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Now in our eleventh calendar year!
PCR #514 (Vol. 11, No. 5). This edition is for the week of January 25--31, 2010.

"Edge of Darkness"  by Mike Smith
Forgotten Horrors: Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things  by ED Tucker
January Albums  by Terence Nuzum
Ahoy! Pirates In Pop Culture  by Lisa Scherer
Curse of Japanese Toy Shopping  by Jason Fetters
I Love St. Pete @ ARTpool  by John Miller
Love Is... .... Movie Notes .... Passing On .... .... .... .... .... .... Mike's Record Shelf  by Mike Smith
CF Presents Retrorama

Forgotten Horrors: Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things

By the early 1970’s, Night of the Living Dead was already well on its way to becoming a cult classic and audiences all across the country were eating up this new zombie film. Two of those audience members were aspiring director Bob Clark and writer Alan Ormsby. The duo had raised funds from friends and relatives for a low budget motion picture and had just found the inspiration they were seeking. Realizing the potential that Night had created and acknowledging Ormsby’s love of horror films, Clark decided they should produce a similar genre title. Working at top speed, Bob Clark had a rough script ready to go within a few weeks and the black comedy / zombie horror film Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things was born!

Bob Clark had already directed a few obscure films in south Florida by the time he and Alan Ormsby met, but he was ready for something he had more control over. Both men were willing to do whatever was needed to get their breakout film on the screen and that was just what this movie would require. While Clark oversaw all aspects of the production, with help from friend Gary Goch, Ormsby contributed to the script, designed the more complicated make-up effects, and even played the lead character. The remaining cast was made up of friends, relatives, and members of the University of Miami drama department.

Would you let these "Children" near your lawn?
Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things is the story of an aspiring acting troupe and their domineering leader played by Ormsby, also named Alan. At his behest, they travel to a small island off the coast of Florida for an intensive training workshop without distractions. This retreat also includes a nasty practical joke and a seemingly unsuccessful voodoo ritual, most likely designed to unnerve the actors and further assert their leader’s control. Egos, however, are about to be the least of these “Children’s” problems.

As part of the ritual to raise the dead, the corpse of recently-deceased Orville Dunworth is exhumed and hung on a crucifix. Following the failure of the ceremony and the general disbelief of his troupe, Alan has the body brought back with them to their cabin so it can undergo further indignities. After a sacrilegious marriage and various taunting, Orville is put through the most degrading ordeal imaginable when he is forced to listen to Alan’s self-absorbed introspective contemplations. It’s completely believable that drivel like this could cause the dead to turn in their graves and eventually rise!

For the final act, the film switches tone abruptly from black comedy to straight horror. The ghouls from the local cemetery claw their way to the surface in some effectively atmospheric scenes and then begin wiping out the cast in short order. The cabin standoff is very reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead but is wisely kept brief in favor of a futile escape attempt and a downbeat ending where Orville gets a little payback on his chief defiler.

A few of the impressive zombies crash the party.
The first hour of Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things is a slow-paced setup to an enjoyable climax. With such a leisurely beginning, you would think there would be more explanation on the relationships of the characters but very little is given. Most frustrating is the lack of a clear reason why the “Children” are following a jerk like Alan in the first place. He does not appear to be their stepping stone to acting careers and the satanic ritual implies a certain Manson-like devotion that is also never explored.

Thankfully, by the final reel the film does deliver the horror the audience has been waiting for. The zombie makeup is a mixed variety that gives the impression of different stages of decomposition for the corpses. The gore is restricted to some free flowing blood but nothing approaching the Night of the Living Dead scale. Even for a PG-rated film of the 1970’s, the film seems to shy away from anything too explicit which may be due to Bob Clark’s dislike of the horror genre.

The most memorable aspect of this film is the atmosphere, thanks to some interesting locations and odd lighting. The majority of the shooting was done at the Dade County Nursery which provides a foliage-covered graveyard and a nearby ramshackle house that one of the crew members actually lived in at the time and rented to the production. The lighting setups were courtesy of local cinematographer Jack McGowan who was a well-respected member of the Florida film scene. Hand held lanterns and disembodied street lights are combined with fog and colored gels to give the film an unsettling, nightmare-like quality that sticks with the viewer.

Children had a lengthy theatrical release courtesy of Ted V. Mikels’ Geneni Film Distributors, including at least one re-release on a triple bill under the more direct title Revenge of the Living Dead. From there it headed into television syndication and proved popular on late night and horror-themed movie programs (including the 44 Creature Feature). In the mid-80’s, the film was picked up for the newly created home video market and spent the next decade in easy access on store shelves thanks to a variety of different video labels.

Following this film, Clark would go on to a very prosperous career in directing, including the teen comedy Porky’s and the modern holiday classic A Christmas Story. Ormsby concentrated on writing and penned the scripts for the Cat People remake and the highly underrated My Bodyguard as well as many television shows. Most of the remaining cast either stuck close to the Clark/Ormsby partnership for the next few years or faded into obscurity. Two notable exceptions were Jan Daly, who played Terry, and has worked steadily, mainly in television, ever since and Jeff Gillen who would make a memorable cameo in A Christmas Story as the grumpy store Santa who pushes young Ralphie down the slide with his foot!

While it may not have come close to the level of the film that inspired it, Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things did develop its own cult following and is still a favorite among many horror fans today. According to Alan Ormsby, the film was successful enough at the box office for a sequel, tentatively titled We Told You…..Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, to enter the planning stages but it never went any further. Instead, Clark and Ormsby collaborated on two more horror films, the eerie anti-war movie Death Dream and the Ed Gein inspired Deranged. Following the recent commercial success and critical failure of the remake of Clark’s Black Christmas, the director was in serious talks on a remake of Children at the time of his tragic death in an automobile accident that also claimed the life of his son. While a remake is still a possibility given the recycling frenzy in Hollywood these days, fans can continue to enjoy the quirky original until then.

"Retrorama" is ©2010 by ED Tucker. Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2010 by Nolan B. Canova.