• Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things

    Released by: VCI Entertainment
    Released on: February 23rd, 2016.
    Director: Bob Clark
    Cast: Alan Ormsby, Valerie Mamches, Jeff Gillen, Anya Ormsby, Paul Cronin, Jane Daly
    Year: 1972
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    The Movie:

    In Bob Clark’s Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Alan Ormsby (who also wrote and starred in Clark’s Deathdream) plays Alan, a stage director who is obsessed with the occult. He brings a few select members of his company to a remote island where the long forgotten corpses of whoever used to live there lay buried beneath the ground. As you could have probably guessed at this point, no good will come of that.

    Alan’s intent is to hold a black mass of sorts, an arcane ritual that he hopes will raise the dead and somehow give him further closeness with his dark lord and master, but not before he plays a prank on his band of actors and actresses. Alan does just that but in order to do so he digs up a corpse and uses it in his arcane rite. When he doesn’t get the results he’d hoped for, Alan brings the corpse back with him to the remote cabin where he and his cohorts are holing themselves up for the night. What Alan doesn’t realize is that his ceremony was more successful than he first thought, and that soon enough the group is going to find that they’re surrounded by hordes of the living dead…

    Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, aside from having the distinction of owning one of the coolest titles of all time, works primarily not on the strength of its story or its performers but on the merits of a few completely twisted set pieces. Much of the dialogue feels completely contrived and is poorly delivered with a lot of the humor, presumably intentional, falling very flat. The actors (none of whom are children and some of whom look to be in their late thirties) are at times awkward and out of place and you can guess the ending to the picture about ten minutes into it. However, Clarke succeeds in creating a really strange atmosphere throughout the movie. Both he and leading man Ormsby wisely allow things to get really dark in tone towards the end of the movie. This makes the predictable finale a lot more interesting than it would have been otherwise, simply because the film makes some pretty drastic tonal shifts in the last twenty-minutes of its running time.

    And then there’s what we don’t see. The inferred necrophilia that occurs when Alan brings his corpse friend into bed with him is a completely ‘wrong’ moment that is oh so right in the context of the movie. In fact, almost all of the interaction with that corpse is wrong, but again, it helps create mood and it shows us that Alan is more than just a poser occultist on an ego trip. He really might have something wrong upstairs after all. There are little nods to this scattered throughout the movie right from the start – while Alan seems amusing at first, if you pay attention as the story evolves, you’ll see that underneath that happy-go-lucky beatnik exterior there’s a very dark character. Ormsby plays this part well, never overdoing it no matter how close he occasionally comes, and putting an emphasis on black humor during the appropriate moments in the film where that’s called for.

    Clarke would go on to make better films like Black Christmas and Deathdream (Christmas Story too!), and he’d go on to make some truly horrible films as well, but Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things remains a unique part of his filmography and an interesting chapter in the early part of his career. And now it’s on Blu-ray!


    Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things gets its worldwide Blu-ray debut on a 50GB disc (with the feature taking up over 24GB of that space) from VCI framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in an VC-1 encoded transfer that has clearly had some heavy noise reduction applied to it. As such, there’s NO grain here, things are very smooth, waxy and soft. At the same time, the image is cleaner than it has been in the past, probably because the grain has been blasted out of the picture. In all fairness, colors look good and while blacks do swallow detail at times, things are better here than they were on DVD. The movie has never looked great on home video, it’s always been excessively grainy, noisy and dirty looking but the noise reduction here cleans up the picture at the cost of fine detail, which is a shame.

    Audio chores are handled by an English language LPCM Mono mix (though the packaging says DTS-HD it’s definitely an LPCM mix). Optional English language closed captioning is also provided for the feature only. The audio is about as good as it can be here, some minor level fluctuations do pop into the mix from time to time as does some occasional hiss, but this has more depth and range than we’ve had in the past. The upgrade here over DVD versions is modest, but it’s there.

    The extra features section on this disc is a mix of old and new (mostly old, if you’ve got VCI’s past DVD special edition release but it is important that these supplements be carried over). Things start off nicely with a commentary track (recorded in June of 2007) courtesy of the film's stars, Alan Ormsby, Jane Daly (who played Terri) and Anya Cronin (Ormsby's ex-wife!) which has been moderated by David Gregory (of Severin Films). Though there are some odd synch issues with the film's dialogue during the commentary track, this is never the less a pretty interesting listen as all three share some fun stories about the film and its shoot. Ormsby has the most to say about the film and manages to point some interesting tidbits about the locations and some of the supporting actors in the film, but all three of the participants have their say here and it's nice to hear about the making of the film from those who were there.

