Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things Review
The first thing you notice about Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things is just how low budget it is. It can be seen in the variable acting, in the cheap film stock, the poor lighting, the shoddy make-up. There’s nothing particularly wrong in this, but it does raise a question. Is the film, therefore, a labour of love made with whatever money could be scraped together, or a cynical means of earning a quick buck? And it’s also an important question as Children… has a huge air of familiarity to it. The film takes place entirely at night with a bunch of overage “kids” getting up to shenanigans in an isolated graveyard and, predictably, raising the dead. Of course, if treated well such a situation – or similar, as in The Evil Dead - can transcend such limitations, but sadly Bob Clark’s early effort falls into the latter, strictly for the money category.
That said, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things does have one saving grace. Far more tongue-in-cheek than most horror pics made at the time, it at least doesn’t take itself at all seriously. There’s even a nod towards post-modernism in Alan Ormsby’s performance, clearly modelled on Vincent Price, particularly his performances for William Castle and Roger Corman. Both of these filmmakers could balance the cinematic qualities with the cynical audience grabbing, yet oddly Clark doesn’t seem overtly interested in emulating either. Rather, Children… evokes to a far greater sense one of those George Zucco movies which languish in the public domain. Just consider the forced, but hokey humour (including a host of Yiddish gags which are likely to go over the heads of most UK audiences), the barely professional cast and, in the first half at least, the inadvertent entertainment this provides. Indeed, if looked upon as a demented Zucco homage, then Children… actually plays remarkably well.
The problem is that it also emulates the mid-point lull which blighted many a Zucco effort and then uses this moment as an opportunity to change tact. Thus we move towards a blatant Night of the Living Dead rip-off and the sheer cynicism of the exercise begins to fold sway. Moreover, such a switch also makes it apparent as to just how little effort has been put into both the characterisation and the situation – the group of “kids” are a theatrical troupe, though it’s never quite clear why this should involve a midnight trip to a graveyard on a deserted resort island – and as such any kind of group dynamic is sorely missing. Rather the film simply becomes an excuse for spending a half hour wiping out the cast without any signs of the comic edges it once held. Admittedly, this does allow for a surprisingly bleak conclusion, but the whole thing can’t help but feel forced and anti-climactic in light of fun, however inadvertent, of the first 50 minutes.
Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things comes to UK DVD with a decent presentation, but it is worth noting that this is a shorter version of the film. At 75 minutes (taking into account PAL speedup) it is losing approximately 10 minutes of footage, though I’m unable to discover a reason for this situation. Oddly, when listening to the commentary, no cuts are apparent and if I weren’t aware that footage was missing, there isn’t anything to point in that direction.
Those who aren’t bothered by this should be happy to learn that the film looks almost as good as could be expected. There is print damage – mostly minor, though there are a few overt instances where you fear that it’s getting mangled in a projector – but on the whole the colours are faithfully recreated (i.e. utterly garish and not helped by the obscene fashions) and the film gets an anamorphic transfer. As for the sound we are offered the usual Anchor Bay choices of the original mono (spread over two channels), a DD5.1 mix and DTS. The former is the one to go for and is perhaps as good as could be expected given the film’s budget, though the two upgrades are surprisingly effective considering the materials they are working from.
As for extras, the disc contains the usual gallery, film notes and biographies for Clark, Ormsby and actor Jeff Gillen, plus a fine commentary by Ormsby. Thankfully not taking the film at all seriously – which means you don’t have to be a huge fan of the film to enjoy the track – he proves a likeable presence whilst Blue Underground’s David Gregory pops up from time to time to prompt his chat in certain directions and ask the important questions. As such we get a well-rounded commentary, though of course Ormsby’s memory isn’t what it once was. Either way both fans and genre completists should gain plenty of entertainment.
Unlike the main feature, the commentary comes without optional subtitles.