Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (1972)

Howdy folkses! Bradley Lyndon here, writing my first review for Million Monkey Theater! Why me? Well it is quite a funny story, but the pertinent documents have been sealed by the U.S. District Court of Pennsylvania and I've been advised by counsel not to discuss it. Let's just call this review "community service," shall we? Now let's get to it so I can go back to my normal life and put this ugly incident behind me.

Today we shall be revisiting a drive-in classic from 1972 called Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. It's about a rag-tag troupe of THESPIANS! (they hold the mirror to life...and death!) who travel to an isolated island graveyard to perform a satanic ritual in one of the most ill-advised team-building exercises in movie history. Unintentional comedy and semi-intentional raising of the dead ensue. It features the single most obnoxious screen performance I've ever seen and was directed by Benjamin "Bob" Clark who would later bring us the legitimate holiday classic A Christmas Story. How's that for directorial range?

Our movie opens on the dark cemetery where much of the subsequent action will take place. The sound department decided that along with the chirps of frogs and crickets there should be a few songbirds whistling away like it's a bright spring morning because nothing sets a tone of dread and decay like a cheerful dawn chorus in the middle of the night. A shambling, cigar-chomping caretaker stumbles along and spots a creepy black-clad figure in a top hat standing by one of the more prominent memorials. The actor playing the caretaker probably improvised his meager dialogue here, mumbling and grunting through it like Tom Waits on a two-day bender. I've noticed before in amateur productions there's usually at least one guy who thinks he's in a comedy short subject from 1931. In this film there are two and Drunken Caretaker is one of them.

Drunken Caretaker making the most of his 1 minute of screen time.

Throwing caution to the wind he walks right up and taps the intruder on the shoulder, who turns to reveal some sort of...vampire? Ghoul? Magician? Dance instructor? It's hard to tell because the lighting is shitty and it's out of focus. A freeze frame gives us our title:

Drippy letters: the gold standard of quality entertainment.

Black Suit Ghoul attacks Drunken Caretaker and in the next shot we see Black Suit Ghoul's hand covered in blood--a bullshit red herring that kind of pisses me off as we will later see Drunken Caretaker bound and gagged but otherwise unhurt. A second Ghoul in a silver cape joins Black Suit Ghoul. They have dug up a grave. They remove the original tenant and Black Suit Ghoul lies down in the coffin. There's a decent moment now where Silver Cape Ghoul closes the lid on the camera and we hear the sound of the grave being filled from inside the coffin. Nice touch! Silver Cape Ghoul drags the disinterred corpse out of frame as the credits end.

We will now meet our main protagonists, most of whom we will learn to despise as the story progresses. Our THESPIANS! arrive by boat with the lights of Miami twinkling in the distance across the bay. There are a couple of quick insert shots of the island which were clearly shot at twilight, out of place with the pitch black night of the rest of the movie. Pretty much every scene in this film is murky and dark, by the way, so you'd best get used to it.

Let's meet these THESPIANS! shall we?

ALAN (Alan Ormsby) is the leader of the theater troupe and boy-howdy is he a raging wanker! Much, much more on that later. Ormsby has had a long career as a screenwriter for such films as Cat People (1982), My Bodyguard (1980) and The Substitute (1996) and was credited for additional story material on Disney's Mulan. He also wrote and directed a couple of films including the fun horror parody Popcorn (1991). In addition to collaborating on the screenplay and starring in today's picture he also provided the makeup effects (which for 1972 are pretty darn good).

Alan demonstrates here the German concept of "backpfeifengesicht," loosely translated as "a face in need of a fist."

Alan is a tyrant and runs his company with ego-bruising insults, scathing pretension, psychological intimidation and constant threats of unemployment. He starts out smug and cruel and only descends further into outright depravity from there. You will absolutely loathe him. We also can't discuss Alan without addressing the King Kong-sized elephant in the room that is his outfit. I know the 1970's were largely a fashion disaster, but that jaunty, effeminate scarf, billowy blouse the color of cantaloupe flesh and truly astonishing, truly horrifying pair of striped, hip-hugging trousers are the stuff of screaming retro nightmares.

