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Children of the Living Dead (2001)

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I really hate reviewing movies like Children of the Living Dead. Why? Because it's bad enough that I had to sit through it. Now I'm pressured to come up with enough descriptive adjectives to get across the true dreadfulness of the experience. If you want to know the quick lowdown without reading a long review, then all you need to know is that Children of the Living Dead is more like an "Abortion of the Living Dead". A true disgrace to filmmaking, I'd rather smoke a bunch of feline laxatives then watch it again.

Mathew Michaels (Damien Luvara) is helping oversee the construction of his father's (Philip Bowers) new car dealership in a rural Pennsylvania town. They secured a good deal on the land because it formerly used for the local cemetery. The law, Deputy Randolph (Marty Schiff), has conveniently agreed to turn the other cheek as they relocate the graves. The townsfolk, the construction crew, and everyone else nearby eventually learn the hard way that it's not a good idea to mess with someone's final resting place. You'd think, that with a town that has a history of zombie outbreaks, that there would be some extra care when it came to dealing with corpses, but as I always say, common sense isn't all that common.

If that's not enough premise for you, this town doesn't just have zombie outbreaks in its past. It also had its very own serial rapist/murderer, by the name of Abbott Hayes. He had been killed in prison, or so everyone thought. It's not spoiling anything to tell you that he's not dead, though not quite alive either. They show him pretty early on in the film and it's not a mystery that he's behind the brand new undead outbreak around town. In fact, the only mystery contained anywhere in COTLD is how the film ever got made in the first place.

The story is old hat, but I still think that a decent film could have been salvaged from it. The idea of a seemingly intelligent "leader" zombie is something that you could work with. The key to that would be to keep Karen Lee Wolf as far away from the screenplay as possible. She managed to write one of the most putrid excuses for a script that I think I've ever had the displeasure of witnessing come to fruition. It's a complete hack-job from a complete no-talent. It's not even laughably bad, it's the type of "bad" where you just sigh and shake your head as you wait for the next cringe-inducing line of dialogue.and it's never a long wait.

From what I've read about the behind-the-scenes action, the vast majority of problems that this movie has can be laid squarely at the feet of Karen Wolf. She helped produce COTLD along with her father Joseph Wolf (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and John Russo (co-writer of Night of the Living Dead). Director Tor Ramsey has let it be known that Karen Wolf was obsessive, and indeed on the verge of lunacy, regarding her script and intense micromanagement of filmmaking details that she had little experience with or knowledge of. There were to be no changes in the script, and Wolf threatened to fire anybody that tried to change something or who disagreed with her ideas. And you'd think it would be important research, but apparently she had never even seen Dawn of the Dead or Day of the Dead.

If the script wasn't bad enough, it's made worse by the fact that the entire film was looped, often with dialogue changes that don't match the actors' mouths or where their mouths don't even move at all. It comes off looking like a film school assignment, and a bad one at that.

When the dubbing started, that's when Ramsey says his involvement ended. Wolf supposedly fired the Pittsburgh crew, shut Ramsey out, and hired her own editor (Lewis Schoenbrun) to re-edit the film. And the finished product makes everyone involved look like they were playing a giant game of grab-ass instead of trying to make a good movie. It's a shame because you can tell they had a decent chunk of cash to make it, and I think a couple of actors could have done a decent job given a good script. Those being Marty Schiff as the head Deputy, Sam Nicotero as Dusty the former gravedigger, and Jamie McCoy as the sweet local girl tried in vane to bring something to the roles.

Here’s how bad the editing is. In the diner scene where Mathew is talking to his onscreen love interest Laurie (Jamie McCoy), she pours him a cup of coffee, much like any good waitress would do. She sets up some silverware, and then proceeds to take his cup away and pour a new one for him. Now he’s yet to even take a sip and he’s on his second cup. She then wipes up some spillage (how did it spill? he still hasn’t had a drink yet) and then pours some more coffee. Then if you’re really paying attention on the next cut, you can see her still pouring coffee at the bottom corner of the frame. Then he leaves without paying a bill of any kind, and without ever having any of the multiple cups of coffee he was poured.

