Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972)

Today’s feature is something of a classic for many zombie movie lovers.  Directed under the name of Benjamin Clark, Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things is a truly fun, and utterly insane movie.

I wanted to make mention of the director’s name, because the rest of the world will know Mr. Clark better as Bob Clark, director of such classics as Porky’s, Black Christmas, and A Christmas Story.  Yes, this guy is not only responsible for this movie, but all your most classic Christmas memories.

But for this movie, for as many horror fans who have not heard of this movie, there are twice as many who have very fond memories of it.  I know it thanks to my brothers who watched it often from recording it off TV on a VHS tape.  So I have many recollections of seeing this on our TV when I was just a tiny tyke.

Hmmm…  I wonder if watching a bunch of R-rated horror movies had any kind of effect on me as a person…

Nope!  None that I can see!

Anyway, let’s get to the synopsis, courtesy of IMDb: “Six friends dig up a corpse to use in a Satanic ritual to make the dead rise from their graves.”

Pretty simple, huh?  Well, it kinda isn’t.  That’s what makes this movie kinda bonkers.  But what are we doing sitting around reading me yap about this.  Let’s get things started already!

The movie opens on a dark and scary graveyard.  A gravedigger sees someone walking around and when he approaches to investigate, he’s attacked by a fanged ghoul and [seemingly] killed!  The credits continue as two more ghouls take a dead body out of its coffin.  We are then introduced to Alan, a kind of a weirdo who has brought his friends from a theater group to a graveyard where he plans to dig up a dead body.

Everyone seems to follow Alan as the head of this troupe, but they also kind of think he’s a bit full of himself, overly dramatic, and definitely not all right in the head.  I mean any guy who pairs an an orange shirt with those pants has to be crazy.  The script is full of dialog.  If it isn’t Alan being your typical “artiste” fuck, it’s one of the girls who is constantly busting his balls.  When the guys start to crack jokes, Alan has none of it.

The rest of the group start to hear noises and don’t realize there is a ghastly figure following them.  Alan tells them he said there are evil spirits around as to kinda free him of any liability when bad shit follows them, or tries to spook them, or simply kills them.  As Alan leads them to a house that has been abandoned for the last couple years.  It was owned by the caretaker of the graveyard, but he was thrown in an asylum after he supposedly killed his wife and kids.  They make brief mention of there being a new caretaker, but nothing more is said.  I’m guessing it is the second guy who met the “gruesome end” at the start of the movie.

They get inside the house and start to unpack.  Once they start to make themselves comfortable, we’re introduced to the real fucking weirdo of the group.  There’s this kind of mousy girl, Anya, who is walking around and talking about ghosts and how nice it would be to meet them, and how something is going to happen tonight, and how she likes rats and stuff.  She will be the one who cracks in a bit and forewarns everyone about the coming evil that Alan is going to unleash.

As Alan shows off some of the witchy stuff he brought with him, Anya is ALL about this shit.  Alan throws on a sorcerer’s robe and says they need to get started at midnight since that is the best time to conjure shit.  More quippy dialog is exchanged before Alan asserts his dominance over the group by talking about how he owns them since he owns the company they are all apart of.  Frankly, if you ask me, I’d punch the fuck out of Alan and just leave.  He’s an asshole and I am willing to bet he gets everything that’s coming to him by movie’s end.  (Spoiler alert: he totally does.)

Alan talks about a spell in this book he has that will raise the dead from their graves.  They go back out to the graveyard, and dig up a guy named Orville.  However, it turns out it is another member of the troupe planted there by Alan to scare the bejeezus out of them.  When one of the girls run away, she was caught by another in costume.  Turns out these two in costume are two of the gayest guys I’ve ever seen in a movie before.  And in the tradition of how the fattest guy is in every horror movie acts, our fat guy in this movie, Jeff, pissed his pants during the whole ordeal, and tells us this often.

Anyway, the fanged monster at the beginning was one of two gay guys and they have the caretaker tied up against a tree next to Orville.  One couple say they wish to leave, but Alan threatens he will fire them if they leave.  Additionally, Alan berates the guy, Paul, because Alan is just a swell guy.  It’s starting to get pretty clear that people’s nerves are running thin with Alan.  However, they continue with his plans to go through the big show of him reading from this book to raise the dead.

Alan sprinkles some stuff over Orville, and says some hibbity jibbity and everyone takes this stuff, and Alan, a little too seriously.  They only go along because, eh…  What else could they possibly do in Miami late at night?  By the way, this takes place on an island somewhere near Miami.  When a dead body pops up after Paul’s shovel breaks the lid of its coffin, Alan is convinced this is the sign that his spell will work and the dead will rise and do his bidding.  More hibbity jibbity is said while everyone kneels around doing the “inverted” prayer thing with their hands.  When it’s all said and done, nothing seems to happen.  In a wonderful little tantrum, Alan spits out a ton of alliterative insults to Satan.  When Val, Alan’s chief critic for the entire night, takes charge after knocking Alan down a few pegs, she begins her prayer to Satan but it takes a bit of a comedic turn.

