Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things [Blu-ray 4K]
Blu-ray ALL - America - VCI
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (1st January 2023).
The Film

A low-rent Florida theatrical troupe lead by Alan (Alan Ormsby) travel to a small cemetery island to raise the dead. They dig up murderer Orville Dunworth (Seth Sklarey), but Alan's hammy necromancing ritual is a dud – with further humiliation heaped on him by diva Val (Valerie Mamches) who makes a mockery of both him and the horned one with her take on the incantation – so he and the others take Orville back to the island's cottage for some fun. Orville is mute witness to some histrionic psychodrama as Alan's sadism reaches new heights of emotional abuse and his charismatic dominance over the troupe wears thin on even the most easily-swayed – including ingιnue Terry (North Dallas Forty's Jane Daly), "meat" Paul (Paul Cronin), and narcotized true believer Anya Ormsby – as well as the long-suffering pragmatics like Val and wisecracking Jeff (Easy Money's Jeff Gillen). Too late do they realize that the ritual was a success when the dead rise from their graves to feast on living flesh and the group barricade themselves Night of the Living Dead-style against the not-so-recently-dead ghouls.

A color version of the writer/director Bob Clark's remembrance of the Romero film – with a bit of intentional and a lot of unintentional camp – seems to have been the intent, and the film does precede both Romero's Dawn of the Dead as well as the Spanish/Italian The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (not to mention Lucio Fulci's Zombie). In spite of (or because of) its low budget charms, Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things has become a cult item of a different order from the aforementioned zombie classics. Performances are not objectively unfocused (and possibly misguided) with Ormsby and his then-wife Anya (particularly memorable) applying their craft to interpreting over-the-top characters (Mamches provides the right degree of camp); and, indeed, there are not so much character arcs for any of the ensemble so much as possibly demonstrating at length why each deserves their fate, from the cynics to the those too passive to take a stand. The Alan Ormsby-designed zombies range from creepy to cartoonish but there is something unsettling not so much in the way they lurch towards the victims and the viewers as the way the camera "finds" the flesheaters and the inklings of humanity that they still seem to possess (no less so than in the final few minutes in which even the living dead seem dumbfounded by the ruthless behavior of one of the living characters). The electronic scoring of Carl Zittrer – including cues that Zittrer would recycle or rework for Blood Orgy of the She Devils is more of a soundscape than a soundtrack, greatly aiding the transformation of a humid Florida plant nursery into a cursed graveyard. Although there are plenty of laughs to be had, the film also has its share of atmospheric and creepy moments; yet it doesn't quite live up to its memorable title.

Ormsby would also script Clark's "The Monkey's Paw"-inspired take on the damage wrought by the Vietnam War in Deathdream and would co-direct with Gillen the Ed Gein biopic Deranged which Clark passed on. While in Canada doing post-production work on Deathdream, Clark would direct the seminal yuletide slasher Black Christmas and then the Sherlock Holmes meets Jack the Ripper film Murder by Decree in England before moving on to his lighter but better-known and higher-profile works like the sex comedy Porky's and his the heartwarming and hilarious A Christmas Story.


Released theatrically by Geneni Releasing – Ted V. Mikels' own distribution company during the early seventies – Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things was reissued the following year by Europix International as "Things in the Grave" (presumably IMDb incorrectly cites the retitling of The Murder Clinic as "Revenge of the Living Dead" as another retitling of the Clark film because the famous "Orgy of the Living Dead" triple bill trailer and TV spots for The Murder Clinic, Kill, Baby, Kill! as "Curse of the Living Dead", and Malenka, Niece of the Vampire as "Fangs of the Living Dead" had its ad campaign designed by Ormsby (who also designed the poster for Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things). The film had its first VHS release in the early eighties from VCI followed by one on MPI Home Video's Gorgon Video line and then a VidAmerica edition in the late eighties.

After a letterboxed VHS release from Anchor Bay Entertainment in 1999, VCI had the rights to the film from that point on, issuing a letterboxed, non-anamorphic DVD the same year from the same master which was further subject to the poor encoding and authoring of early DVD releases from independent studios. In 2005, a far superior-looking anamorphic widescreen DVD turned up in the UK from Anchor Bay Entertainment with audio commentary by Ormsby; however, although the film was issued theatrically in the UK uncut, the film was issued on pre-cert VHS in a version that ran roughly 78 minutes (81 minutes at 24fps), and the Anchor Bay DVD ran even shorter at 76 minutes (79 minutes at 24fps) – possibly a UK reissue version or a US Ben Barry and Associates TV print trimmed for a ninety-minute block – seven minutes shy of the uncut 24fps running time of just over 86 minutes. VCI's 2007 Exhumed Edition was uncut and anamorphic with new extras; however, the print source was significantly softer-looking than the cut PAL master, and Nucleus Films' 2012 UK double feature DVD (with Deathdream under its "Dead of Night" title) was a composite of the superior PAL master and the VCI transfer that made the differences all the more apparent.

