Review: Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #644

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Also known as Revenge of the Living Dead, Things From the Dead, Zreaks
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: June 9, 1972
Sub-Genre: Zombie Comedy
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $70,000
Running Time: 87 minutes
Director: Bob Clark
Producers: Bob Clark, Gary Goch, Peter James
Screenplay: Bob Clark, Alan Ormsby
Special Effects: Alan Ormsby
Cinematography: Jack McGowan
Score: Carl Zittrer
Editing: Gary Goch
Studio: Geneni Film Distributors
Distributors: Geneni Film Distributors, Liberty Home Video
Stars: Alan Ormsby, Valerie Mamches, Jeff Gillen, Anya Ormsby, Paul Cronin, Jane Daly, Roy Engleman, Robert Philip, Seth Sklarey, Bruce Solomon, Alecs Baird

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💿 Suggested Audio Jukebox 💿

[1] Spinners Ooh Child

[2] Kim Wilde Kids in America

 

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I thought being a kid was supposed to be a cushy gig. There’s no question that it’s all fun and games in the beginning. We enter this world with a sense of wide-eyed sense wonderment, ensured at every turn that we are the future, but it isn’t long before things begin to go a little off-kilter. Reality appears to start biting around the time that rules and procedure are introduced by our elders and the laundry list of strict no-nos soon spirals well out of control. You’re darn tooting these guidelines are comprehensive. Thus in my infinite wisdom, I’ve cherry picked a few dozen to show how mean-spirited adults can be. I just hope this isn’t deemed as rebellious and earn me the business side of the slipper as I don’t particularly relish having my hide tanned.

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⛔️ Children are permitted to be seen but not heard, speak only when spoken to and not unless they have something nice to say, not soil their bed linen, leave the dinner table until the plate’s clean, forget to feed the guinea pig, stay up past 8.30pm, cross the street without holding an adult’s hand, enquire where babies come from, play kiss chase in the school yard, reveal their pee-pee to sweet little Nancy from around the way behind the bicycle shed, rescue a mildew-encrusted ragdoll from the gutter and give her pride of place in the toothbrush pot (that one derives from personal experience), accept candy from strange men loitering at the school gates in filthy beige trench coats, play truant, feign a stomach upset every Monday morning, hide their report card, discard a roller skate by the top of the stairwell, eat wild berries, pick scabs or their nose, roll any unearthed boogers up into a greasy ball, chew boogers, flick boogers, wipe boogers beneath the desk, run in the hallway, wander from sight in supermarkets, believe in the Tooth Fairy, mention mommy kissing Santa Claus to daddy, mention the crispy edition of Girls & Ponies tucked away in daddy’s sock drawer, make gross faces in case the wind changes, fail to wash rigorously behind the ears, climb trees, tease the neighbor’s cat, lob pebbles, lodge their head in the staircase balustrade, prod a twig in a beehive, or pound on windows. Talk about baptism of fire. That reminds me, they’re not allowed to play with that either 📛.

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Anyhoots now that I’ve got that little lot off my chest, maybe I can get back to dissecting this worm and threading it through my mud pie as per my attempt to impress the girl next door. Actually there’s no time for those kind of impish shenanigans right now, as according to Bob Clark, children are also strongly advised not to play with dead things ☠️. If I don’t dilly-dally (something else not deemed acceptable practise for minors), perhaps there’s still time to regress into a fetus, spit that mouthful of breast milk back into mommy’s front udders, and clamber back into her womb for a lullaby. That said, I’m not entirely sure the “children” Clark has in mind quite fit the description. More on that soon but first, I feel obliged to offer props to the American filmmaker for cinematic services rendered.

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Not only did Clark write the rule book for high school sex comedy with Porky’s, and go on to cater for the mainstream through the likes of Rhinestone, A Christmas Story, and Turk 182!, but he had his fingers in another American pie besides. You see, he was also right in the thick of it to usher on the slasher sub-genre courtesy of his unsung early riser, Black Christmas, as far back as 1974 so clearly his dues are deserved. However I’m not done fondling his balls quite yet as Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things clawed its way out of a shallow grave two years earlier, making him one of the first to jump on George A. Romero’s undead bandwagon. Moreover, he did so with an endearing sense of mischief, and while playing things straight, his tongue never strayed too far from the cheek and that equates to a fair splash of industry in my book. Let’s not prod the stiff here, this film is forty-five big ones past its freshman year and shows every last semester of its age. But it’s also something of a designer original, and for a movie shot on a shoestring in 14 days with a group of college buddies, that’s not bad going.