He's like an evil gay melon perched on a painted post.

ANYA (Anya Ormsby) is the mystical weirdo (a kind of late 60's, early 70's stock type) who will serve as a weathervane for the carnage to come. She has apparently mistaken high-potency LSD micro-tabs for breath mints and been popping them hourly for quite some time. Anya Ormsby was the first wife of Alan and had a very brief career in low-budget films. She's effective in this role but a bit unpolished.

Anya needs to consume less acid and more acting lessons.

VAL (Valerie Mamchez) is the grand dame of Alan's troupe and is the only character with the metaphorical balls to call him out on his bullshit. One gets the sense that they are former lovers who now despise each other, but clearly she is too important to the troupe for Alan to fire her. I can't help but wonder what kind of dirt she has on him. She snipes at him incessantly throughout the film and he takes it, only occasionally proffering a weak-tea response. Mamchez's performance is decent and believable but her delivery is way too slow--a sure sign of a seasoned stage actress whose style doesn't translate well to the more intimate and immediate medium of film. Her subsequent career as a celebrated acting coach and theater personality and her lack of other significant film credits bear this out.

Val. She knows something juicy about Alan, alright. Tax fraud? Closet furry? Micropenis?

JEFF (Jeffrey Gillen) is the requisite fat guy and we all know what that means: comic relief! His delivery of his incessant crappy jokes is as stale and tiresome as third-circuit vaudeville, making him the second actor in the film who thinks it's 1931. He's also an umber-nosed, sycophantic, ball-licking toady without an ounce of self respect. He has his head so far up Alan's ass he can smell the lining of his pancreas.

Jeff. He says Alan's pancreas smells like lavender bath beads.

Gillan has a paltry 14 credits on imdb but that actually beats out most of the rest of this cast by a wide margin. His most memorable turn is probably as the comically scary department store Santa Claus in A Christmas Story (1983).

PAUL & TERRY (Paul Cronin & Jane Daly) are the mandated romantic couple, though there's nothing more romantic shown than is necessary for us to assume they're an item. He's a beefcake lead actor and she's a young ingénue (and the newest member of the troupe). They seem nice enough. Paul is at least decent and loyal to Terry, often protectively disgusted by Alan's behavior and demands, but he lacks the courage of his convictions, backing down immediately whenever Alan challenges him. Terry tries to be sassy but fails, and is in fact the most insecure member of the group. Paul Cronin had only one other acting credit (not coincidentally in another project by Alan Ormsby) then fell into obscurity, but Jane Daly has had a successful career in supporting roles (a respectable 55 listings on imdb) and is still active in the industry today.

Paul is not hero material.

Terry needs a lot of validation.

So the troupe arrives on the fateful island. Alan begins barking orders immediately and just so there's no ambiguity about what a douche bag he is he stares at Terry's ass and claims that since she is the newest member of the troupe he should get first crack at sleeping with her. Mind you, this is while she and her boyfriend Paul are mooning at each other. The couple tries to blow it off as a joke but it has clearly made them uncomfortable. Everything about Alan, from his hideous fashion sense, to his ass-clenched gait, to his smug-as-shit face to the affected inflection of his voice screams pretentious, self-important knob-gobbler. Many reviewers have singled this out as one of cinema's most noisome performances but I still can't decide if it's horrifically bad or horrifically brilliant. He's obnoxious as all fuck but he genuinely gets under your skin as the film progresses. It's up to the individual viewer to decide whether or not that's a good or an entertaining thing.

As they walk inland towards the graveyard we get some lame banter not worth repeating, with the gang trying to one up each other in "witty repartée." These are THESPIANS! after all. Like many of their kind they never, ever stop performing and must constantly feed the bottomless abysses of need at the center of their fragile souls.

