George A. Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead has quite the legacy. To my mind, when it arrived in 1968, it ushered in the modern horror movie (along with Rosemary’s Baby, released the same year). Gone were the cobwebbed castles, terrorized villagers and occasionally hokey monsters of yore. This was contemporary horror which took place in familiar surroundings, perpetrated by monsters that looked like ordinary folks. An entirely new tone was introduced to the genre, and it persists to this day. So far, Romero has himself written and directed four loosely related sequels to his seminal classic. And the fifth one, Survival of the Dead, is imminent. Both Land of the Dead and (especially) Diary of the Dead marked a dip in quality, but they’re still enjoyable, thought-provoking and miles ahead of the zombified competition. To wit, Children of the Living Dead from 2001 …
Tom Savini takes aim ... at the filmmakers?
Never seen it? Perhaps even never heard of it? Well, there’s no reason to feel uninformed, even if you’re a horror fan. Children of the Living Dead is obscure for a reason! Above all else, it’s poorly written. The story, which deals with some kind of zombie king and his group of undead minions who attack a small Pennsylvania town, is nonsensical beyond belief. There are arbitrary jumps in time, people do completely illogical things, and the dialogue is often appallingly bad. Any viewer looking for even the barest shred of cohesion, would be better off doing a jigsaw puzzle in the dark. This turkey is also poorly shot, poorly acted, poorly edited, poorly everything! I have to stress that Romero had nothing whatsoever to do with this mess, but it does have a number of “fortuitous” ties to him nonetheless.
Abbott Hayes, the head zombie. He mostly just stands around and laughs.
For starters, Children of the Living Dead was produced by John Russo, Romero’s co-writer back in ‘68. Bill Hinzman, the very first zombie to come shambling through the cemetery in Night, was the director of photography. Marty Schiff, who plays Sheriff Randolph and actually does a good job, has appeared in three Romero movies—Dawn of the Dead, Knightriders and Creepshow. And he’s even working with Romero again, after well over two decades, as a producer on the forthcoming Deadtime Stories anthologies. Sam Nicotero, who is memorable and genuinely funny as a skuzzy hotel manager, is the uncle of special effects master Greg Nicotero—the latter has worked with Romero a number of times, of course. Speaking of special effects masters, long-time Romero associate Tom Savini plays a gung-ho survivalist type who dies after 15 minutes. He also did double duty as stunt coordinator. His performance isn’t great, but that might be due to the awful looping. I could go on, but you get the picture.
Marty Schiff and Savini stroll through a cemetery so cheap even Ed Wood, Jr. in his "glory" days would have sniffed at it.
There’s a fascinating backstory to why Children of the Living Dead ended up being such a shambles. Instead of my recycling it here, I suggest you stop by the highly informative Homepage of the Dead. Go to Bits & Pieces, and scroll down to the article “An e-mail from Tor Ramsey – Director of Children of the Living Dead.” There you’ll find a damning review of the movie from Travis Stoff … and the director’s reply. As he tells his bleakly entertaining tale, Ramsey comes across as witty, smart and honest. Read the whole thing, you won’t regret it. By the end, you’ll feel pretty sorry for the guy—and clearly discern that this project was doomed from the outset.
Terminated zombies ... or poor souls who watched this movie?
Note: I’ve barely scratched the surface of the sheer inept lunacy that is Children of the Living Dead. Something tells me I’ll be blogging about it again in the near future. You have been warned …