Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Terrifying Tuesday Double Feature

Bob Clark Double Feature:

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (1972)

I really wasn't sure what to make of this film as it started. I hated the characters and thought they were way too quick with the insults and the melodramatic speeches. But then I remembered my time as a theater student and suddenly it all was much more believable.

In the film, a group of actors and actresses go to a little island off the coast of Miami in order to dig up a body and perform a magic spell, summoning corpses for their own personal use as servants. Of course nothing comes of their attempts until the final 20 minutes of the film, so if you watch this one, be prepared for a bit of a wait.

It is satisfying, though. Director Bob Clark (of Black Christmas, Porky's, and A Christmas Story fame), does a fine job with creating a mood with very little budget, and the screenplay by Alan Ormsby (writer/director of Deranged, and writer of films like My Bodyguard, Porky's II, and Cat People) is spot on with how theater people interact: meaning, lots of bitchy sniping, a constant barrage of snappy jokes that are only rarely funny, and the occasional breaking into song. It reminded me of why I got out of theater and into English.

By the time the zombies show up, I had actually begun to care about the characters and was really hoping that the pompous ass of a theater director, played by Ormsby, would get eaten alive. Unfortunately, he and the unhinged hippie-chick Anya (played by Ormsby's real-life wife, Anya Ormsby), are the last to survive, before an ending that brought Cronenberg's Shivers to mind. Only without the directorial rooting for the zombies to win.

All in all, this was a pretty good story, with an emphasis on character and manipulation. Alan uses the threat of firing everyone from his acting troupe to keep them in line and doing his bidding. It's a hammy performance, but fit the character. The ending is as bleak as any out there, with the added nice touch of being able to see the Miami skyline as the zombies pile onto a boat, ready to head off to the city.

My favorite line in the film: "I peed my pants," repeated over and over again when appropriate. Excellent timing. Nicely done.

Deathdream / Dead of Night (1972)

The Bob and Alan show continues with their later-that-same-year follow-up, Deathdream, aka Dead of Night, aka Night Walk, etc. etc. This was excellent from start to finish. In this variation on the classic "Monkey's Paw" story, Andy is killed in Viet Nam, but his mother wills him back to life without even realizing it. But suddenly he's home, pale, withdrawn, and harboring serious anger issues.

Most of the cast of Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things make appearances here, most notably Anya shows up playing Andy's sister. This is a family with issues, let me tell you. Watch this film and you'll start having serious doubts about all those times your parents told you they loved you and your siblings equally. Here, Adam is definitely mom's favorite, at one point even spilling out her resentment of her daughter for "going to your Father. You haven't come to me since you were five!" Yikes!

And dad (played by John Marley, famous for recieving a horse's head in his bed in The Godfather) apparently pushed Andy to join the military so he wouldn't become a momma's boy. I guess he didn't realize that NOT being a "momma's boy" means stabbing, clawing, and biting people to death and then injecting himself with their blood to maintain his boyish good looks. Hmmm. That does kind of sound like a momma's boy, doesn't it?

Good performances from everyone involved here (especially from Richard Backus, as Andy) are what really make this one special, plus the not-so-subtle criticism of the Viet Nam War. The subtext deals with familial guilt with sending children off to war, and the drug addiction and post-traumatic stress disorders that were fairly commonplace with returning soldiers. When Andy shouts, "I died for you! You owe me this!" before stabbing someone to death and injecting their blood, it's a ballsy and powerful moment.

This film gets special points for being the film debut of Tom Savini's make-up work, even if most of the work was done by Alan Ormsby. How can it be a zombie marathon without Savini's work being included at some point?

1 comment:

  1. I loved Deathdream. That and Black Christmas made me extra apprecitative of Bob Clark's talent.

    I've been discovering all these great Canadian horror films from the 60s and 70s. Really, you should rent Christmas Evil (NOT to be confused with Silent Night Deadly Night).

    Today's word verification -


    Which, I believe, is what Bono says when his favorite guitarist farts really loudly.