This seems as good a time as any to confess that when I was young I wanted to become an actor. I was pretty good, too. I had a natural talent and almost everyone who saw me perform believed I could make a good living at it. I went to a college with a solid, well-respected drama program and immediately snatched a plum role from a gaggle of upper-classmen. Halfway through my second semester, however I dropped out and never performed on stage again. Why would I abandon my dream after just a few short steps on the road towards it?

These motherfuckers right here.

Fucking theater people. If I had had to spend the next ten or fifteen years of my life paying my dues with these low to mid level petty, pretentious bastards I'd be in a straight jacket by now. I knew these people. I worked with them, socialized with them, went to school with them, and this movie absolutely nails them in all their insecure, self-important, back-biting glory. In some ways the enjoyment of Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things might well depend on a viewer's familiarity with and tolerance for THESPIANS!

End of rant.

Okay, so we get a bit of exposition here and find that Alan has brought his "children" here to dig up a corpse and dabble in witchcraft. This island, he says, was once a resort but has now been abandoned with the cemetery now used as a potter's field for unclaimed bodies and criminal interments. Much of this story is obvious bullshit spun to frighten the gang, but they mostly accept whatever Alan tells them without reservations. He must really have them whipped. Alan speaks of a great evil committed on the island in a florid monologue that would make even Nicholas Cage think "maybe I should dial it back a little here" and as he speaks the camera zooms over his shoulder to reveal Silver Cape Ghoul watching them from the woods!

Glam Rock comes to Florida

After some encouraging talk of hippie cults and evil entities the gang reaches a somewhat dilapidated house. In a strange touch the windows are all boarded-up from the inside. This will be their base of operations for the evening's merriment. Note that there is an electric porch light lit despite that the place is clearly empty and abandoned (for "about two years" according to Alan). As they search for a way in Alan casually states that the original caretaker of the cemetery murdered his wife and children and is now in an insane asylum. Paul asks "Why didn't they get another caretaker?" to which Alan replies "They did." They now find an unlocked window and Alan tells Paul to remove the interior boards. Well, he points to the boards and says "Do your athlete thing" in a voice that would make Paul Lynde seem butch.

Paul lets them into the completely dark house and when Alan enters with his single, tiny camping lantern the interior is suddenly filled with light. This occurs between shots--one instant it's almost completely black, the next it's lit up like a Christmas tree. This typifies the amateur lighting throughout. Alan, Paul and Terry decide to explore the house while Jeff lights a fire. Alan mentions that they "might even find a fuse box." Hmmm...there was a lit bulb just outside the front door so there must be electricity at least in this one room. And why does an abandoned house have electricity anyway? It's not the actual caretaker's house because it's all boarded up. Where does the actual caretaker live if not here? Is there another house nearby? Why do these questions haunt me so? Maybe I need to bum one of Anya's breath mints and chill out a little.

Funny. They don't look like Tic-Tacs.

So they search the upstairs bedrooms and Alan tells Paul and Terri that the second caretaker hanged himself in the house, "in this very room, if I'm not mistaken." He sure is laying it on thick. Outside a second floor window we see Silver Cape Ghoul lurking about at the edge of the woods. Alan seems to have noticed him there but he keeps it to himself. Hmmmm...

Meanwhile Jeff has built a nice homey fire in the hearth, declaring to Val in an exchange that demonstrates his challenges as a humorist "A fire a day keeps the ghosts away." This gives Anya an opportunity to wax poetic about ghosts being harmless and people creating their own demons and I'm totally distracted by how vibrant and active her eyebrows are.

She's just burning...

...doing the...

...eyebrow dance.

She finishes her bit about people misunderstanding spirits and says in a strident whisper "Something is going to happen tonight. I can feel it." Joking aside this is strangely effective and one of the better moments in the film.

