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Case Number 20193: Small Claims Court

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Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things

VCI Home Video // 1972 // 87 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // November 26th, 2010

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All Rise...

Judge Dan Mancini says don't be a killjoy. If children want to play with fire, guns, or dead things, get off their backs.

The Charge

You're invited to Orville's coming out party! It'll be a scream…yours!

The Case

Canadian filmmaker Bob Clark was like Roger Corman with style. During his career, he made both good movies (Murder by Decree) and bad (Baby Geniuses), even managing to deliver two bona fide classics: the 1974 seminal slasher picture Black Christmas and Yuletide must-watch A Christmas Story. 1982's Porky's was a major player (if not the major player) in launching the raunchy teen sex comedies of the early '80s (I'll leave the judgment as to whether that's a good or bad thing entirely up to you, dear reader). Clark was similar to Corman in that each and every one of his movies was made with business in mind. Regardless of their quality, they were budgeted to turn a profit—and most of them did just that. Clark differs from Corman in that, on a technical level, he knew how to shoot the hell out of a picture—even his micro-budget productions demonstrate an eye for creative composition. And when Clark was firing on all cylinders, he was capable of making flicks that were heartfelt, earnest, and true.

As a writer-director, Clark cut his teeth on exploitation and horror movies. A year before his cult breakthrough with Black Christmas, he helmed Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, a horror-comedy heavily inspired by George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead. In the movie, future make-up artist Alan Ormsby (who co-wrote the screenplay with Clark) plays a foppish theater director named Alan who takes his troupe of actors to a remote island in order to play a practical joke on them. He convinces the actors to exhume the corpse of a man named Orville Dunworth from the island's graveyard. His intent is to stage a séance and scare the pants off of his troupe with a pair of gay actors he's hired to play zombies. Unfortunately, the incantations he reads from his magic tome actually work, raising Orville and the rest of the dead buried on the island.

Even at 87 minutes, Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things is a long haul. The zombie carnage doesn't begin until about 15 minutes before the end credits roll, leaving plenty of time for comedy. This would be a good thing if Clark's low-rent cast was up to the task of delivering laughs; they're not. The movie is heavy on dialogue—most of which is neither as witty as it thinks it is, nor as competently delivered as it needs to be. Ormsby is dreadfully one-dimensional as the priggish theater director who condescends to his troupe by referring to them as "children." The rest of the cast is forgettable. The jokes are groaners. The most frustrating thing about the movie is that once the mayhem begins, the tension is palpable and Ormsby's zombie make-ups, though light on blood, are genuinely ghoulish (his work is especially admirable considering the movie's tiny budget of $70,000). Despite its flaws, we can thank Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things with allowing Bob Clark to get his feet wet in the horror genre. The following year, he would make the much better Deathdream, as well as the excellent Black Christmas.

This 35th Anniversary Exhumed Edition is VCI Home Video's second DVD release of Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things. Their first release landed on store shelves in 1999 and featured a weak non-anamorphic transfer. The movie has been treated to a substantial upgrade with the anamorphic transfer on this disc, but it still isn't going to make any Best of lists for technical excellence. The movie was shot on 35mm stock, but looks significantly worse than many low-budget 16mm movies, such as Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead. Detail is reasonably decent in close-ups. Middle and long shots are atrociously fuzzy. The low light conditions of the shoot have rendered an image with coarse, intrusive grain. In an effort to prevent the movie from looking like something shot by teenagers in a backyard with consumer-grade equipment, VCI has boosted colors to the point where reds tend to bleed. Despite the movie's shoddy technical qualities, it is still filled with interesting compositions and camera moves. Clark frames many of his shots from extreme angles, lending the movie a disorienting visual quality. Camera moves are quick, dynamic, and deliberate—so much so that one can't help but wonder whether Raimi saw Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things before he made the visually aggressive The Evil Dead.

The disc's single-channel mono presentation of the movie's original analog track is flat but relatively clean given the age of the recording.

It should also be noted that the movie has a long and convoluted history of being edited for exhibition (though it's not particularly graphic). This disc contains an 87-minute cut of the movie, the most complete version available.

In addition to the feature, the disc offers a sizable list of mostly brief supplements. There's a feature-length audio commentary by Ormsby, actors Jane Daly and Anya Cronin, and moderator David Gregory (Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Shocking Truth); an audio tribute to Clark with Ormsby, Daly, and Cronin (probably recorded at the same time as the commentary); a 20-minute Q & A from an exhibition of the movie at the 2007 L.A. Grindhouse Festival; a 20-minute interview with Ken Goch, a crewmember who was tasked with digging the graves that appear in the movie; music videos for "Dead Girls Don't Say No" and "Cemetary Mary" by The Deadthings; a video tribute to movie; a brief trivia reel; a text biography of Alan Ormsby; and a trailer for the film. It's not a bad batch of supplements given the flick's relative obscurity.

With the exception of Bob Clark's strong visual sensibilities, there's little to recommend Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things. It is a poorly written, poorly acted, and incredibly boring little horror film.

The Verdict

Guilty as charged.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 66

Perp Profile

Studio: VCI Home Video
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 1972
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
• Comedy
• Cult
• Horror

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Featurettes
• Q&A
• Photo Gallery
• Music Videos
• Trailer


• IMDb

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