Alan decides to take Orville back to the house with the rest of the troupe, despite their trepidation.  As they pass the broken open coffin of the grave Paul accidentally broke open, the body inside starts to stir ever so slightly.  Once they get back to the house, Alan continues his immature behavior with Orville as they dress him up like a bride and play around with him as if Alan is going to marry him.  It’s weird and kinda uncomfortable because Alan is just a fucker and is totally disrespectful to everyone and they just go along with it.  How important must it be to be an actor or actress in a Miami theater troupe to have to deal with Alan.  Are these people just that desperate?

Inside, Anya starts to get a real weird feeling that something is going on.  After originally being on the side of Alan to bring Orville back tot he home, Anya starts to beg with Alan to leave Orville alone.  He ignores Anya and she looks out the window scared something is coming.  All this is going one while Terry, one of the actresses, who has upset Alan, is apologizing to Orville to beg to keep her job with the troupe.  Soon, Anya comes completely unhinged and begs Alan to stop treating Orville as his is, but he only uses that to make fun of her and, surprise, treats her like shit.  Now it’s Anya’s turn to plead for Orville’s forgiveness for how they’ve treated the dead.  While Alan hangs out in the bedroom with Orville, the rest of the troupe in the house decide they need to get out of there before everyone cracks up.

Outside, the two gay guys are putting everything back together when suddenly…  Zombies!  the exposed zombie from earlier takes out one of the guys while the other runs away.  He’ runs into another pair of zombies and gets attacked.  Soon, the dead are pulling themselves out of their graves to some real scary and loud music.  All the while, the poor caretaker is still tied up and helpless to get free.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t.

Inside the house, Val tells Alan they are leaving.  He, yet again, threatens to fire them, but she doesn’t care.  When they get outside, they hear something, and one of the gay guys comes stumbling up to the house followed by hordes of zombies.  They hurry back inside.  They ask Alan if this is another one of his jokes, but he looks pretty surprised about everything that’s happening.  The group is able to make the house safe, but they decide they need to get to the boat.  Paul thinks he can make it past the horde while the rest try to distract as many as possible.  Unfortunately, Paul gets hardly anywhere before he’s overwhelmed and gobbled up.  Terry is too shocked to defend herself when a couple zombies come and take her.

Alan reads from another spell and it seems to start putting the dead back to their graves.  Now believing things are safe, Val, Jeff, Alan, and Anya go out to try to get to the boat.  But because they couldn’t return Orville to his grave, the spell didn’t work and the zombies ambush the group taking Jeff and Val.  Pretty nifty trick there by the zombies, I must admit.  Anya and Alan get back to the house and as the zombies poor in, they back up the stairs.  Like the great guy he is, Alan tosses Anya who stares at him in disbelief that he would betray her.  When he gets to the bed room, Orville is waiting for him and it’s his buddy who ultimately kills Alan while the rest of the horde busts into the bedroom.  While we look at the skyline of Miami, we see the zombies get onto the boat that brought the troupe to the island…

What’s really pretty interesting about this movie is that it’s very familiar while still being something fairly fresh and different.  The idea of people holed up in a house while zombies surround them is very familiar.  We see it in many zombie movies since, but is best remembered from Night of the Living Dead.  Anyone who has seen the Return of the Living Dead movies from the 80s and 90s has seen zombies pulling themselves out of the grave, but it is done here for one of the very first times.  Remember, George Romero’s zombie flicks typically does not show any of them coming out of the grave.  They’ve already gotten out.  We just see how people are dealing with them.  Even the Satanism element to this movie isn’t exactly unfamiliar to horror fans of the time.  The use of Satan, demons, and the like was common practice in horror movies from the 60s and 70s.

What really makes this movie interesting are the character and the general dialog of the script. The characters are all kinda hippies but also kind of not really anything more than young people trying to become actors and such.  Alan is a real prick, and might be one of the earliest examples of a main character that really deserves what happens to him.  Ultimately, though, the dialog makes this very different and fresh because it really is more of a blend of horror and comedy.  The first hour and five minutes or so is played light.  Yes, its creepy.  Yes, they are doing weird and nasty shit.  It’s the way the characters are played with no real seriousness to them. Everyone is either overacting or cracking wise.  Anya is the only one who is really a legitimate character that belongs in a horror movie.  It’s only that last 20 minutes that is a true horror movie with the attacking zombies.

Even the promotional materials for the movie blended horror and comedy.  Posters all treated it like Orville is going to a party and hanging out with happy, smiling characters from the movie with party hats and balloons.  Ultimately, this is an interesting little piece of horror history.  It’s nowhere near the Romero classics, but it has its own little niche with fans and is generally fondly remembered.  If you’ve never seen it, go to YouTube and check it out.  It’s certainly well worth 86 minutes of your time.

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