The gang has brought a big-ass trunk with them which I didn't mention before because it wasn't important yet. Alan tells them it's "Story time" and they gather about to see him open what he now refers to as "the sorcerer's source box, the warlock's war chest, the conjuror's conjurations" to which Val replies "the nincompoop's knapsack" and we all have a good chortle at her rapier-sharp witticism. This trunk is freaking enormous, by the way and in a pinch the entire troupe might be able to squeeze into it. Alan pulls out a shotgun which will be mentioned once later but not seen again, making me wonder why it's in the movie at all. He also pulls out some garlic ("banes to ward off evil entities") a large, creepy tome and a very fey, very theatrical blue wizard's robe that looks like it was homemade for a day trip to the Renaissance Faire...


...and aside from some candles that's apparently the entire contents of the big-ass trunk. Seriously. Except for the shotgun that shit could have fit in my wife's purse.

The book, it turns out is a grimoire (which Alan mispronounces "grim-OR-ay" in a nice character touch that reinforces what a pretentious cock-waffle he is) full of mystical spells, counter-spells and immune-building smoothie recipes. This grimoire is always shot in such a way to hide the fact that the pages are all just blank paper.

"When the moon's waxing high and we're all gonna die that's grimoray..."

On finding out from Paul that it's now 11:30 PM Alan states that midnight is the perfect time for a summonation (which he also mispronounces--twice--as "summation," but maybe he's just a math nerd). Paul gets uppity. He says they have a right to know what Alan is planning, which gives Alan an opportunity to upgrade his previous assholery to outright abuse. He goes on a noxious tirade about how he owns both the troupe and the people in it, and how they are all subject to his absolute will unless they want to lose their jobs. This is definitely a step further than what we've seen from him up to this point and demonstrates the sociopathic and cultish manner by which he maintains control over the group. Again this aligns with my own experiences in theater. I thankfully was never under the sway of an Alan but I have met his type on more than one occasion.

It seems having absolute control over the living is not enough to feed Alan's gargantuan ego, as he now divulges his plan to raise the dead and place them under his sway. We're never quite certain how much Alan believes this to be possible, which is one of the more fascinating aspects of his character. Is it a lark or is it something he genuinely desires and hopes for? Perhaps the truth is somewhere in between. At any rate having already schlepped the big-ass trunk through the cemetery and up to the house Paul and Jeff now get to schlep it right back. Alan, seeking the perfect grave upon which to commit his unholy act chooses that of one Orville Dunworth. If you guessed that this is the same grave we saw defiled at the beginning of the movie, well brownie points for you. I see you've watched cheesy horror movies before.

Before you can say "five years in prison" obsequious weasel Jeff and morally pusillanimous Paul have dug down to the casket, which Jeff opens to reveal Black Suit Ghoul.

Just look at those adenoids!

As Jeff bends over him Black Suit Ghoul suddenly springs up and grabs him by the throat! Terry screams and runs from the grave right into the arms of Silver Cape Ghoul! Paul finally grows a pair, grabs a camping hatchet and runs to help her. Jeff meanwhile has punched Black Suit Ghoul repeatedly in the face and we hear a muffled, simpering whine. Black Suit Ghoul pulls off his mask to reveal a wincing human face with a bloody nose. Alan busts his gut laughing as Paul chases a squealing Silver Cape Ghoul past the grave.

It was all an elaborate practical joke! The "ghouls" are Roy and Emmerson, a pair of the most mincing, offensive, camp-gay stereotypes this side of a Benny Hill sketch.

Val, Roy and Emmerson listening to "Yakety Sax."

Most of the gang are pretty pissed off, but Val, who seems almost to have expected something along these lines, calmly entreats them to "give the devil his due," congratulating Alan on his little coup de grace. Alan asks Emmerson for the time (does he not own a watch?) and discovers that it's now 11:55 PM. This means that they packed up the big-ass trunk, went to the cemetery, dug up Roy and experienced Alan's sick joke all in just 25 minutes. Fast work, to be sure. Val has some nice character moments now with Emmerson and Roy whom she clearly adores, but Terry is petrified and Paul is broodingly upset. Jeff sits glumly and repeatedly tells us "I peed my pants," desperately looking for sympathy he's not going to receive.

