Director BOB CLARK’s name rightfully pops up every holiday season in connection to his contrasting holiday classics A CHRISTMAS STORY and BLACK CHRISTMAS. If those monumental movies weren’t enough to cement his status as a potent filmmaker you’ve also got the influential teen sex comedy PORKY’S and the allegorical Vietnam war zombie flick DEATH DREAM as further proof. But it’s the mention of CLARK’s too often shrugged off, earlier living dead soiree CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS that still sends a quiet chill of dread down my spine. How can that be? The movie is hilarious camp! Why, just look at the character’s outdated clothes and hairstyles! What a chuckle fest! Sure, maybe I take it less seriously these days and maybe I even find lumps of it annoying and borderline boring but the damn thing still makes me privately wince on some level.
I could brush it away and say that my aversion stems from having caught its ghoulish dime store depravity too many times at too late an hour at a far too impressionable age but the disquiet feels deeper than the echo of nostalgia. As sarcastic and theatrical as CHILDREN loudly presents itself to be, there’s no painting over its oppressive wall of infinite-seeming eeriness. It gets to me. Those electric seventies howling bleeps and whistles, the painful groaning of slow-motion visuals and especially its neon meets inky oblivion color pallet. It’s as if if THE BRADY BUNCH cancelled their Grand Canyon camping trip and decided to vacation in DOGVILLE instead. Nothing can freak me out faster than that dense end of the world background blackness. It‘s a forewarning of that air guitar riddled FAMILY TIES episode in which Alex mourns his dead friend Greg. It’s freaky and off-putting but there’s a swirl of stripped down borderline humiliating coldness to it too. Black isn’t a color, black eats colors for breakfast. We’re all heading there, right?
On a brighter note: Orville! I genuinely love this guy! Every living dead flick worth its salt should have one standout signature zombie and in my book, Orville leaves most of his shuffling brethren in the dust. To truly understand and get the most out of this picture you must both FEAR and ROUTE FOR Orville. As much nausea as he may inspire, and as much dread as he might instill, the long suffering lummox is so outrageously disrespected that its not difficult to find his patiently prepared, masterly marinated stew o’ vengeance delectably delicious. You know, if the whole world has to come crashing down for Orville to have the last laugh on his smug oppressor, I’m absolutely OK with that…and fall down it does. Are spoiler warnings even necessary when talking about zombie flicks? You can bet your bottom dollar this baby closes out with the pessimistic understanding that we’ve only witnessed the tip of the iceberg in regards to the world’s well-deserved demise.
Hey, this traumafession about how CSPWDT scared me as a kid and still creeps me out today, also happens to be a “Sunday Streaming” post cuz I found it on YouTube! Like I nearly said before, the dialogue can be perturbing and the acting hammy and the pace almost dawdling but there’s still something unnerving burrowing around here. If nothing else, you have to admit that the title remains sound advice. Respect the dead today because tomorrow they’re YOU!