Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by VCI Entertainment
Directed by Bob Clark
Written by Alan Ormsby and Bob Clark
1972, 87 minutes, Rated PG
Blu-ray released on February 23rd, 2016
Alan Ormsby as Alan
Valerie Mamches as Val
Jeffrey Gillen as Jeff
Anya Ormsby as Anya
Paul Cronin as Paul
Jane Daly as Terry
Roy Engleman as Roy
Robert Philip as Emerson
Seth Sklarey as Orville
A theatre troupe is instructed to join Alan, their boorish director, for an overnight acting exercise on a remote island. Along the way, the young actors endure their leader’s come-ons and put-downs simply because they need their jobs. Once they arrive, Alan leads them toward the caretaker’s cottage, making certain to march them past a cemetery filled with the graves of criminals. The thespians include beautiful newcomer Terry; her boyfriend Paul; funnyman Jeff; the no-nonsense Val; and fragile ingénue Anya. Alan knows how to press each one’s buttons and seems to revel in getting a rise out of the cast. Everyone seems hip to the fact that Alan is a douche, except Anya who hangs on his every word. A return trip to the cemetery for a hokey ritual to summon the dead leads to grave desecration and the repeated abuse of a corpse named Orville. Unbeknownst to our hopeful actors, the ceremony is more authentic than expected and soon the island is filled with angry walking corpses.
Inspired by the success of Night of the Living Dead (1968), independent filmmakers Bob Clark (Black Christmas) and Alan Ormsby (Deranged) assembled a group of friends and local investors to make Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, their first foray into horror cinema. Directing under the alias Benjamin Clark to avoid being forever tied with the genre, Clark’s early effort shows a lot of promise and features some of his signature camerawork that would mark his diverse career. Working from a script he co-wrote with Ormsby, the director fills the picture with as much atmosphere possible as he slowly ratchets up the tension until finally hitting the payoff. If there is one major obstacle to the movie, it is the bloated dialogue that would be better served in a stage production rather than on film. Ormsby would find success later with his screenplay for the remake of Cat People (1982), but here the plot meanders nearly an hour before getting to any of the “good stuff”.
Alan Ormsby is deliciously over the top as Alan, the pompous asshole who abuses his position of authority and is the cause of every terrible thing that befalls his troupe. His performance is deliberately huge, but the act wears thin almost within the first scene, as Ormsby is too in love with the sound of his own voice to be taken seriously. Valerie Mamches is a perfect foil as Val, a woman who delights in taking Alan down a peg or two in front of others. She is strong and self-assured, but should really know better than to join this excursion. Anya Ormsby does a fine job as Anya, the enamored young actress obsessed with the supernatural. She is the polar opposite of Val’s dominating personality and is consequently eclipsed by many of the other performers. Paul Cronin and Jane Daly are Paul and Terry respectively, the young couple fed up with Alan’s antics, but needing the work badly enough to endure his shenanigans. Both lend an air of realism to the proceedings even if their calls for responsibility fall on deaf ears.
Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things is definitely a product of its time and modern audiences will need to summon a bit more patience with the material than they may be accustomed. That being said, the picture does have a fairly ravenous fan base, and anyone looking for a slow-burn payoff will be in for a treat. The aforementioned character Orville is the biggest target of Alan’s cruelty and viewers know by the very title that he is in for a classic comeuppance. It is here that Clark masters the power of suspense, as there is no question that this arrogant jerk is going to be getting some just desserts, but it is only a matter of when. I have a soft spot for this movie because I was genuinely afraid of Orville as a kid; he is clearly a person and not a prop, so I kept waiting for him to open his eyes and attack. This character is the most effective element of the film and I was pleased to find it is still scary after all these years.
Video and Audio:
This movie has suffered countless terrible releases that offered murky transfers full of scratches and other print damage and that were frequently too dark to see what was going on. This Blu-ray edition presents the film in a whole new light with a freshly commissioned 2K remaster of the original film elements. This new 1.85:1 widescreen HD transfer is a stunning improvement over all previous efforts and fans will be surprised by the level of detail and color saturation that has long been absent from the picture.
This is a dialogue-heavy film and the English LPCM 2.0 audio track delivers where it needs and does so without showing off. Limitations stem from the source materials as some sequences sound a bit tinny, but everything is clear and free from distortion.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Alan Ormsby is joined by cast members Jane Daly and Anya Ormsby for an audio commentary that provides a thoughtful overview of the production and working with Bob Clark. There are a few quiet moments, but the track moves at a pretty decent pace and is moderately informative.
Included in this release is the shorter UK version (76 minutes) of the film that trims a lot of the plodding dialogue and gets to the action a bit faster. This cut was pulled from the 35th anniversary DVD edition and includes optional audio commentary by Alan Ormsby, moderated by David Gregory (Blue Underground).
Memories of Bob (10 minutes) is a featurette where Alan Ormsby, Jane Daly and Anya Ormsby reflect on their time with the late director. The piece starts with a narrated montage of photographs and promotional stills providing an overview of Clark’s career before returning to the aforementioned participants’ comments. The intro is a bit bumpy with audio (lifted from the commentary) that repeats later in the segment.
In May 2007, the Los Angeles Grindhouse Festival played a Bob Clark double feature, including a rare screening of Children Shouldn’t Play.... Various members of the cast and crew, including frequent collaborators Ormsby, Carl Zittrer (composer), Ken Goch (art department), and Albert Fisher (set decorator), were on hand to answer audience questions in a live Q&A (11 minutes).
Confessions of a Grave Digger (9 minutes) catches up with Ken Goch, who worked in the art department and shares his memories of meeting Clark and getting hired on the film. His stories are fairly interesting and offer another perspective of working on low-budget films in the early 1970s.
A photo gallery (5 minutes) plays as a slideshow over haunting themes from the film’s soundtrack. Images include on-set photographs, marketing materials, lobby cards and newspaper articles.
The original theatrical trailer is included to spoil the majority of the film, but includes some interesting footage shot exclusively for the promo.
A collection of radio spots play under a series of stills with text-based information about the campaign.
Tribute band The Dead Things provide a pair of music videos for their songs “Dead Girls Don’t Say No” and “Cemetery Mary”. These are joined by an instrumental piece by the group Freak 11, featuring stills from the movie.