Alan now reveals that this was just a prelude to the main event of the evening, which is an actual ritual with an actual corpse. We get a bit more of Alan intimidating Paul and Terry (who wish to leave) and it's a couple of notches more nasty than the last time. At one point he mockingly calls Paul out for his all-posturing no-action stance on protecting Terry, thoroughly emasculating him and assuring him he's just a "slab of meat" hired to dress the stage. It's a viscerally unpleasant exchange. I'm going to surmise here that Alan was an only child of wealthy, emotionally distant parents raised exclusively by a jackal disguised as a severe elderly nanny. Val steps in and convinces Paul and Terri to stay in hopes seeing Alan "eat a little crow" when his summonation routine "gets a big yawn." This is the second time Val has stepped in to convince members of the troupe to stay and put up with Alan's shit. She may be trying to inure them to the realities of the dog-eat-dog theater world, she may be misguidedly trying to protect them from what she regards as a bad decision or she may have more selfish reasons regarding her rivalry with Alan, but this is a pattern of behavior that makes her culpable when the shit inevitably hits the fan.

Emmerson and Roy grab Orville the corpse (whom Anya finds seriously fascinating) and prop him up on the cross. Alan hops down into the grave, draws a pentagram on the coffin lid in chalk and lights some black candles. He produces an envelope and makes a big deal out of the contents being "the dried blood of an unborn infant," while assuring the gang that "no murder was committed." Since we just know this dead-raising ceremony is eventually going to work we must assume this really is the genuine blood of a genuine unborn infant, which raises the question as to where Alan could possibly have gotten it. Being as we're only 35 minutes into our 87 minute running time and I'm already on page nine of this review I'll shelve that debate and move on. Feel free to discuss early 1970's unborn baby blood trafficking in the comments below.

Alan has the gang break the ground over a bunch of graves and sprinkles some blood around to "anoint them as proscribed." Paul puts his shovel in at a grave marked "WINNS 1791-1851" and falls over as the occupant pops out from the sudden leverage. It's supposed to be a jump scare but it's so clearly telegraphed by a music cue it comes as no shock whatsoever.

Nice teeth.

Paul insists a tree root has undermined the shallow grave and pushed the coffin to the surface, but Alan makes a big freaking deal out of this being "the sign!" that his ritual will work. Incidentally Winns is played by Bruce Solomon, also listed as costumer in the opening credits. He has 26 credits on imdb, making him the second most successful actor in our film. Aside from Seth Sklarey who plays Orville (and who serves a much more crucial role in the plot), Solomon is the only actor to get a named character credit from amongst the zombie cast. Friend of the producer or purveyor of sexual favors to cast and crew? You decide!

The ritual scene itself is pretty well done. The troupe lines up at the edge of the grave making an inverted prayer with their hands and Ormsby does a good job performing a well-written incantation. The editing is top-notch and the sound design enhances the emotional impact beautifully. Kudos all around!

We also get this well-composed shot of Anya gazing up towards Orville on his cross. The tilt of her head mimics religious paintings of the Renaissance period. Nice touch!

Of course there's no immediate effect and the dead stay put, triggering a lame joke from insufferable wag Jeff, a laconic jab from Val and a childish tantrum against Satan from Alan. Val lets him run on a bit then rips into him properly, calling him a loser, a clerk and an insurance salesman with delusions of grandeur. She tells him to get out of the grave so she can show him how an artist calls a curse down on Satan. Alan, seemingly deflated, complies.

Val now improvises her own little ritual that's pretty standard b-movie stuff and not very inspiring. Towards the end she descends into a mock-Yiddish belittling of the Devil that is not amusing or entertaining in any way yet somehow gets rousing applause and laughter from the rest of the troupe. Of course Alan's itty-bitty ego has been bruised by this display and we certainly can't have that!

Val signals that everyone present should live long and prosper. Spoiler alert: They don't.

