Best known for A Christmas Story and Porky’s, the late Bob Clark also helmed two of the best but underappreciated horror pictures of the 1970s. Black Christmas, a slasher film that ranks second only to Halloween, features an inspired and bitchy turn by Margot Kidder as the horny head of a sorority house. Even better is Death Dream, which transforms the short story The Monkey’s Paw into a Vietnam parable, and the tone of melancholic dread rather than shock horror makes it a fitting double-bill with George A. Romero’s Martin. I highlight Clark’s high-water marks in the genre to encourage viewers to seek out those little-seen, truly eerie gems. Clark’s first film, on the other hand, is memorable only for its catchy title: Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. Made on the cheap and inspired by early Romero, this zombie flick doesn’t even have the dead rise until the final half-hour. Until then, we’re stuck with an amateur theater troupe chattering away as they venture out to an abandoned island for a goofy séance. These supremely irritating characters are the kind of self-involved, pseudo-witty theater brats you tried to avoid in college. When the zombies finally appear, it’s a bit of a relief to see them munching on their victims. Audiences will either embrace the bad makeup and nonexistent special effects as part of the “Hey kids, let’s put on a show” aesthetic of Clark’s film, or wonder why this movie gained such a minor cult reputation in the first place. Clark went on to make some truly astonishing, even heartbreaking, scary movies; do yourself a favor and seek those out instead.
The DVD box hails this as being "digitally restored" but doesn’t improve on the drive-in quality of the picture, with uneven skin tones and lots of grain. The mono soundtrack is passable.
Bob Clark died in a tragic car accident earlier this year, so many of the extras feature praise for a talented filmmaker and seemingly all-around nice guy. That said, the "Memories of Bob Clark" featurette looks like it was slapped together on some kid’s computer and offers the bare minimum of biographical info. The "Grindhouse Q&A" is camcorder footage with bad sound of Clark collaborator Alan Ormsby and others talking after a double-bill screening of Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things and Death Dream, and is difficult to sit through. The commentary by Ormsby and actors Jane Daly and Anya Cronin may be informative for no-budget filmmakers starving for tips (like pulling hippies off the street to play zombies), but if you find the characters annoying, chances are good you’ll find the actors who played them equally so.
Clever title, insufferable movie!