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The kiddies in question here are a thrift store dressed theatre troupe led by acrimonious and typically flamboyant director, Alan (Alan Ormsby). After docking their vessel on an unmanned jetty at the dead of night, they head off to the local cemetery for a spot of moonlight mischief, which he plans to culminate in a séance. Alan refers to his uneasy associates as “children” and backs this up by telling all manner of tall tales relating to the island’s folklore and buried inhabitants, who he says comprise mostly unruly deadbeats and shady crooks.

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Clad in a mystical ceremonial robe and sporting the kind of thespian chin growth that he believes earns him the respect of his playthings, he has every intention of tossing a cat amongst the pigeons for his own sick amusement whenever the bloody well he sees fit, much to their mounting frustration. Whether or not they hate his guts is of no consequence as he is the one with the power to hire and fire at will and doesn’t let them forget that for a picosecond.

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What he hasn’t bargained on is that resident stiff, Orville Dunworth (Seth Sklarey), and his rowdy rabble haven’t taken at all kindly to the intrusion and are becoming increasingly restless beneath the topsoil with every one of his disrespectful actions. These include dragging his wasting bones to a run-down cottage in the vicinity and exchanging nuptials against Orville’s muted objection.

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While willing to give his blushing bearded bride the benefit of doubt (for perhaps fifteen minutes too long if I’m being fussy), eventually Orville decides that enough is enough and gives the telepathic signal to this festering entourage to wake up from their eternal sleep and show these kids some manners. By this time, there’s not great deal of time left on the clock, but an eventful closing act puts paid to any grumbling tummies, ensuring nobody comes away feeling under-nourished.

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Given that the lion’s share of the festivities is spent ruminating, Clark and co-writer Ormsby (who also penned Paul Schrader’s stellar 1982 remake of Cat People) come up largely trumps when it comes to securing our mostly undivided attention. Much of this is down to the ringleader of our “children” who belittles, degrades, devalues, mortifies, endangers, and sacrifices his miffed minions with a devilish glint behind his bifocals. Meanwhile, the steady approach taken provides sufficient moments for other cast members to shine and the idiosyncrasies of each lend a certain charm to proceedings that cannot help but win you over.

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Alas the fact that Clark’s film is now so long in the tooth makes the 64 minutes of virtual inactivity a tough slog, regardless of any quirky turns and whip-smart dialogue. That said, the satire on offer is so radically dark and our nihilistic lead so dismissive of the dead that the eventual pay-off and bleak conclusion cannot help but send a little southward shiver down the spine. Zombies are historically distinguishable by their gormless indifference, whereas Clark’s mobile meat heads actually register rage and have every last right to be crotchety.

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If I learned anything watching Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things for the first time at the age of ten then that would be that children shouldn’t play with dead things. In that respect, Clark’s film played its part in ushering me towards adulthood and for that I’ll always be grateful. Orville Dunworth may be a decidedly quiet chap, but once he pulls his finger out, he sure knows how to lay on a party.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

 

For the Grue-Guzzlers: While hardly a butcher’s window with regards to the red stuff, Clark still manages to budget in a little corn syrup. Lest we not forget that this was way back in 1972 and folk weren’t yet primed for all-you-can-eat tear and share. 

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Read Black Christmas Double Appraisal
Read Dawn of The Dead (1978) Appraisal
Read The Return of The Living Dead Appraisal
Read Romeo’s Distress Appraisal

 

Richard Charles Stevens

aka

Keeper of the Crimson Quill

#CreatorsUnite
Copyright: Grueheads Films 2017

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1 Comment

  1. So this is how you got into horror too! You are right. Kindred spirits. It is a very dated film but I had fun with it. Terrific review, Rich. Alan was a complete pompous ass.

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