Alan shuts everyone up with a withering pout then smugly announces that they will be taking Orville back to the cottage for a "coming out party." Terry claims, rather belatedly it seems to me, that Alan should maybe show some respect for the dead, which gives him another opportunity to be a raving dick-nipple, this time by spouting off about the dead being losers and deserving no respect whatsoever and how Orville is now his bestest friend. Jeff and Paul capitulate yet again and silently agree to carry Orville back to the house "Roman style." Alan tells Emmerson and Roy to fill in the grave and bring the trunk back to the cottage when they're done. He then tells them they'd better bring the caretaker back with them as well--a statement which you'd think might elicit some kind of reaction from anybody there who is actually paying attention but which is completely ignored. We as the audience saw the Caretaker bound and gagged sitting next to Orville a few scenes back, but as far as the rest of the group knows there is no current caretaker. Don't you think someone might think "Oh, shit! Did we just add kidnapping and assault to grave robbing and breaking and entering? I'm out of here to go rat out these reprobates and get myself a plea deal!" Sorry, folks, but these spineless lemmings deserve everything that's coming to them.

Congratulations! We have a felony!

As the gang leaves the cemetery to head back to the house we see Winns' hand move ever-so slightly...

Well, you'd probably think as despicable as Alan has been so far he couldn't get any worse, but man-oh-Manischewitz you'd be wrong. He now decides to hold a mock wedding with himself as the groom and Orville as the bride. A curtain serves as an impromptu veil and Jeff (good Lord, I hate him almost as much as I do Alan at this point) plays the part of a wise-cracking priest. Afterwards Alan and Jeff put themselves in stitches making bad puns about Orville being a "stiff."

Thankfully my own wedding was much better attended.

Paul is being all pouty and Terry decries Jeff and Alan's behavior as disgusting. How do you think Alan might respond? I think we can safely assume he won't see the error of his ways, won't apologize to all involved for hurting their delicate fee-fees, and will neither make them some cocoa nor initiate a group hug. In fact Alan's groping, stalking, terroristic verbal attack of Terry here is downright disturbing and highly abusive, confirming conclusively that he is not merely a callous shit-stain but a true sociopath. Once he has her thoroughly cowed he compounds the obscenity by forcing her to apologize to Orville and make her case--to a corpse--as to why she should be allowed to stay in the company.

Anya, meanwhile, is spooked and sensing there's something catastrophic on the way. She begs Alan to stop his mockery and treat Orville with respect. Alan responds by listing a litany of indignities he intends to put Orville through including propping him up in his living room, feeding his scraps to his dog and using his bones for Christmas decorations. His cruelty and abuse are quite scary as he stalks and taunts her, concluding his sickening attack with a literal slap to Anya's face. She is genuinely distraught and panicked now, asking both God and Orville to forgive them. Her face fills with terror and she has a screaming meltdown as Paul and Terry try to help her. She calms down just long enough to stare down Alan and declare him evil before descending into catatonia. Anya's breakdown is quite unnerving and probably the best scene in the film.

The LSD finally comes home to roost.

Jeff helps Alan take Orville upstairs and they lie him down on a bare mattress that just reeks of mildew, damp and urine stains. Jeff has finally had enough, telling Alan "you've gone too far this time" before leaving him alone with the cadaver. After all of this despicable madness could Alan possibly descend even further into evil and depravity? I think we all know the answer to that question. As Jeff rejoins the group downstairs and everyone decides they're ready to dump Alan, take the boat and leave, Alan has a little private time lying down with Orville during which he calls him "a great teacher, and a good friend" and confides that in time they might get "even closer." Yes, that means exactly what you think it does. Alan has now crossed the threshold of perverse desire into the realm of necrophilia.

No. Just no.

Back to the cemetery! Emmerson and Roy are about to rebury Winns when Roy notices a pretty little ringie on the corpse's little fingie. He bends down to grab it and recoils, lisping out perhaps the lamest joke in a film absolutely overflowing with lame jokes: "Oh, they buried him without his Right Guard!" Please, please, please cast of Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things: STOP TRYING TO BE FUNNY!

Roy goes for the ring again and Winns springs up, grabbing him by the throat and pulling him down for a good chomp! Emmerson runs and in the first decently-lit shot in the whole movie he encounters some backlit zombies in the distance while we see a zombie hand push up through the soil in the foreground.

