Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things [1972]

Though Bob (Benjamin) Clark made his mark on Hollywood with films as diverse as Porky's and A Christmas Story, he began his career with this imaginative zombie tale. Alan Ormsby (who also wrote Paul Schrader's remake of Cat People and directed the cult horror film Deranged) penned the script and stars as Alan, a flamboyant theater director who brings his company--whom he condescendingly refers to as his "children"--to a rotting graveyard on a fogbound island. There he begins a ceremony to raise the dead, but it's all an elaborate practical joke, just another mind game by the would-be demagogue... or so he thinks. As Alan continues his midnight games of manipulation and degradation, it turns out the joke's on him as the graveyard rises to life. The acting, though amateurish, is energetic and delivered with gusto, and the awkward, theatrical dialogue becomes oddly appropriate (if somewhat stiff) in the affected presence of preening Alan. The often-slow extended introduction pays off in a carnage-riddled zombie blowout, like Night of the Living Dead compressed into a half-hour highlight reel. Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things is the work of ambitious beginners, but they deliver the goods when it counts with solid low-budget effects and a well-directed finale that turns the tense humor into unrelenting horror. The DVD mastering is unaccountably sloppy: images jerk and intermittently slow down, the action hiccups, and in the second half red and blue flares rim the right side of the picture. --Sean Axmaker

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