Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things: 50th Anniversary Edition (4K UHD Review)
Prior to Bob Clark’s success as the director of A Christmas Story and Porky’s, he spent some time as a low budget filmmaker, producing one of the greatest horror films ever made, Black Christmas. Even before that, he was a fledgling filmmaker working with his partner Alan Orsmby. The two collaborated on several projects, the most well-known of which is 1972’s Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, a zombie horror comedy that has reluctantly garnered a cult following thanks to home video.
Alan (Alan Orsmby), a pretentious and playful, yet serious-minded theatre director, brings a small cast of actors and crew with him to a remote island off the coast of Florida. There they find an abandoned and rundown shack, as well as a nearby graveyard, containing the corpses of murderous criminals. Alan, always keen to provoke his underlings, decides to perform a ritual in order to raise the dead, but when nothing comes of it, he decides to make up for it by bringing one of the corpses back to the shack and having some fun with it. Unfortunately for him and his troupe, the ritual did indeed work and the dead eventually rise to attack and kill them all.
Shot on location in Coconut Grove, Florida for around $50,000, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things is comprised of college student acting talent, and it shows. The film has an unfortunate case of dialogue, much of it flowery, but it’s also part of its charm. It’s a group of young, know-nothing filmmakers getting together and putting on a show. There’s definitely talent involved, both in front of and behind the camera, even if the material is basically a take-off (admittedly so) of Night of the Living Dead. But because it takes place entirely at night with crickets always chirping in the background, it has a surprisingly creepy feel to it. The idea of a group of twentysomethings playing around with corpses that finally rise up and have their way with them works well enough because of its attention to atmosphere.
Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things was shot by director of photography Jack McGowan on 35 mm film using Arriflex 35 IIC cameras and spherical lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. VCI Entertainment brings the film to Ultra HD for the first time from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, graded for Standard Dynamic Range only. Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things has always been a rough presentation to begin with, and no amount of pixels is going to fix that completely, but this Ultra HD offers mediocre results. Uneven levels of grain with erratic bitrates litter this presentation, with certain passages looking more even and natural than others. There’s also obvious black crush, some of it built in, and some not so much. Still, saturation is very nice on costumes and backgrounds, both bursting with swatches of orange, green, purple, and red. The lack of High Dynamic Range is definitely felt in these areas, particularly during the interior scenes where shadow detail suffers. Everything is stable and mostly clean aside from a few lines and minor speckling, but this film deserves a better presentation than this. It’s watchable, but it’s not up to the standards set by other companies producing UHD discs of similar low budget horror films.
Audio is included in English 2.0 mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. The volume is a bit low, requiring a minor adjustment, but dialogue is clear enough while score and sound effects have decent support, especially in the last half hour of the film. The main star are the crickets, which tend to permeate the background. It’s a clean track without any sibilance or distortion issues, faring much better than its video counterpart.
Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things on 4K Ultra HD sits in a black amaray case alongside a Blu-ray of the film in 1080p (featuring the same restoration) and an additional Blu-ray of extras. Also included is an 8-page insert booklet featuring various stills and the essay Bob Clark’s Dead Things: Low-Budget Horror in the Sunshine State by film historian and home video columnist Patrick McCabe. The insert is double-sided, featuring new artwork by Simon Pritchard, and everything is housed in a limited slipcover featuring artwork from one of the film’s theatrical posters. The following extras are included on each disc:
The audio commentary with actor/co-writer Alan Ormsby, actresses Anya Liffey (formerly Anya Liffey, now Anya Cronin) and Jane Daly, and moderator David Gregory was recorded in 2007 for VCI’s 35th Anniversary Exhumed Edition DVD release. It’s a lighthearted discussion between the four as they watch the film together, with David occasionally asking questions, but the group primarily reminisces with each other about their experiences making the film. Dreaming of Death: Bob Clark’s Horror Films is a new documentary about the filmmaker and his work, produced by Sarah Appleton for 101 Films, featuring writer and filmmaker Chris Alexander, author Simon Fitzjohn, composer Paul Zaza, actors Richard Backus, Lynne Griffin, Art Hindle, and assistant director Ken Goch. Also included is the theatrical trailer, which offers exclusive footage shot specifically for it.
The interview with Alan Ormsby is new, and was conducted via Skype/Zoom. Unfortunately, the audio has been (self-admittedly) botched, so it takes some getting used to. Ormsby is more than game to answer the interviewer’s questions about the film and other projects that he’s worked on. They even take the time to ask questions from fans, which is fun. Confessions of a Grave Digger features a 2007 interview with the film’s construction chief Ken Goch, which details the film’s sets and decorations. The Grindhouse Q&A took place on May 22, 2007 in Los Angeles during screenings of Bob Clark’s films with Alan Orsmby, Roberts Blossom, Carl Zittrer, Ken Goch, and Albert Fisher. Memories of Bob Clark details the late director’s filmography and life, with additional comments from Jane Daly, Anya Liffey, and Alan Ormsby. Next is a Photo Gallery features 23 stills from the film, posters, lobby cards, and home video artwork. Two music videos follow for Dead Girls Don’t Say No and Cemetery Man by The Deadthings. Next is a musical video tribute by Freak 13 using stills from the film. Last is a series of nine radio spots, which also offer on-screen factoids about Alan Orsmby.
Not included from VCI’s previous Blu-ray release is the UK version of the film, as well as the audio commentary with Alan Ormsby and David Gregory that was included with that version. Also not present from VCI’s 35th Anniversary Exhumed Edition DVD release is a set of production notes. And missing from the Anchor Bay Region 2 DVD release is an additional interview with Alan Ormsby, which was included as an Easter egg.
Most newcomers are likely to find Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things incredibly dull until the final half hour, and there’s not much of an argument to be made there. It’s flawed, but there’s something endearing and effectual about it that makes the effort worthwhile. VCI’s 4K Ultra HD debut of the film is definitely lacking, but the collection of bonus materials should please most fans, especially the new documentary.
- Tim Salmons
(You can follow Tim on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook. And be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel here.)Reviewed by: Review Date: Format: Film/Program Grade: Video Grade: Audio Grade: Extras Grade: A Christmas StoryPorky’sBlack ChristmasChildren Shouldn’t Play With Dead ThingsChildren Shouldn’t Play With Dead ThingsNight of the Living DeadChildren Shouldn’t Play With Dead ThingsChildren Shouldn’t Play With Dead ThingsChildren Shouldn’t Play With Dead ThingsBob Clark’s Dead Things: Low-Budget Horror in the Sunshine StateDISC ONE: FILM (UHD)Audio Commentary with Alan Ormsby, Anya Liffey, Jane Daly, and David GregoryDreaming of Death: Bob Clark’s Horror FilmsTheatrical TrailerDISC TWO: FILM (BD)Audio Commentary with Alan Ormsby, Anya Liffey, Jane Daly, and David GregoryDreaming of Death: Bob Clark’s Horror FilmsTheatrical TrailerDISC THREE: EXTRAS (BD)An Interview with Alan OrmsbyConfessions of a Grave Digger: An Interview with Ken GochGrindhouse Q&AMemories of Bob ClarkPhoto GalleryDead Girls Don’t Say NoCemetery MaryTribute VideoRadio Spots35th Anniversary Exhumed EditionDreaming of Death: Bob Clark’s Horror FilmsConfessions of a Grave DiggerGrindhouse Q&AMemories of Bob ClarkPhoto GalleryDead Girls Don’t Say NoCemetery Man35th Anniversary Exhumed EditionChildren Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things- Tim Salmons(You can follow Tim on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook. And be sure to subscribe to his YouTube channel here.)