There are a few nicely composed shots in the film that really pop.

The zombies are now fully charged with diabolical energy and we get a nice little montage of them slithering up from their graves. It goes on perhaps just a little too long, but hey, we've waited over an hour for this moment so let's savor it.

Them's perky.

Roy manages to get away and run off but Emmerson hasn't fared so well...we see his head a few feet from his body in one of the only moments of (relatively mild) gore in the movie. The tied-up caretaker also gets chomped, right in the jugular, unable to escape due to his bonds.

The violence was strictly PG so they could rake in all that 1972 kid-and-teen-friendly cash.

The sound design is generally pretty good throughout most of the film but in these action sequences it's particularly well realized. The music is a jarring, atmospheric combination of percussion, feedback groans, gothic organ and weird electronic effects. It provides a scary, relentless momentum for much of the remainder of the movie.

At the house Val tells Alan they're taking his boat and leaving the island. Alan makes one last snarked-up threat to render them all unemployed but Val isn't having it. Alan takes this in stride, perhaps unable to believe his "children" are capable of defying his will. As Val leads the gang into the woods they see a bloodied and disheveled Roy staggering towards them. He shouts "They're coming!" and stumbles into the house. Turning towards the path the gang see dozens of walking dead rounding the bend and shambling speedily towards them. These zombies are faster and more animated than those in the Romero films and you feel the seriousness of the threat as the troupe struggles back into the house.

Them's hungry.

Once inside a Night of the Living Dead-inspired siege begins. Alan comes downstairs and is about as useful as you'd expect, suddenly humbled by the horror unfolding around him. He rallies just enough to help Jeff and Paul block off a pair of French doors leading to the kitchen (which has a gaping doorway open wide to the woods). The initial attack on the house is alarmingly noisy and feels both claustrophobic and dangerous, with the zombies violently hammering the doors and windows as they try to force their way in. Suddenly, just as the group finally secures the back exit, the siege stops and all goes quiet.

Them's chillin'.

The logical question of whether this is another one of Alan's sick jokes is posited but he's clearly as stunned as everyone else and he simply shakes his head. Jeff, ever the idiot, suggests that maybe the zombies just want to frighten them off. Paul quite reasonably points out Roy, collapsed and bleeding on the sofa. Val goes to check on him and he slumps forward dead.

We now hear a ruckus upstairs as a couple of zombies make it to a low roof and nearly get in a window before Paul kicks them off. Val and Paul lock off the vulnerable area and check the other bedrooms, including the one containing Orville, and declare them to be secure. Orville, as the ceremonial corpse, has apparently remained inert.

Val takes charge now, saying that it is "fairly obvious" that somebody needs to get to the boat and get help. Is it fairly obvious? They're relatively safe in the house and with a little effort they could better fortify their position. Wouldn't it be better to wait until daylight so they can see what the hell they're doing? Paul suggests that if the others can get all of the zombies to go around to the front he can slip out the back and make it to the boat. Val champions this notion and they decide to try it. They remove the fortifications from the French doors and Jeff, Val, Terry and Alan run out to fight using whatever weapons they can find. Paul slips out during the melee.

Them's feisty.

No sooner do they get back inside the house than they hear Paul's pitiful, eerie moans. A flashlight out the back door reveals the awful truth: Paul has been chomped by a stanky lady zombie in a lacy white dress. Terry sees this and turns away crying, when two zombies suddenly emerge from the darkness to grab her, pulling her away and out the door before the others can help.

Big, beefy Paul gets his ass handed to him by one slight lady zombie.

Terry has gentleman callers.

So now there's only Alan, Anya, Val and Jeff. Val, as I mentioned before has been making bad decisions that have kept everyone on the island and in potential danger for the entire film, not to mention giving that little speech taking the piss out of Satan. Paul and Terry would have left hours before if she hadn't kept talking them into staying and now that she's taken a leadership role she's backed illogical options that got them both killed. Of course she freaks out at Alan now, blaming him for everything and asking what he's going to do about it, but in reality she's every bit as responsible for Paul and Terry's deaths as he is...and who's to say it wasn't actually her little Devil-mocking performance that brought the dead back to life?

