*. I think I’ve said enough over the years about movies that are so bad they’re good but which are really just bad, and also about cult movies underserving of that status. I won’t repeat any of that here. Suffice it to say that Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things is now regarded by many as a cult movie, and even a cult classic, and it isn’t any good at all.
*. The basic idea looks back to Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, with a small group of people in an isolated house surrounded by zombies. Star and co-writer Alan Ormsby later joked how they “basically ripped it [Night of the Living Dead] off.” But it’s a movie that also looks forward to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead, as it’s a cabin-in-the-woods horror flick and the zombies are awakened by a reading from some sort of Necronomicon. A grimoire, to give it its correct name, which is pronounced “grimorey” here.
*. The story is bizarre to the point where it really makes you wonder. The characters are members of an acting troupe who have come to an island off the coast of Florida so that the group’s tyrannical director (Ormsby) can do his raising-the-dead shtick. Why a group of actors? I don’t know. And why is Ormsby such a nut? Again, it’s not clear. Apparently the rest of the troupe are so desperate for work (well, they are actors) that they’re willing to put up with some seriously psychopathic behaviour, including digging up corpses so that Ormsby can drag them around and play with them.
*. This part of the story, and it takes us up to the one-hour mark in an 87-minute movie, is almost unendurable. I’m not sure how much of it was even meant to be taken seriously. The cast are just terrible, and the dialogue and direction the pits. The only thing that holds one’s attention are the fashion statements being made by the troupe, highlighted by Ormsby’s thrilling striped pants. I suppose nothing dates like fashion, and we all know how awful the ’70s were, but still it’s remarkable watching a movie like this and thinking that these people honestly thought they looked good in these clothes. They’re all different shades of dreadful.
*. I’m pretty sure that people who say they do like this movie are only talking about the last twenty minutes. But even this part isn’t great. Basically there are only a couple of good shots. A hand coming out of the ground (look, I didn’t say they were original), and a pan across the graveyard as the zombies assemble. Aside from that . . .
*. Well, aside from that I can say that the zombie make-up (which Ormsby did) is actually pretty darn good. Alas, there’s very little gore. I guess they just hadn’t figured out how to do that yet. Suspense and scary stuff is thin on the ground. You know the drill, and in 1972 you probably knew it just as well. They try to board up the windows and doors. Hands come crashing through. Then there’s a big breakthrough and it’s all over, with Ormsby being fittingly taken down by his pet zombie Orville. That’s something Romero introduced in Night of the Living Dead and would return to many times. People: the dead are not your friends.
*. One of the film’s biggest claims to fame today is that it was one of director Bob Clark’s first movies. He’d go on to have a career filled with odd, and often very successful, titles. Black Christmas. Murder by Decree. Porky’s. A Christmas Story. I think he had real talent. But even in hindsight I can’t see anything here that would make me think he was going to go on to anything of any value. His next movie would be another zombie flick written by Ormsby, Dead of Night (a.k.a. Deathdream), and it would show a marked improvement.
*. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that Ormsby would go on to write and co-direct Deranged, an Ed Gein-inspired exploitation horror flick that is actually quite good, allowing for its obvious budget limitations.
*. All of this, though, is by the way. This is one of those movies that’s fun to read about, but you don’t want to actually sit through it. If you’re a big fan of the zombie genre I’d say you should at least be aware of it, but for anyone else it’s only going to look like a piece of crap. Because that’s what it is.