Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972) review

Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972) review

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Zoiks! It's the Scooby Gang! Well, almost.
Zoiks! It’s the Scooby Gang! Well, almost.

Ain’t theatre directors the absolute worst? Even compared to zombies they’re pretty bad.

Ahh, the early 1970s. I can’t speak from experience as I didn’t arrive in the world until the mid-80s, but by all accounts it seems like it was a moderately good time to live in. Especially if you are a fan of hard drugs, the colour brown and big hair.

In principle this is a good story – a group of teens (not children) or even folks in their twenties decide to dig up a body and perform some kind of Satanic/pagan ritual. In principle. The reality is that very little happens for so long that you’re almost as ravenous as the zombie horde that appear in the final act. That whole sequence almost makes up for the general tedium that precedes it, as the grave robbers spend the build up having a bit of a chat and messing around with a corpse.

That’s possibly the most awkward aspect of this, not that they choose to steal a dead body but that they spend the rest of that night parading it around as if it’s a life sized doll. Admittedly the story is played for dark laughs, but it just doesn’t work as well as they no doubt intended. That first hour of film could have been condensed into 30 minutes of solid comedy horror. Alas, that’s not what happened and we have to make the most of what we’re given.

Development of the characters is a secondary concern. They are defined more by the garish colour of their shirts – bright green, yellow, orange, white (with pink hearts), red and er, 70s wallpaper respectively – that makes this group of grave robbers look like a dodgy equivalent of the Scooby Gang. The only person who really stands out is Alan – no big surprise there as he’s played by director Alan Ormsby. He’s a maniacal theatrical director who wields power over his troupe in typical dictator-esque fashion.

After rising from the dead, this zombie went on to become Bill Murray of Ghostbusters fame.
After rising from the dead, this zombie went on to become Bill Murray of Ghostbusters fame.

Then we’re into that final act and we’re in familiar zombie movie territory as the recently raised undead set upon the cottage. Coming just a few years after George Romero tweaked the zombie formula from voodoo possession to resurrected corpses, it’s a surprisingly effective sequence, no doubt drawing influence from Romero’s genre-defining black and white classic.

Bearing in mind the low budget, the zombie makeup is impressive and could perhaps explain why the build-up feels so disappointing. At least that attack sequence conveys a decent amount of terror and tension. If it didn’t there would be little to set this apart from the many low budget zombie films that are out there. Plus, without it this would just be a groovy, funky interpretation of the zombie genre. This is all well and good, but including something in the first hour to create just a little entertainment would have been preferable. If you find yourself growing weary of the characters or the lack of stuff going on, either stick it out or skip to the final act. You won’t be missing a huge amount if you do, trust me.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (1972)
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