Monday, October 29, 2012

A Frank Review of "Children of the Living Dead" (2001)

The Short Version? Bad sequel! Bad! BAD!
What Is It? Awful.
Who Is In It? Tom Savini, ish.
Should I See It? Fuck no.

Let me see if I can explain this. The original theatrical distributor of Night of the Living Dead failed to assert copyright on prints of the film, causing it to fall immediately into the public domain. It's kind of interesting, because the flesh-eating undead went on to become part of horror mythology. The lack of copyright restriction probably helped the popular conception of "zombies" to join Dracula, Frankenstein, and werewolves in common use amidst the pantheon of terrors. Of course, what made Night great was the talent on display, with writer/director George A. Romero going on to make a slew of sequels, one of which arguably surpassed the original. Less pivotal was John Russo, who produced, co-wrote and directed Night. Russo wrote a sequel novel in 1977 which influenced the creation of the Return of the Living Dead franchise. The book only contributed the title though.

Night was remade in 1990 by Tom Savini, who had been a special effects artist and actor on one of the Romero sequels. In 1999, Russo recut the original Night and filmed new scenes that were inserted for the poorly received Night of the Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition. Russo then produced a sequel to the recut, Children of the Living Dead, which featured Tom Savini as an actor playing a character with a passing resemblance to his role in a Romero sequel, but different. Also, Children has some plot points that nod toward Russo's Return of the Living Dead novel.

Okay, whether or not you found the previous two paragraphs interesting, I assure you that reading them took way less time than seeing Children of the Living Dead, which you should not do under any circumstance. Zombie movies aren't known for quality, but even by their dismal standards, the film is dire. Every discipline in filmmaking is given a black eye by this thing. Acting, writing, direction, cinematography, continuity, lighting, stunts, make-up, special effects-- all subpar by fan film standards. I guess the score could have been worse.

In the town where the dead rose in 1968 because of space radiation, occasional outbreaks of living deadness occur and are put down by the local yokels. A serial killing rapist from the mid-80s named Abbot Hayes stole his motivation from Sleepaway Camp and/or Psycho before getting caught and killed. The dude somehow not only got zombified, but becomes the master zombie. He's got claws and can turn a corpse into a zombie henchman instantaneously with one bite. You'd think in Zombie Town, they'd institute mandatory cremation, but instead leave corpses by the half dozen lying around to join the horde.

Besides introducing Zombie Dracula, another wrinkle is added by making zombies disinterested in eating children. That sure flew in the face of Dawn of the Dead and Return of the Living Dead Part II, but it doesn't seem to have any logical importance beyond helping to establish the movie title, and gets dropped in the first half hour. Zombie Dracula then borrows from Freddy Krueger by going after the kids who survived the outbreak he started in the '80s. That also might seem important, especially when they turn out to be the cast of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but that actually wraps up in short order.

After two false starts, what passes for lead characters begin the main story properly better than a half hour in. What occurred prior was all set up, and proves fairly nonsensical, since the second half hour is little more than a series of set pieces where nobodies get gang-eaten by the zombies. The last half hour connects the dots from the first, which was unnecessary, since the through line was obvious and the characters are total cyphers regardless of their role in the events.

Tom Savini is the best thing in the flick, but despite getting top billing, he's gone after fifteen minutes. Martin Schiff plays a kind of cowardly sheriff who shows up throughout the movie, but I wouldn't characterize him as a lead, exactly. He's got either an enormous strawberry birthmark under his right eye or a nasty scab that lasted fourteen years, and it is seriously fucking distracting. I suppose Damien Luvara and Jamie McCoy are supposed to be the stars, but they are such personality voids that they seem to dampen the charisma of others in their immediate area. There are other people who could technically be billed as actors, but they barely register as people.

The movie seems to run for a prescribed lack of time, then stop. There's no real resolution, and another sequel that nobody will ever film is set up. I don't know why you would make it all the way to the credits, but there's a random, pointless post sequence. I often find myself angry when a movie squanders good will or potential, but this film is so bad so early that it's your own damned fault for sticking with it.

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