Director: Tor Ramsey
Screenplay: Karen Lee Wolf
Cast: Marty Schiff (as Deputy Randolph); Damien Luvara (as Matthew Michaels); Jamie McCoy (as Laurie Danesi); Sam Nicotero (as Dusty); Tom Savini (as Deputy Hughes)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #80
I had prepared for the worst. The various spin-offs, rip-offs, remakes and various unofficial sequels to George A. Romero's Living Dead series is a convoluted one; for the cool Italian ones and Return of the Living Dead franchise, you also get the two attempts by producer John A. Russo, co-writer and star of Night of the Living Dead (1968), one a 30th anniversary reinterpretation of that film with next footage and Children of the Living Dead, a film so obscure it's permanently second hand now. Acquiring a mucky second hand DVD whose box was stained with a mysterious purple mark at the bottom I can't explain the origins of. Having to suffer through the film, possibly blameable on a sausage roll I eat hours earlier, with a brief stomach illness that was awful in itself to suffer through. All signs of ripping into the film but, even if this review is still going to tarnish Children of the Living Dead as a dreadful movie, I wasn't expecting this to have some form of technical competency as it did. I was expecting the worst even in technical quality, not something which can actually be compared to a film like J. R. Bookwalter's The Dead Next Door (1989) rather than one of the Romero films.
Certainly the prologue, an actual zombie outbreak when the rest of the film could've been a supernatural horror instead to the point of absurdity, tries its hardest at first to have some ambition. Tom Savini as a survivalist badass, pyrotechnic effects and a car exploding, even a helicopter in the air and an aerial shot of a couple of extras in a field. It's still sluggish in performances and presentation but it offered hope of a little quality, like The Dead Next Door trying for more than what's possible with small resources and giving a stab at something entertaining and rewarding...
...which never comes to pass afterwards. Despite people from the original Living Dead franchise being involved, even Hollywood composer Alan Howarth involved, something like The Dead Next Door influenced by Romero's films is so much more better than this, so higher in bar of quality it's added some greater admiration for Bookwalter's work now, the only positive I'll give Children of the Living Dead for the rest of the review. Jumping forward constantly in time at first to the point of ridiculousness, it's convoluted narrative wise for a uber-low budget feature, a serial killer story where the central villain, mass murderer Abbot Hayes (A. Barrett Worland), manages to come back from the grave in the late eighties during a zombie outbreak and, decades later, enslaves adults he once kidnapped as children, when he was already undead, as his zombie slaves.
At first I expected this to top Romero, with Diary of the Dead (2007), by beating him by six years to having obnoxious young adult leads in the centre but an inordinate amount of time is given to characters who merely become background grunts to pick off side characters through the rest of the movie. (Admittedly it was impressive that they pushed a real van off a cliff for their deaths, but that doesn't prepare you for how pointless their entire existence was even as the friends of the real female lead). A lot of the film turns into an economic drama with added zombies, where the old graveyard is losing business only, when the owner gets munched, to be taken over by a car dealership whose construction workers have no qualms in just taking the old coffins out and putting them in a mass grave under concrete at the side, as if this was going to be a prequel to a Poltergeist-like narrative. Instead all this plot is merely for a snail's pace and a lot of scenes of less than stellar actors to talk to each other for a lot of the running time.
As mentioned the zombies are more background objects that occasionally pop up to bite someone's neck. As much as this type of low budget horror cinema can be rewarding for their eccentricities, accidental cinema verité and interesting characters - the closest thing to one of these virtues found in Sam Nicotero's former grave robber turned hotel manager Dusty - that only works when the characters or the dialogue is memorable. That Tom Savini, the ony other virtue in terms of characters, vanishes after the end of the prologue means you're stuck with a look of wooden, laborious scenes. The film drags on until eventually it ends abruptly, with no conclusion and merely a laborious shoot-out in a diner, so contrived that hilariously the cops and mob brought in to save the persons inside, rather than staying outside and circling the zombies from a distance, all enter said diner trapping themselves and increasing their chances of being picked off. It's no way near as bad as I was expecting it, but that's not a compliment to Children of the Living Dead baring that I've a likely chance of finding much worse zombie films based or ripping off Romero's work than this, which is not a prospect I have excitement for considering this one.