31 Nights of Halloween Horror part 31: Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things
31 Nights of Halloween Horror: Part 31 in a 31 part series.
Our final horror film reviewed, this night, the last night of October. Tonight we talk about:
Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things | Dir. Bob Clark |1972/USA | 87 mins
And I’m spent.
Congratulations you made it through all 31 films. This Halloween night I have a special treat for you. Lots of times people ask me what my favorite horror film is, and honestly there are so many movies out there that it is impossible to pick just one. I like a lot of them for many different reasons, but if I was forced to either pick my favorite horror movie or eat a bag full of spiders I would probably choose Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things.
Why would I pick an obscure low budget zombie movie from the 70s?
Sit back and let me explain why you should revisit this classic of classic films.
Though it was released the same year I was born, surprisingly it was not the first horror film I saw. That was The Car, five years later. Yup, I started young. I don’t remember how old I was when I first saw or I should say didn’t see Children…. I am going to guess I was about 10 or so watching TV with my dad late one night and he got excited because Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things was coming on. The title alone made me a little apprehensive. I mean, I was a child and I certainly didn’t want to play with dead things. The thoughts and images that phrase conjured up alone was enough to spook me out. No good could come out of playing with dead things, for that I was certain.
The movie starts in a fog-filled graveyard at night with some ominous music. A caretaker sees someone with their back turned standing in the distance, he cautiously approaches and taps the person on the shoulder. With a loud scream, the person turns to reveal a hideous zombie face zooming into the camera and the title Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things appears on the screen. Nope. Shut it off. Change the channel. Not watching this. And that was all I saw of this film until a few years later when I finally was brave enough to try again.
Is it really that scary?
No, not in the least. In fact, the zombies don’t even show up until the last third of the movie. It’s all talking before then. But to a ten-year-old kid with an already over active imagination, it was all I needed to conjure up things that were much worse than what was in the film. So what is it about this movie, it has to be more than just nostalgia. Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things has atmosphere and to me, that is the most important ingredient in anything you are working on, especially horror. But this film doesn’t just have atmosphere, it is oozing it all over the place like the guts of the spiders I decided not to chew in my mouth.
Remember the old Universal and Hammer classics, all the graveyard scenes always had a mist in it, you knew it was a bad place to be. Then in modern times things became real and they took the mist away. Children… brought it back. You knew this was a bad place because it already had the creepy fog covering the ground.
Besides the atmosphere, the one thing I love about this movie the most is the music. The score is extremely down beat and foreboding. Kind of like the Fabio Frizzi’s title tracks to Fulci’s City of the Living Dead or Zombie. Just a heavy handed sound that lets you know darkness lies ahead. The composer was Carl Zittrer and he did go on to do the music for a few other Clark films like Deranged, Dead of Night, Black Christmas, Porky’s I & II and A Christmas Story as well other horror films like Ted V Mikel’s Blood Orgy of the She Devils and Prom Night. Beyond just the musical score there are so many weird sounds happening in the background like the sounds of a jungle or something over the night scape of the graveyard.
It is all just so bizarre. I always say if there was one horror movie soundtrack I wish was released it is this one.
What about the characters?
So we have the creepy atmosphere, the ominous soundtrack, let’s about the characters. The simple story is, an acting troupe takes a trip to a small island off the coast of Miami as a little team building exercise to resurrect the dead. Why any of this is actually taking place is never really explained, but just go with it. They arrive at the most awful of graveyards reduced to the likes of murderers and rapists, the most undesirables.
While there they stay the night at the boarded up caretakers house. Where is he? Oh he went crazy and murdered his family. Why didn’t they get another? Oh they did but he hung himself in an upstairs bedroom. Everything is over the top but in a tongue and cheek kind of way.
So the “children” are here to perform a little satanic ritual to resurrect the dead. After a failed attempt the leader of the troupe Alan Ormsby (who also co-wrote this film as well as Deranged, Dead of Night, Cat People and Popcorn) doesn’t want to be left with egg on his face so they take an exhumed corpse back to the house to have fun with. But as it turns out the dead actually do rise, it just takes a little time and boy are they hungry.
Here is the thing, the acting in this movie is actually quite good. All of the actors are actually playing characters with their same names so it almost gives a sense of realism to the film. And the dialogue is extremely well written for this kind of film. It is creative and flows naturally as an actor would speak as if he was always on call. It’s as if someone like Quentin Tarantino wrote the dialogue because honestly, it is that and the actors that are driving the first 2/3 of this movie. We got memorable lines such as “It takes an artist to deal with the devil, not some insurance salesman with delusions of grandeur” and “Man is a machine that manufactures manure.” For such an extremely low budget movie the characters really carry this movie much more so than other films of this caliber.
What about the zombies?
And then there are the zombies, they are nowhere near as complex as what we see in today’s The Walking Dead, but they are more than just the blue faced undead littered in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. These ghouls actually look like they have rotted and decayed. Especially lead ghoul Orville, his caked on make up gives him an unholy vibe that perhaps corpses are best left in the ground and not to be played with. There is some overly red fake looking blood in scenes, but no real gore. Like I said the zombies don’t really show up until the last third of the movie, but I think this flick is more remembered for the whole package then just one or two zombie scenes.
So combine all these elements together and you have to me what makes an absolutely classic horror film. Are there better movies, absolutely. Scarier ones, 100%. Gorier ones, most definitely. But few movies can give you the whole creepy package all in one.
What about Bob?
Director Bob Clark wasn’t a one hit wonder. Though he certainly had his fair share of duds (Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2), but the man was an innovator. He filmed Children simultaneously with that other creepy underrated Monkey’s Paw film Dead of Night. And quickly followed those up with what is credited as the first US Slasher film Black Christmas 1974, from there he made the memorable teen T&A movies Porkys I & II and then his most noted film, A Christmas Story that continues to play 24 hours a day every Christmas for almost as long as I can remember. He was actually working on a remake of Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things before he was tragically killed by a drunk driver in 2007.
Children… hits all the right buttons for me, everything I want in a horror film. It is over the top cliched, but really when we decorate our house for Halloween or go on a dark ride we are expecting the fog-filled graveyard, the wolf howling at the moon and that is what this movie gives us. It touches on all those elements and more. You can bet your money this Halloween I will be watching the masterpiece that is Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things.
That’s all folks!
And there you have it, another 31 Nights of Halloween Horror has come to and end.
I want to thank everyone who took the time and read all these reviews and commented on them. Hopefully, you checked out a few movies you have never seen before and revisited some old classics, that is what I certainly did. I tried to cover a wide range of different types of films, but when it comes to horror there is so much out there and 31 nights is not nearly enough to take it all in which is why we should never stop.
Keep watching horror movies all year long. You can continue to check out my articles every month on echoba.se and I’ll see you next year so we can do it all over again.
Check out the 31 Nights Of Halloween Horror channel for all of my horror movie reviews from this year and last.