Saturday, March 19, 2016

CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972) (Blu-ray Review)

CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972) 

Label: VCI Entertainment 

Duration: 87 Minutes

Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: PG
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English PCM Stereo 2.0 with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Bob Clark
Cast: Alan Ormsby, Valerie Mamches, Jeffrey Gillen, Anya Ormsby, Paul Cronin, Jane Daly, Roy Engleman, Robert Philip, Bruce Solomon, Seth Sklarey, Alecs Baird

Bob Clark's seminal horror-comedy Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things begins with a young theater troupe lead by douche-nozzle Alan (Alan Ormsby) travelling by boat to an small island off the coast of Miami where the criminally insane have been buried for years. They arrive on the fog-drenched island and make their way through the canopy of overgrowth and crumbling headstones to a dilapidated shack where Alan dons a purple wizard's gown and informs the crew as to why they are o the island this eerie night... to perform a Satanic ritual meant to bring back the dead! 

The crew dig up the grave of the recently dead Orville Dunworth and prop him up on a cross-shaped headstone, as the performers look on Alan recites an over-the-top incantation meant to bring about the undead. Bitchy Val (Valerie Mamches) has had about enough of Alan's spooky shenanigans for the night when the ceremony does absolutely nothing, she pushes him aside and performs her own sarcastic incantation ...and the damn thing works, the dead to begin to crawl up from out of their graves!  Now our group of performers make their way back to the run down shack as hordes of flesh-hungry undead lay siege upon the crew with terrifying results. 

Not certain when I first saw Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, but I am sure it was on broadcast TV back in the '80s during one of those awesome horror matinees I loved so damn much, and I do remember it scared me quite a bit. The movie has a very slow build-up, and can be a bit of a slog for some, but I enjoyed it a bunch and the payoff of the zombie uprising is pretty damn great, erasing any issues I may have had with the pace up to that point 

The character of Alan is such an arrogant and unapologetic asshole, and I sort of love it that about him, he is one of those characters you absolutely love to hate. I also love how Val throws insults right back at him, she has a lot of spunk and is the only one among the group to stand-up to the jerk. There's also a hippy dippy type character named Anya (Anya Ormsby) who is a seemingly spirit-sensitive young woman who has a meltdown, not unlike someone on a very bad acid trip. You also have to love those groovy early seventies fashions, dig this vertical striped pants on Ormsby! The movie also has an awesome Scooby-Doo style about it, the colorful clothing worn by the troupe seem straight out of a Scooby cartoon, the vibrant wardrobe stands out against the pitch black scenes in the dark.

The movies goes to some weird places, for instance they hold a wedding ceremony for Alan and the corpse of Orville, with Alan taking an unnatural liking to his new found corpse friend, but this friendship will definitely come back to bite him on his arrogant ass, just you watch. The movie is oozing with atmosphere, the fog-drenched island location is creepy stuff as are the zombie designs, with Alan Ormsby doing double duty creating many of the undead make-up for the movie. This is low-budget stuff but the applications are effective, the standout being the undead star Orville, a flaky white-skinned cadaver with a lot of presence about him.

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things is a fun cult-classic, it was the first movie for director Bob Clark who would go onto director horror the 'Nam horror-nightmare Deathdream and the stalk and slash classic Black Christmas before making the seminal teen boner-comedy Porky's and the beloved holiday favorite A Christmas Story. It is great to see this one arrive on HD looking better than ever in an attractive package. 

Audio/Video: Children shouldn't Play with Dead Things arrives on Blu-ray from VCI Entertainment looking significantly improved over the 35th Anniversary Exhumed Edition from 2010. The movie has been afforded a new digital restoration and a 2K scan and the results are very pleasing with colors looking more vibrant and saturated. There's some modest depth and clarity to the image, but don't get your hopes too high, this low-budget zombie film from the early '70s was made on the cheap, was poorly lit and was made by amateurs - it is ever only to look so good. Certain scenes seem to have been cleaned-up quite a bit with some judicious DNR applied to remove grit and grain, but does not seem to have been over-scrubbed. Black levels are greatly improved, but there is some noticeable black crush, but nothing too distracting. 

