Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972) — Generally sound advice

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join together this man and this, uh, body in holy–well, not so holy, but’s it’s okay–wedlock. More or less.”

Al’s rating: This entire movie makes me want to wash my hands repeatedly.

Al’s review: Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things was recommended to me by an acquaintance at a video store. He described it as a really neat horror movie of the seventies that was considered seminal at the time but has since fallen into obscurity, and as that’s practically the Mutant Reviewers mission statement, I decided to take the plunge. I said, ‘Hey, the box has zombies on the cover! How bad can it be?’

But the DVD case lied to me, boys and girls. This isn’t really a zombie movie. Oh sure, there are zombies in it eventually, but they’re not really the focus of this movie and, frankly, when they finally do show up, they’re not so good. Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things is a movie all about Alan.

Who is Alan? Alan is a man who needs a slap. Now, I’m fairly nonviolent and usually try and cut slack to those with whom I share a first name, but this jamoke is on his own. Before he’s spoken a single word, you want nothing more than to see him sprawled on the ground, holding his jaw and seeing stars. Goofy facial hair? Smack! Insinuating coerced sexual favors? Smack! Ridiculous pants? Smack! Ascot? Smack! Walking stick? Smack! We are now approximately ten minutes into the movie. By the time Alan has decided to sleep with a corpse and whisper things in its ear, you’ve most likely graduated from a desire to hit something and entered the realm of blind, hysterical rage.

No, that’s not a typo. By the one-hour mark, Alan has gone to bed for the night with a human corpse. So how, exactly, does a movie reach this landmark plot point? I’m still trying to figure that out, precisely, but I’ll tell you what I know.

Our good buddy Alan is the leader a dippy little theater troupe, consisting of a meathead and his girlfriend, a hippy spiritualist, a womynist-in-training, and a fun-loving fatso. As the movie opens, they’ve boated their way to a deserted, misty island that appears to consist solely of a creaky old house and a graveyard, with the intent of invoking the powers of Satan. I guess. Actually, Alan is the only one who seems to want any part of this, but he keeps everyone else under his thumb by threatening to fire them (?!).

After finding a suitable grave and digging up the body of Orville Dunworth, they hang him from a headstone in the oh-so-tasteful crucifix position (smack!) and begin reciting evil incantations (smack!). When whatever Alan was trying to do doesn’t work, he throws a melodramatic hissy-fit (smack!) and cusses out the Devil for not playing along.

Not to be deterred from, uh, being a creepy, sniveling, whiner, I guess, Alan decides the night is not yet over. Despite nearly everyone’s continued protests (mine included), he insists on hauling Orville back to the cabin, grossing out the girls like an eight-year-old, having the fun-loving fatso conduct a marriage ceremony, and then retiring to the cabin’s bridal suite–a stained, greasy mattress in the next room–for some… canoodling.

Thankfully, Alan’s trifling with dark forces is more effective then he thinks and soon the zombie hordes are swarming the island, looking for bitchy, offensive teenagers to rend limb from limb. Well, I say soon, but I’m really talking about 70 minutes into our 85-minute movie. After all, you need time for the obnoxious behavior and repellent seventies’ fashions to throw you into the aforementioned blind, hysterical rage, so you can derive some satisfaction from seeing our cast of bottom-feeders devoured like so many dollar-menu Spicy Chicken Burritos.

I suppose that’s what the director had in mind, getting these people so far under your skin that watching them die is cause for celebration, but the first part works far too well. He’s so effective at making the entire cast stupid, annoying, or just flat-out nasty, that a bunch of guys in rubber masks and some splattered red paint seems too good for them. Serious punishment needs to be doled out. Bamboo under the fingernails. Thumbscrews to the joints. Maybe Marsellus Wallace-style with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch. Now THERE’S catharsis for you!

And I used to be such a nice guy…

Didja Notice?

  • That no one in this movie has apparently ever heard of Chekhov’s gun? Why did they even bring all that crap with them?
  • I sure wish I had known about this ‘primal juncture’ thing when I did theater…
  • Under no circumstances are my friends allowed to bury me in a coffin for the sake of a practical joke. Ever. Er, again.

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