Film #18: Children of the Living Dead (2001)

film 18 children of the living dead

Rating: 0.5/5 (or maybe 5/5 for utter hilarity)

“Of all the places in all the world my dad could have picked to build his dealership, he picked the one right down the street from Walking Dead Central.”

From one of the current top-rated movies (The Wrong Trousers) to the undisputed worst. I had absolutely no recollection of ever having owned this film; in fact, for several minutes I was sure it was a typo – perhaps Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things had gotten somehow combined with Night of the Living Dead? But no. After some thorough, extensive searching, we found it, the second film in an ultra-cheap DVD double-bill, alongside The Marsupials: The Howling III. To this day, I don’t know how this ended up in our collection. As a bad film fan, however, I am so glad that it did.

It is reassuring to realise that, even as late as 2001, there were still filmmakers churning out tripe such as this, with such startling ineptitude that it seems actually impossible it wasn’t intentional. Director Tor Ramsey apparently has no understanding of lighting, editing, camera movement, pacing, or continuity. Writer Karen Wolf, who also appears in the movie, has apparently never seen a film before, let alone written a script. It would be unfair to describe the people on screen as actors. It is… incredible.

Tom Savini (From Dusk Til Dawn) “stars” – he actually appears for the first thirteen minutes, in which a hoard of zombies inexplicably wander through a field before being shot down by helicopters. Savini is Detective Hughes (though he looks more like a military survivalist), apparently the film’s hero – he kills lots of zombies, runs out of bullets, performs weak pistol tricks and displays his stuntman abilities by jumping onto a car bonnet, engaging in some pathetic kerfuffles with a zombie, and running up a wall. It is a poor reflection of the actual capabilities of the multi-talented cult favourite. Anyway, after spotting an ominous barn and going to investigate, he rescues a bunch of little kids (for some reason it is clearly stated that zombies aren’t interested in kids; this point has no relevance to the rest of the story) and is quickly disposed of. Cue a new bunch of potential protagonists – a bunch of utterly atrocious youths. Combine all four’s acting talents and it would still barely scrape the barrel of the shoddiest soap opera performances.

It’s okay though, because after a few minutes desecrating a grave and having inexplicable flashbacks, they and their campervan fall off a handily-placed cliff.

After thirty-five minutes, the plot begins properly, with a mild-mannered guy, Matthew, beginning construction of a new car showroom – right on top of the town’s graveyard, next to the creepy barn. He is informed about Abbott Hayes, who is (deep breath) a serial killer raised as a girl (another irrelevant plot point) by his mother, who stashed the dead bodies of his victims in his house before being tracked down and captured, sent to jail where he was murdered, and is now a zombie king (although he appears to think he is Nosferatu half the time, even resurrecting a dead body by biting the corpse’s wrist). Phew! What a fiend.

Children of the Living Dead is staggeringly awful. The opening scenes are inexplicably tinted blue, while subsequent scenes switch between day and night depending on who is on screen. The acting is woeful, the narrative filled with bizarre and unnecessary plot points. Each sentence of dialogue is punctuated with a character’s name, as though to ensure we don’t forget who everyone is; it’s bizarre and just begging to be turned into a drinking game. Continuity is non-existent – in one truly hilarious scene, Matthew visits a diner where he is served coffee, then served coffee again, then the cup is moved to one side and replaced with yet another cup of coffee, which is then refilled. After this, he leaves, neither having drunk any of the coffee, nor having paid for it.

Each scene provides some new moment of utter ridiculousness – nothing whatsoever works. The zombies themselves are people painted various shades of grey, Abbott Hayes never actually does anything except lurk, the title and early references to children are irrelevant, the characters are all bland and dislikeable, while the final showdown involves a gang of men breaking into the diner, only to break back out again and, after being armed with guns and warned not to come to close to the zombies (who have a strange tendency to be right beside the heroes before anyone notices), engage in hand-to-hand combat with the undead beasts. Finally, the entire film is explained by a character – as though the information is a revelation of some sort – and it finishes.

Studying badfilm has altered my perception of them; I now cannot help but analyse and interpret the old movies by Ed Wood, Al Adamson, Coleman Francis. With Children of the Living Dead I simply laughed and laughed, and stared wide-eyed at the sheer incompetence, and gasped in exasperation, and sighed in sheer disbelief. It was wonderful. And by wonderful, I mean utterly atrocious.

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4 thoughts on “Film #18: Children of the Living Dead (2001)

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