'Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things' 4K Review
Bob Clark was a director that had no allegiance to any certain genre, and he produced timeless classics in horror and comedy. It’s always funny to think the guy who made Black Christmas (1974), the progenitor of slasher films— and one of the absolute best in that subgenre—also made A Christmas Story (1983), the enduring classic that famously used to run during the holiday for 24 hours a day on TBS/TNT. It still does, too. He also did Porky’s (1981) but that one hasn’t aged as well since standards have changed. Nevertheless, early on Clark had a collaborative relationship with writer/director/etc. Alan Ormsby and their first picture together was Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1972), a zombie romp about a theater troupe dabbling with the occult on a remote island.
Made on next to nothing and mostly employing friends, Ormsby is writer, lead actor, and special make-up FX artist. It’s better scripted than it is acted but the commendable heart of independent filmmaking is on the screen.
Alan (Alan Ormsby) leads a group of theater friends to an island off the coast of Miami, where a small graveyard hosts the remains of psychopathic criminals. Alan attempts to spook the group with local haunt tales before delving into a black mass. Mocking the undead and attempting a rendezvous with the devil, Alan’s efforts seem to produce no effect. Until the dead begin to rise up and attack the group, forcing them to hole up in a shack and fight off the ghoulish horde.
The script, co-written by Clark and Ormsby, has sharp dialogue and a dash of wit. But the acting often holds it back. These are amateur actors so it’s to be expected. It would have been great to see Clark realize his plans of remaking Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, since I feel the same script with a seasoned troupe and more money could do wonders. But those plans and his future were scuttled in 2007 because of a drunk driver. Ormsby is, unfortunately, the least likable cast member and he’s the lead. I guess he’s great at playing a prick? This isn’t a guy you want to spend any length of time with, though. He’s condescending, inexperienced, and full of hubris.
Much of the running time is spent in the cemetery, with everyone sitting around while Alan regales them with stories. A corpse, Orville (Seth Skarley), is exhumed and given a front row seat to Alan’s shenanigans. It should be apparent to anyone watching that Orville won’t be staying dead the entire film. Once the zombie action kicks in the film sees a decent bit of tension wrought. These ghouls aren’t fully lumbering but they aren’t quick; they’ve got some power, though, and strength in numbers. Whatever ennui may have set in during the first two acts is lifted by the third, though getting there may feel like a slog to some viewers. Bob Clark is a director I have long admired and while this isn’t close to his best pictures it’s wonderful to watch where he started.
A 4K release from VCI? I know, I was concerned, too, given their track record. This isn’t going to bowl over anyone but the 1.85:1 2160p image isn’t the worst. There’s no HDR color grading, just SDR, which nearly defeats the purpose of doing a 4K disc. The only time I’ve seen Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things before was on a 35mm print (on a double feature with Deathdream (1974) at the New Beverly) and I remember it looking very dark and very grainy. And it still does.
Colors have a nice richness. Black levels are mainly stable. Film grain is heavy (this was shot on 35mm although you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s 16mm) but not distracting. I don’t hate this image and I don’t think VCI did an awful job here. There may be some room for improvement but I couldn’t say how much. Suffice it to say, this is easily the best the film has ever looked at home.
Audio is carried via an English LPCM 2.0 mono track, one which shows its roots thanks to occasionally muddy audio and uneven levels. I can’t say I expected much more out of this mix. The sound is commensurate with the image quality. Carl Zittrer’s score is minimal and harsh, filled with spooky sounds and foreboding atmosphere. Subtitles are available in English.
Audio commentary, featuring Alan Ormsby, Jane Daly, and Anya Cronin.
“Dreaming of Death: Bob Clark’s Horror Films” (1080p) is a documentary that runs for 1 hour, 12 minutes, and 50 seconds. Friends, colleagues, cast, crew – numerous people are interviewed about Clark’s work and work ethic.
An original theatrical trailer (4K) for Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things runs for 3 minutes and 13 seconds.
This contains the same extras as the UHD disc.
“2022 Alan Ormsby Interview” (1080p) runs for 33 minutes and 32 seconds, opening with a disclaimer the audio was bungled and so subtitles are pretty much required to understand the conversation. This was conducted via webcam.
“Confessions of a Grave Digger: Interview with Ken Goch” (1080p) runs for 9 minutes and 8 seconds, he was credited as “Construction Chief”.
“Grindhouse Q&A” (1080p) runs for 11 minutes and 27 seconds, this comes from a Bob Clark double feature screening at the New Beverly Cinema, featuring Alan Ormsby and a couple other cast/crew.
“Memories of Bob Clark: A Tribute to the Late Director” (1080p) runs for 10 minutes and 8 seconds, audio interviews from friends play over a series of slides.
A photo gallery (1080p) runs for 4 minutes and 54 seconds.
“Dead Girls Don’t Say No” (1080p) is a music video by The Dead Things, running for 3 minutes and 50 seconds.
“Cemetery Mary” (1080p) is a music video by The Dead Things, running for 3 minutes and 55 seconds.
“Tribute Video” (1080p) runs for 2 minutes.
Finally, a series of radio spots runs for 4 minutes and 25 seconds.
What the film lacks in budget and acting talent it nearly makes up in heart and oddball charm. Clark and Ormsby’s script is well written, and once the undead make their appearance the picture does pick up quite a bit. VCI did a commendable job for this 4K release, and while I have no doubt it could be better this isn’t too bad for a 50-year-old film made on a shoestring.
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