    The Blu-ray also includes the complete version of the alternate U.K. cut of the movie that you can view with a second commentary track wherein Ormsby talks with Gregory once again. This runs 1:15:57 (as opposed to the original version running of 1:26:26) and it’s an interesting alternate cut. The opening credits are in a different color but aside from that, most of what is missing is dialogue scenes. The movie was never that graphic of explicit to begin with so it’s hard to imagine this getting chopped up by the BBFC. The commentary has to be accessed through your remote, select the second audio track for this cut, it’s not found off of the main menu screen. Note that this version of the movie is in VC-1 encoded 720 x 480 (interlaced) format and that it is interlaced with audio presented in LPCM English language mono, no alternate options or subtitles provided.

    From there check out a ten minute long featurette entitled Memories Of Bob Clark, that begins by exploring Clark's early work in the film industry before covering some of his best known films like Porky's, Black Christmas and A Christmas Story. From there, the documentary talks about how Ormsby and Clark hooked up and started working together. This gives a pretty decent if slightly skimpy look at the many different types of films that Clark made before allowing the three commentary participants to reminisce about the director and share a few stories and memories about him with us. For some strange reason, the entire featurette is audio over stills, there's no video footage here.

    Up next is the twelve minute Grindhouse Q&A ), where, in May of 2007, the Los Angeles Grindhouse Film Festival held a double feature screening of Deathdream and Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things with Ormsby, Carl Zittrer, Ken Goch, and Albert Fisher, field questions from an enthusiastic audience about their respective efforts on the two films shown that night.

    The nine minute Confessions Of A Grave Digger is an interview with Ken Goch who talks about how he met Bob Clark in his mother's kitchen while he was in high school and how Clark went to university with his brother Gary. They wanted someone to work for low wages to use in a film and Ken came on board. From there, Goch talks about why certain shots were set up the way that they were and how that proved difficult for him and shares some stories from his work on the production.

    From there, check out the two music videos that VCI has provided. While these don't relate directly to the feature, they've evidently been inspired by the film. Dead Girls Don't Say No and Cemetery Mary by The Dead Things are far from the most interesting supplements on the disc, but they might appeal to fans of the band. Also included is the puzzling two minute Video Tribute to CSPWDT, in which some cheesy goth-ish music plays over top a selection of stills taken from the film.

    Rounding out the extra features is a still gallery made up of promotional materials, the film's fantastic original theatrical trailer and a selection of vintage radio spots. Animated menus are provided across the board and chapter selection is available for the feature.

    Inside the Blu-ray case (a clear one) alongside an insert card advertising other VCI Blu-ray releases is a color booklet of liner notes written by Mike Kenny. It should also be noted that the cover art for this release is reversible, with the image seen up top on one side and the illustrated poster art featuring the central characters in the coffin with the corpse on the opposite side. It’s a little thing, maybe, but little things count.

    The Final Word:

    A quirky and odd zombie film, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things holds up. It’s an entertaining, if twisted, little horror comedy hybrid performed by a game cast and helmed by a talented director with an eye for macabre humor. VCI brings the movie to Blu-ray in two cuts with a load of extras but has unfortunately gone overboard with the clean up and noise reduction, to the point where the improved color reproduction and stability battle side by side with the soft, waxy detail levels. It’s an upgrade to be sure, but room has been left for improvement in the transfer department.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Gary Banks's Avatar
      Gary Banks -
      I love this film. I'm reluctant to buy the bd because the film has never really looked good in any incarnation.
    1. CrumpsBrother's Avatar
      CrumpsBrother -
      I feel the same way, Gary. But...I gotta admit it looks like they used a much better element for the transfer this time. I'm not seeing any of the light leakage damage at the sides. Too bad about the excessive DNR..
    1. sukebanboy's Avatar
      sukebanboy -
      Another classic movie that I havent seen yet...
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      that looks scrubalicious.
    1. bgart13's Avatar
      bgart13 -
      I watched the first hour last night, the DNR didn't particularly bother me, since it's always looked rough. I found the macroblocking and occasional audio sync issues (if these are sync issues -- I honestly don't recall if it was like this at times before on dvd) a bit more bothersome.