It's instructive, I think, to note that the director of Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, Bob Clark, gave us A Christmas Story (1983), which is, along with It's a Wonderful Life (1946), among the greatest Christmas movies. But he has also helmed two Porky's movies, as well as Rhinestone (1984), Loose Cannons (1990) and a couple of Baby Geniuses movies. Yikes.
But Clark's checkered career is only the tip of this nasty little iceberg. Children Shouldn't ... may boast a great title in a genre that prides itself on titular extravagance--consider The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Gave Up Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1963)--but I'm afraid that's not enough. I'll admit I watch movies like this in part for the unintentional humor, but I have such a genuine affection for horror and SF films that, as much as I enjoy Mystery Science Theater's smug jibes, in the end they seem too easy. And I don't feel I have to lower my sights to appreciate low-budget films. Most fans agree that these movies are of the hand-made variety, so it's OK if a few seams are crooked, so to speak. And besides, to judge them by Hollywood fare marks a surrender to imposed "standards" that Hollywood itself is hard-pressed to live up to. Just ask anyone who's seen Battlefield Earth (2000). No, as many others insist, the Grade-Z genre pictures of the 1970s and before mark a true independent movement; by being cut off from big budgets, they had to rely on actual creativity and imagination.
Unfortunately, though, Children Shouldn't ..., well, doesn't. Have any creativity or much of an imagination, that is. I admit it did have just enough budget to produce Night of the Living Dead-style makeup effects (although Night's effects do look better, in large part because they're in B&W. See? Budget isn't the problem). And it had an intriguing story: An egotistical theater director (played by Alan Ormsby, who also wrote the screenplay and the one for Paul Schrader's remake of Cat People; how's that for a tangled web?) and his troupe go to a cemetary island, play with dead things, and naturally get more than they bargained for. There're just enough ideas here to get us through set-up, chills, and The Goods--that is, zombie massacre/just desserts. But I had the instructive experience of watching this last night with someone who has little patience with low-budget horror films, and her silent disapproval and impatience with it all influenced my own reaction. And I must admit she was right. Children Shouldn't ... is annoying, tedious, inappropriately hysterical, and self-indulgent. In a bad way.