Bob Clark, 1972
Starring: Alan Ormsby, Valerie Mamches, Jeff Gillen, Anya Ormsby
The insufferable Alan takes his theater troupe to a strange island, one that is apparently full of dead criminals buried in a spooky cemetery. He tells them stories about these men and then holds a séance at midnight, hoping to raise one of them from the dead. He digs up a man named Orville Dunworth, but when nothing happens, the disappointed troupe wanders off. Alan becomes even more intolerable than normal during the night, humiliating the actors and making fun of Orville, but little does he suspect that the dead will get their revenge…
Though I’m a huge fan of director Bob Clark’s other films – particularly Deathdream and Black Christmas, as well as A Christmas Story, Porky’s, and Sherlock Holmes meets Jack the Ripper film Murder by Decree – Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things just never grew on me. Unlike Clark’s later, more stylish films, Children is incredibly low budget with the singular island set and a cast made up largely of his college friends. It is an important film mostly because it heralds the career of one of the most interesting directors to make films in Canada. Clark himself was from the U.S. (as is this particular production), but some of his best films were made in the Great White North.
Clark and star Alan Ormsby divided up duties on the film; they co-wrote the movie, Clark directed, and Ormsby starred and designed the special effects. Ormsby’s writing and effects aren’t bad. He actually went on to write a book about the subject, Movie Monsters: Monster Make-Up and Monster Shows to Put On, and worked on Deathdream and Deranged with Clark. It’s a shame that he’s a truly terrible actor and his character and performance is what put me off of the film to begin with. He’s one of the most rage-inducing lead characters in all of horror cinema and is simply unlikable in every imaginable way. He abuses his theater troupe, whom he calls his children, and threatens to fire them when they displease him in any way. Early in the film, he makes a sexual advance on one of his actresses right in front of her boyfriend.
The rest of the cast don’t fare very well either. Mostly they are memorable because of how dated and ‘70s their costumes and haircuts appear. The characters are not remotely memorable and all are overshadowed by Alan. Seth Sklarey returned in Porky’s II and Jane Daly was on a number of television shows (including The X-Files), but most of the cast didn’t go on to have film careers.
Outside of the cast, the most serious issue is the glacial pacing. The first three-fourths of the film are devoid of zombies, though the ending is satisfying and surprisingly bleak. Interestingly, Children was one of the first films to capitalize on George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and paved the ways for dozens – now hundred – of similar films. It’s a shame something wasn’t done earlier in the film, such as pitting Alan against the actors or some other sort of red herring or twist.
Bob Clark planned to do a remake of the film in 2007, but sadly died in a car crash. Children has been released on special edition DVD and comes recommended, though mostly to fans of low budget ‘70s horror or early zombie films. Though there are plenty of annoying elements, there is some nice atmosphere and plenty of strangeness that would foreshadow Clark’s excellent career to come.