Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972)

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AKA: Revenge of the Living Dead
AKA: Things from the Dead
AKA: Zreaks

Mean-spirited director, Alan, drags his small theater troupe off to an isolated island near Miami that’s been used as a cemetery for decades. No one in his rag-tag little troupe wants to be there, but Alan uses the near-constant threat of firing them to force them to play along with him. The game? Alan thinks it’ll be fun to use this old book of spells he bought to try to raise the dead from their graves. When nothing happens Alan has a fit and leaves, but not before taking a door prize back to their cabin: The body of a man named Orville, who died in the 1800s. The rest of the troupe are sick of his disrespectful and sick sense of fun, but before they can abscond with Alan’s boat and head back to the mainland they’re met with a nasty surprise. Apparently their makeshift ritual really did work and now they’re trapped in a rundown cabin, surrounded by a bunch of pissed off corpses who are none-too-happy to have been woken up.

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They are further pissed off by everyone’s horrible 70s fashion sense.

Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things is a low budget horror/comedy outing from 1972. The film was the second feature film by the up-and-coming American/Canadian director Bob Clark, who would later go on to direct several well known movies, such as Black Christmas, Murder by Decree, Porkey’s and A Christmas Story. Despite the fact that the movie was filmed in only 14 days, and the script penned in less than 10 days, the whole thing manages to be an entertaining little romp, even if it does exhibit a few growing pains along the way.

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I’ve seen your pants, it’s no big loss.

For starters, the film is surprisingly funny, filled with a lot of sarcastic wit and surprisingly dark humor. Some might call it campy, but to me it sounded like a group of friends/coworkers razzing on one another, so I didn’t mind. Most of the jokes are aimed at the asshole director, Alan, whose head is so full of hot air that he runs the risk of floating off every time he steps outside. All the good quips are made at Alan’s expense, because while the members of the troupe really seem to like each other, you can tell that they all think Alan is nothing more than an asshat with a checkbook. And why not? The guy is practically the physical embodiment of some of the worst characteristics of the acting world: he acts like a pompous French aristocrat who’s never heard the word ‘no’, and then pairs his horrendous personality with the facial hair of a 1800s cowboy and the terrible fashion sense of the 1970s. So yeah, he gets horribly mocked, but don’t feel bad for Alan, he’s an ass who deserves to be made fun of. Hell, even the zombies know he’s a jerk. At one point he throws a member of the troupe down the stairs to escape the Zombie Plague and all the motion briefly pauses and even the zombies stop to stare at him as if to say “Really? What a dick.”

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“Like….dude…..”


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And then they gently carry her off. As though his level of douchebaggery was so great even they can’t bring themselves to eat her after that.

The effects of the film are, well, sparse to say the least. Just watching the first few minutes I could tell I wasn’t going to be blown away, but what’s there is pretty decent and survicable. Most of it boils down to make-up effects and a few buckets of bright-red blood. There are a couple of ‘oopsie’ moments, where you can tell the makeup either rubbed off or you weren’t supposed to see that part of their arm, but for the most part everything looks pretty good for a low-budget job.

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The main issue I think a few people are going to have is the film’s plot and pacing. When you boil it down to its roots, the movie is basically a rehash of Night of the Living Dead, but in color and filled with far more likable characters. So the plot itself isn’t going to do anything to blow you away. Then there’s the pacing of the first half of the film, which, much as I liked it, is rather sluggish. The first chunk of the movie is just a combination of ‘getting to know your characters’, ‘random antics’ and ‘wandering’ time. The characters arrive, then they wander. You learn a bit more, they wander again. A quick detour to grab the book, and then–you guessed it–more wandering.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is a great way to learn about all your characters. But a lot of people are going to go into this thinking ‘Zombie Film’ and the characters don’t even get to the whole ‘raising the dead’ ritual until they’re a good 30 minutes in. And the zombies themselves? Hell, they don’t show up until after a solid hour, after which the pacing really picks up. So your enjoyment of much of the film is going to rest on how well you like the first full hour. If you’re patient and dig the humor, cool. But if you’re just hoping for waves on undead then you’re going to have to either fast-forward a bit or sit through a bevy of talking, meandering, and questionable fashion trends.

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Yes, defying all odds, his outfit manages to get even crappier.

Despite a few flaws I ended up really liking Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. It’s like a cross between Evil Dead and a more humorous take on Night of the Living Dead, but with a surprisingly equally dark ending considering the humor in much of the first half. The effects were decent, the characters were enjoyable and I found it amusing enough to keep watching. But the pacing is going to turn a lot of people off and I can admit that while I enjoyed most of it, some of the humor can be quite cringy and offensive. In short, it’s not for everyone. But if you’re interested in zombie films it’s probably worth at least one viewing.

Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things is available on Amazon Prime and Tubi TV.

It is also available on DVD and Bluray.

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Michi

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