par schlock. After all that, you’ve got to figure that Bob had a good laugh over the fact that there were dozens of people trying to do with Porky’s exactly what he had tried to do with this picture. The moral of the story is the same here as it was in Children, in that sometimes you have to wait a long, long time to get to the good stuff, but when you do, the payoff makes you realize why you started in the first place.