Audio comes by way of a lossless linear PCM 2.0 which does a good job with dialogue, and the Carl Zittrer (Black Christmas, Porky's, Deranged) electronic score, which at times can be very eerie, particularly during a few of the slow-motions shots, not an iconic score by any means but it does the job. Optional English subtitles are included on the disc. I have read on certain HD threads that there are audio-sync issues with this release, but I didn't catch that during my viewings of the Blu-ray. 

VCI have brought over all the notable extras from the 35th Anniversary Exhumed Edition beginning with the very good audio commentary Alan Ormsby, Jane Daly and Anya Cronin which is moderated by David Gregory of Severin Films, this is a track that should please fans of the movie. Memories of Bob Clark: A tribute to the late Director (10 Mins) also features the commentary participants Alan Ormsby, Jane Daly and Anya Cronin reflecting on the legacy of Clark, this is an audio only segment. There's the 2007 Grindhouse Q/A (11 Mins) which took place during a double-feature screening of Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things and Deathdream featuring the participation of Ormsby, composer Carl Zittrer, and set decorator Albert Fisher. Confessions of a Grave Digger: Interview with Ken Goch (9 Mins) who worked as part of the art department on the movie, and was promoted to A.D. while shooting Deranged. He speaks about working on the movie, offering insights about his close friend Bob Clark and swallowing lit joints to avoid being arrested.There's also Photo Gallery (5 Mins) HD, two music video from the trash rock band The Deadthings, a brief tribute video, and the original theatrical trailer. There are also a selection of radio spots which play over a series of images from the movie with a text trivia track, which also goes into Alan Ormsby's seminal Movie Monsters book and his Hug: Man with a 100 Faces toy. 

New to the Blu-ray is the inclusion of the abbreviated U.K. version (78 Mins) of the movie, presented in interlaced 480i looking quite a bit worse than the newly restored HD version. The shorter UK version seems to mostly trims out dialogue from the run time. The faded and worse for the wear print is PAL sped-up but does feature a second audio commentary with Alan Ormbsy, again moderated by Gregory of Severin Films. As a fan and a collector I love having both versions of the movie and the audio commentaries packaged onto one release.

Separate from the disc extras VCI offer what may be a first for them, a clear Blu-ray keep case with a cool sleeve of reversible artwork featuring the original one-sheet artwork, plus a booklet with new writing on the cult-classic from Mike Kenny of Mike’s Pop Culture Playhouse, the 4-page booklet includes images from movie and artwork. VCI have done a bang-up job with this Blu-ray and with new Blu-rays on the way for City of the Dead and Ruby from VCI I am pretty excited to see what they have in store for us. 

Special Features: 
- Liner Notes written by Mike Kenny, Mike’s Pop Culture Playhouse
- Reversible Sleeve of rtwork with Optional Fan-Inspired 3rd Cover Art
- Commentary Track with Alan Ormsby, Jane Daly and Anya Cronin: accompanies the HD feature
- Complete alternate U.K. version (78 Mins), with commentary by Alan Ormsby hosted by David Gregory, Severin Films
- Memories of Bob Clark: A tribute to the late Director (10 Mins)
- 2007 Grindhouse Q/A (11 Mins)
- Confessions of a Grave Digger: Interview with Ken Goch (9 Mins)
- Photo Gallery (5 Mins) HD
- “Dead Girls Don’t Say No” Music video by The Deadthings (4 Mins)
- “Cemetery Mary” Music video by The Deadthings (4 Mins)
- Tribute Video (2 Mins) HD 
- Radio spots (4 Mins) HD
- Original Theatrical Trailer (3 Mins) HD 


The VCI Blu-ray of Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things is easily the definitive version of the movie to own, not perfect, but worth the upgrade for the new 2K scan, the wealth of extras and the cool packaging. With recent Blu-ray releases of Bob Clark's Black Christmas and My Summer Story in addition to this I hope the powers that be see fit to push his Sherlock Holmes tale Murder By Decree and Deathdream onto HD in the very near future. 4/5


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