Benjamin ‘Bob’ Clark may not be a household name, but he is a prolific director of low budget movies that span many genres: from horror movies to family comedies. His career started in the 1970’s with Cult Grindhouse hits Dead Of Night, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things and the phenomenal Black Christmas. During the late 1970’s/ Early 1980’s, his career would reach it’s peak with classic films such as the raunchy adult comedy Porky’s, crime thriller Murder By Decree and acclaimed family classic A Christmas Story, but unfortunately with a slew of TV movies the creation of Baby Geniuses and Baby Geniuses II in the early 21st Century, Bob Clark’s name no longer held any weight in the film industry, and with his unfortunate death in 2007, he can longer remedy his poor reputation. Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things was Bob Clark’s second feature film, and the first of two films that were a collaboration between Bob Clark and writer Alan Ormsby, the other film being 1974’s Dead Of Night. Over the years, Children Shouldn’t Play With Things has garnered a cult following, and I have a gut feeling that Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things was one of the biggest influences on The Evil Dead as the two films share a lot of suspicious similarities.
Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things is primarily a zombie flick, and as far as zombie flicks go, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things is a very slow, atmospheric, down to earth zombie movie. The film’s plot revolves around a theater troupe who visit a deserted island, and through a series of campy pranks and rituals, they unwittingly raise the flesh-eating dead. Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things does a good job at sticking to a simple, easy to follow plot which doesn’t over-complicate itself by adding unnecessary plot points to try and overly flesh out an already workable premise. However, what makes Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things stand out from the majority of other zombie movies from the 1970’s, is the fact that the film focuses more on character development, rather than zombie action scenes. For such a short running time (81 Minutes long) the majority of the film is spent exploring the characters: their motivations and their personalities. Thanks to a well written script with quite engagingly realistic dialogue, the characters presented in Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things are very emotive and relatable: they actually feel human, with human emotions and human desires. As a result, the characters of Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things feel more than just mindless stereotypes, or useless zombie fodder; each character is fairly diverse with clear emotions and desires.
However, there’s no hiding the fact that Children Shouldn’t lay With Dead Things is incredibly dated, and it was evidently made on no budget at all. The film sports a good understanding of atmospheric lighting and tense cinematography, but overall, the film looks incredibly cheap and amateurish. The special effects look spectacularly cheap, especially the silly looking zombie masks, and the film’s production values are next to none. The film’s pacing is also one of the worst aspects: for a film that’s quite slow and atmospheric, it’s struggled to keep my attention. There were just too many scenes that meandered, were boring, and provided nothing in terms of story or character development. The beginning of the film is good, the climax is shocking, but the middle of the film is wrought with uninteresting scenes that go absolutely nowhere.
The acting is one of the worst culprits, however. Alan Ormsby may be enjoying his leading role with a purposely hammy performance, but the rest of the actors are just bad. Through stunted delivery and bare bones action, it feels like the actors had no idea about having a sense of purpose or direction. For such well written characters, the actors ruin the characterizations with terrible performances. Alan Ormsby’s character is the only one that’s truly well developed because Alan Ormsby isn’t a terrible actor: his acting has purpose, it has direction, he can deliver lines quite well with pompous action, but he overshadows the rest of the cast who can’t deliver a good performance, or even one that’s enjoyably bad.
I don’t really dislike Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. It has its good points, and it has its bad. At times, the film kept my attention with interesting characters and suspenseful scenes, and other times the film was boring and tedious. All in all, I’ll say that Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things is a middle of the road horror film: it isn’t terrible, but it isn’t fantastic either. It’s a definitive low budget seventies film that feels perfect for the Grindhouse circuits because of it’s low budget nastiness and ‘psychedelic’ styling. However, the 1970’s gave use much better zombie movies than Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, and the film hasn’t stood the test of time. In conclusion, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things isn’t a must-see horror film, and Bob Clark/Alan Ormsby have done better throughout their careers.