Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things [4K UHD]

Jan 09, 2023
Web Exclusive

By Austin Trunick


A boat full of actors makes its way to a small island somewhere near Miami, led by their deranged director and employer, Alan (co-writer and SFX supervisor Alan Ormsby). It’s kind of hard to tell what kind of weird-ass, experimental theater these kids are into, but most of them seem generally okay with defiling the island’s small cemetery, and digging up a corpse to help Alan with an arcane ritual as some kind of team-building exercise. Using an old spell book, he invokes Satan’s help in raising the dead for reasons that aren’t really clear. When it appears that the spell doesn’t work, Alan’s plans change, and he convinces his fellow actors to drag the corpse back to the nearby cabin where they’ll be staying to throw it a late-night “coming out” party.

Of course, just because the dead don’t rise *immediately,* doesn’t mean that Alan’s spell was a bust . . . you can guess where this is going.

Having celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things was among the first zombie movies to arrive after the genre-codifying Night of the Living Dead (1968). Likely noticing how much money George A. Romero’s film had made on its minimal budget, filmmaker Bob Clark turned to his friend and former classmate, Alan Ormsby, to help him cook up a horror film that he would direct and Ormsby could star in. Prior to acting, Ormsby had been an artist; he put these skills to use in what would become Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, personally handling the gore effects and zombie makeup on top of his roles as the film’s co-writer and lead actor.

Clark and Ormsby took an alternate to Romero and company, however, crafting Children into a lurid comedy rather than a straight-forward horror movie. This choice was arguably the movie’s biggest stumbling block. Nearly two-thirds of the movie’s runtime is dedicated to characters insulting each other in corny ways, and Alan’s mean-spirited pranks or macabre tomfoolery with a rotting corpse. None of it is all that funny, and when all of the laughs fall flat it’s hard not to notice how frustratingly threadbare the story is.

The cast is mostly made up of Clark and Ormsby’s friends and family members, which works in the movie’s favor: they do feel like a bunch of weird, theater kids stuck in a bizarre situation. (I remember my theater kid days, and we only stopped just short of trying to raise the dead at our after-parties.) Ormsby’s performance usually bears the brunt of most hostility leveled at Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. Like poor Franklin in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, he’s one of those horror movie victims that you actively wish would be killed off as quickly as possible.

If Ormsby failed to give his character any redeeming qualities because he was too focused on the movie’s special effects, I’m willing to give him a pass. The zombies look really good given the movie’s tiny budget – much more like rotting corpses than the zombies of Night or even the blue-skinned hordes of Dawn, which wouldn’t come until years later. The scene where the zombies finally rise from their graves is frequently cited as a high point, and deservedly so – it’s jarring and surreal. Considering how much the zombies here resemble Lucio Fulci’s famous walking flower pots (not to mention, the similarity of Children’s final shot to a certain scene in 1979’s Zombi 2), you have to wonder if the maestro had seen this movie before embarking on his own zombie odysseys.

Once the horror finally gets going in Children, it’s pretty damn effective. The movie’s strange, atonal score atop moments of slow motion and unusual camera angles give the finale a surreal, legitimately terrifying feel. The ending of Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things is so effective, it’s easy to forgive much of the drudgery endured to reach that point.

This probably doesn’t need to be stated so plainly, but Children is NOT a movie that’s going to blow any viewers’ minds with its HD presentation. The miniscule budget, on top of so much of it being shot at night, meant that the film was never going to be pretty – actors there’s really not much to look at beyond the actors and the limited sets. That said, Children fans will be able to appreciate a very noticeable upgrade on the 4K disc even over the Blu-ray presentation included in this same set. While there’s no HDR, it’s easier to make out details in the 4K version, and fewer things beyond the immediate foreground disappear into the movie’s mucky, dark backgrounds.

Included on the same discs as the main feature is a full-length documentary called Dreaming of Death: Bob Clark’s Horror Films. This documentary is great, and dedicates a lot of time to the making of Children. Clark would have much better results in the genre with the eternally underrated Deathdream and his massively influential slasher, Black Christmas, and this doc draws a real nice arc through that period of his career. You can also watch the movie with an older commentary by Ormsby and two fellow cast members. An additional Blu-ray disc is dedicated just to special features, and includes a brand-new interview with Ormsby along with a bunch of previously-released featurettes, promotional galleries, and music videos.

Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things isn’t one of the genre’s universally-beloved entries, but it’s nonetheless an noteworthy film in the timeline of zombie cinema. Longtime fans will want to seriously consider upgrading to this 4K anniversary edition, which presents a far more detailed presentation than the movie’s ever received until now.

(Buy it here.)


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