Jeff, as unlikely as it may seem as he's done and said nothing logical or useful since he first stepped off the boat, actually has a bona-fide great idea. He suggests Alan look in the book for a counter-spell to send the zombies back to their graves. Guess what? There is one! First Alan must "return the blood to fire" by burning the envelope containing the baby blood, then the book tells them to return the ceremonial corpse to its grave, which, of course they can't do. Uh-oh! Val and Jeff encourage Alan to speak the counter-spell anyway as burning the blood seemed to have some effect, and in fact the zombies do begin to turn away from the house.

Them's sleepy.

By the end of the spell the zombies have all retreated back towards the cemetery. The four survivors grab their blunt implements of choice (except Anya who's still so out of it Alan must lead her along by the shoulders) and decide to make their way to the boat. They get out of the house and around the bend into the woods when suddenly...

Them's still hungry.

The zombies manage to isolate Jeff and Val who quickly become Scooby snacks. Alan manages to pull himself and Anya back into the house but the zombies burst open the door. As they try to retreat backwards up the stairs another group of zombies break in through the French doors. The house is overrun. Alan has one final moment of sociopathy now as he pushes Anya directly into the arms of the zombies like they're in some infernal mosh pit. There's a clever, quite funny shot where the zombies stop and stare at Alan in disbelief as if to say "You shameless bastard!" before they spirit Anya away.

Even the undead know Alan is a steaming ass-geyser.

Alan gets upstairs and locks himself in the bedroom with Orville. We see him look across at the bed and panic, and we cut to the bestest, most scariest shot in the whole film that totally creeped me the fuck out when I first saw it on late night TV as an 8-year-old:

Orville is in the mood for some sweet nuptial lovin'!

Orville approaches and closes his arms around Alan in a fatal love embrace as the other zombies tear apart the door and pile in.

We dissolve now to the waterfront where the zombies calmly shamble out of the woods and onto Alan's boat. Why not? The thespians certainly won't be needing it. The closing credits roll as they float away into the darkness towards the twinkling lights of Miami.

Them's sailors.

Okay, so this is clearly not a great film but I do kind of love it. I had seen this perhaps four times in my life before writing this review, twice on TV when I was a kid and twice as an adult maybe 10 or 12 years ago. In writing this review I watched it four times in a week and I have to say I liked it more with each subsequent viewing. It's certainly slower going than horror films made today but the buildup is spooky and when the zombies finally crawl from their graves it careens towards the genuinely creepy conclusion at a brisk pace. It's clear that everyone involved did their best to make as good a film as they could and but for a bigger budget and a couple of rewrites this could have been a true horror classic.

Sadly Bob Clark passed away in a road accident in 2007. A remake of Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things was to have been his next project.

Just a couple of final observations before I take my leave:

--Aside from Drunken Caretaker's unlit cigar and despite Alan's promise of cocktails at his "island cottage" there's no tobacco or alcohol use in this film.

--Alan Ormsby has stated that he can't watch Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things because he feels his acting is so bad.

--Of the main speaking characters only Terry and Emmerson aren't named for the actors playing them. I would surmise that all the roles were written with friends of Bob Clark and Alan Ormsby in mind, but a couple of them weren't available when it came time to film.

--If you look carefully you can see some of the production crew's names on the tombstones.

--Bob Clark and Alan Ormsby collaborated again in 1974 on the excellent allegorical horror film Deathdream (aka Dead of Night), which was a huge leap forward in both craft and substance. Ormsby once again designed the makeup effects and his assistant was a young Tom Savini.

Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written in October 2017 by Bradley Lyndon.

Questions? Comments? Expressions of disgust? Why not skip the middleman and complain to me directly?

comments powered by Disqus

Go ahead, steal anything you want from this page,
that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...