Tag Archives: Bob Clark

CAPSULE: CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972)

DIRECTED BY: Bob Clark

FEATURING: Alan Ormsby, Anya Ormsby, Paul Cronin

PLOT: An amateur acting troupe, led by their eccentric and egotistical director, head out to an island to conduct experiments that merge theater with the recently deceased—namely a corpse named Orville.

Still from Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1972)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Children… is by no means a mainstream film, but most of its weird qualities stem from the fact it was made on such a small budget. While it isn’t a masterpiece, these limitations ultimately work in its favor as it pushes itself beyond the confines of a by-the-numbers zombie B-movie and attempts a sordid originality.

COMMENTS: Despite the romanticism in the idea of low budget filmmaking, especially in the horror genre, it isn’t very often that everything comes up roses. For every success like The Evil Dead or Halloween, we are also treated to tragedies of grand proportions like Birdemic or Troll 2. But even those films, celebrated for their complete lack of any direction or talent, make us forget about the numerous failures that never gain any traction at all. Rather more unknown than these contrasting successes and missteps, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things can be considered a relative triumph for a number of reasons, the primary one being that is isn’t a complete farce!

A good frame of reference here is a film I have previously mentioned, The Evil Dead, which so closely resembles Children that you can’t help but think Sam Raimi saw it multiple times before getting up the courage to embark on his own similar project. It should be noted, however, that Bob Clark’s film was not only made ten years before Evil Dead, but also on a fraction of Raimi’s tiny budget. Reportedly shot over a period of 14 days for only $50,000, you would be forgiven for thinking that Children… is worth leaving to the low-budget purists, but despite its clear aesthetic problems, it actually manages to be a thoroughly entertaining watch from start to finish.

With its undeniably dark and stodgy visuals, Clark seemed to know that his film needed a boost to keep the audience from faltering. The ace up his sleeve is a script that never slows down and gives opportunities for the actors to showcase their considerable talent rather than relegating them to basic stereotypes. Funny, self-aware, cheesy but sharp as hell, the writing in this film elevates it beyond another genre schlock piece. The characters play off each other and create an atmosphere of tension that goes beyond just the sense of dread emanating from the nearby graveyard. Zingers like “Get out of the grave, Alan, and let an artist show you how to call a curse down on Satan” and “man is just a machine than manufactures manure” are hardly groundbreaking, but enough to keep things interesting.

At the forefront of the charismatic and intriguing acting troupe is Alan (played by Alan Ormsby), whose verbosity and arrogance instantly makes you hate him, right up until the film’s final scene. The group dynamics are so fulfilling that Children… sometimes comes across as that live action “Scooby Doo” film that we all wanted, full of wonderful Seventies outfits (but sadly, no talking dog). That is, until Alan unearths a corpse named Orville and uses it to taunt and bully the other members of the troupe who feel the game (or artistic experiment) has gone a little too far.

After a slightly stodgy middle section featuring the purposefully grating character of Alan, the final horrific portion of the film is welcomed gleefully as we slip into bona fide horror territory. These last scenes obviously borrow heavily from Romero and slot in nicely to the ever-evolving culture of low budget horror filmmaking. Dark, dingy and with an anxiety-ridden score, it somehow works. Children… never set out to be perfect, and it never is, but its imperfections are the reason it survived 40 years of cinema and came out the other end, bloated and rotting, but still enjoyable.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Truly weird, sometimes effective horror cheapie.”–Ken Hanke, Mountain XPress