That's a microcosm of the whole film. That diner scene was the setup to Mathew and Laurie’s first date. Since there’s nothing chicks dig more than a first date at a graveyard, that’s where Matt takes her. He's obviously an alumni of the Gomez Addams School of Dating. Ramsey states that this scene was supposed to be at the end of the movie, but was moved up earlier because Wolf wanted more “character development”. Well, Karen, it didn’t work. It just made the characters look really freakin’ weird.

Remember when I said there weren't any mysteries in COTLD? I lied. There are plenty. Like why do they wait until dark to bury the bodies in the cemetery after a funeral? Why are Abbott Hayes' hands like two times as large as a normal hand? How did he become undead in the first place? Why doesn't anybody call the cops when they witness somebody get eaten by a zombie? Why didn't the guy that got killed and thrown in a coffin turn into a zombie? There are plenty more, just watch and make a game of finding more.

The one shred of respectability in the entire film is the opening 15 minutes. The reason? Tom Savini. The town's previous zombie outbreak is shown to set up the rest of the movie. Savini plays a former cop turned survivalist enlisted to help deal it. What a tease. There's this big group of people hunting down and exterminating patches of zombies. Lots of guns, a helicopter, high production value kinda stuff. Then it turns into a heaping load of crap. Ramsey noted that the beginning works largely because it was only after this portion was filmed that Wolf went on her destructive rampage.

So who do blame? Was it an arrogant producer's daughter who killed a potentially decent flick? Or was it just a combination of bad writing, bad acting, bad directing, and bad producing all coming together? Ultimately it's the director, Ramsey, who must shoulder the responsibility. It's the director who gets the fame, but they also get the blame.

Regardless of whose fault it is, Children of the Living Dead is a pointless waste of time. The coup de grace is the ending that just pisses you off. There's a big, goofy climactic battle in the diner's parking lot and when the credits roll, nothing has really been resolved. With a $500,000 budget, there's absolutely no excuse for putting out such amateurish garbage.


(Out of 5)
October 10 2001
January 05 2004

If you're a fledgling filmmaker, COTLD could be a very good learning tool. Watch it and learn what NOT to do. COTLD is bad cinema. Don't bother with it.
1. It has been learned that zombie bites now infect already deceased people. Protect your cemeteries.
2. When using dynamite to kill zombies, take care not to toss one in your own vehicle.
3. When you witness a zombie kill somebody you're with, it's a good thing to let the authorities know about it.
-"Abbott Hayes would roll over in his grave if he saw us partying on the grave of his dead mother."
-"Steve, your attitude really sucks right now."
-"I've seen what's outside and I don't want it to see me."
-"They're zombies. Flesheaters!"
-"Of all the places in all the world my dad could've picked to build his dealership, he had to pick the one right down the street from walking dead central."
-"Don't make contact with their teeth."

Tor Ramsey (Urban Mythology)
Karen Lee Wolf
John A. Russo (Santa Claws)
Joseph Wolf (A Nightmare on Elm Street)
Karen Lee Wolf (Untitled Thriller)
Tom Savini Deputy Hughs
Marty Schiff Deputy Randolph
Damien Luvara Matthew Micheals
Jamie McCoy Laurie Danesi
Sam Nicotero Dusty
Heidi Hinzman Candy Danesi
Philip Bower Joseph Michaels
Tom Stoviak Gregg Peters
A. Barrett Worland Abbott Hayes
Robert Oppel Brad
Westwood Artists International Inc.
Artisan Entertainment
United States
90 mins R

Be sure to watch past the credits for the extra scene.
The cemetery zombie from Night of the Living Dead, Bill Hinzman, was the director of photography on the film. His daughter played a prominent zombie, Candi Danesi.
Children of the Dead Drinking Game - Jerald's Horror Drinking Games
Tor Ramsey E-mail - Homepage of the Dead [in "bits & pieces" section]

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