VCI's first Blu-ray release in 2016 was the first high definition transfer, but it was the same source as the earlier "Exhumed Edition" only looking slightly sharper than the SD version with somewhat more stable colors. VCI included the shorter UK transfer and its exclusive commentary but that PAL-to-NTSC conversion suffered from sync issues (ostensibly, this issue was rectified on the German Blu-ray from 2020).

VCI's new "50th Anniversary Edition" features a new 4K master of the same source once again. The UHD's SDR 2160p24 HEVC 1.85:1 widescreen and Blu-ray's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen encodes are a definite upgrade over the earlier HD master, with some new texture in the hair, skin, and godawful clothing as well as a tad more depth in the lighted parts of the image before flattening into the inky blacks; however, at best, one could say the transfer is what the earlier 1080p transfer should have looked like given the source material (one wonders if original print source is just in poor condition or if the American prints were processed more cheaply than the source for the aforementioned UK DVD transfer). While the new transfer is not what one would have hoped for, it is currently the best way to watch the film uncut and in HD.


The sole feature audio option is a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track that sounds no better or worse than the source material has on home video. Dialogue is always clear, and Zittrer's score retains its unnerving presence. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included.


The three disc set features most of its extras on a second Blu-ray disc, with the UHD and first Blu-ray featuring identical content – albeit one in 2160p and the other in 1080p – starting off with the 2007 audio commentary by actor/co-writer Alan Ormsby and actresses Anya Cronin and Jane Daly, moderated by David Gregory, a warm and affectionate track in which the trio discuss their days at the University of Miami, with Ormsby recalling meeting Clark and working on plays with him – even suggesting that Clark may have padded the film with endless dialogue in order to be able to concentrate on directing with the camera since he is of the opinion that Clark's stage plays were brilliantly-plotted – and much fun is had recalling the humid, mosquito-ridden conditions and pondering why "Alan" the character is so charismatic to the others. They also discuss their role behind the camera, the family that worked on the film – Paul Cronin is Anya's brother and was Ormsby's brother-in-law – as well as plenty of anecdotes (Mamches had dated Ormsby in the past and her character's animosity towards the character of Alan seems to have come from the anger she still had towards him at the time of filming).

Also on the UHD and first Blu-ray is "Dreaming of Death: Bob Clark's Horror Films" (72:50) in which Fangoria's Chris Alexander discusses Clark's first four films – noting that Clark was not proud of Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things Deathdream, or Black Christmas but may have moved onto other genres after feeling he had mastered the genre with Murder by Decree. Alexander's discussion is intercut with recollections from Gary Goch's brother Ken who not only worked on the sets – including breaking through rock to dig up graves in the nursery used for the graveyard – but also drove the grip truck back and forth every morning after the night shoots (sometimes while high or half-asleep), as well as Black Christmas's Art Hindle, Lynne Griffin, and composer Paul Zaza who scored Murder by Decree and Porky's. Both discs also include the film's theatrical trailer (3:13).

The second Blu-ray disc of extras has a setup option for SDH subtitles, but that only applies to the 2022 Alan Ormsby Interview (33:32) which was conducted over Zoom and has poor audio quality. Ormsby covers a lot of the same ground as earlier commentaries and interviews but also provides some more background on his University of Miami days with Clark along with his move behind the camera after starting out as an actor. "Memories of Bob Clark" (10:08) is a short compilation of commentary recollections from Ormsby, Cronin, and Daly while the 2007 Grindhouse Q&A (11:27) features Ormsby, Ken Goch, Zittrer, and set decorator Albert Fisher (also with poor sound). Goch also appears in "Confessions of a Grave Digger" (9:08) discussing working with his brother, Clark, and under production designer Forest Carpenter.

The disc closes out with the music videos "Dead Girls Don’t Say No" (3:50) and "Cemetery Mary" (3:53) by The Deadthings, as well as a tribute video (2:00), photo gallery (4:54), and radio spots (4:25).


The UHD disc occupies one hub while the two Blu-rays are stacked on top of one another on the other hub, and the discs come packaged with a six-page liner notes booklet by Patrick McCabe, a reversible cover, and a slipcover.


While Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things does not quite live up to its memorable title (or Alan Ormsby's poster art), its creaky charms have aged better than the film elements VCI continues to use for their releases of the film.


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