Review Date: December 13, 2001
Released by: Artisan Entertainment
Release date: 10/2001
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.77:1 | 16x9: Yes
The zombie movie has been around for a long time. From Bela Lugosi in White Zombie to Hammer Films' Plague of the Zombies, the undead have been on screen for 70 years. But it was George A. Romero who changed the sub-genre in 1968 with his landmark film Night of the Living Dead. Now, the zombies were true rotting corpses animated from the grave. Romero followed up his film with two sequels, and original writer John Russo chimed in with sequels of his own. Every zombie film since then is seemingly based on that classic of 60s horror. Now, in 2001, we have Children of the Living Dead (produced by Russo) which purports to be a distant sequel to Night of the Living Dead. Is it worth it? Or does this movie need a bullet in the brain to send it back to its grave for good?
It's a zombie attack! Give the filmmakers credit for starting out quick. Hughes (Tom Savini) is a former cop, now turned zombie hunter. After dispatching several formerly dead corpses in a field, he and Deputy Randolph (Martin Schiff) turn to rid a farmhouse and barn of the living dead. They find a group of children, lost from a field trip, held prisoner in the barn. But after freeing the kids, Hughes is killed by Abbott Hayes (A. Barrett Worland), a kind of super-zombie.
Next thing you know, it's fourteen years later, and a group of teenagers are on their way to a concert. There's a quick stop at the same farmhouse from the beginning segment, along with a nearby cemetery. Abbott Hayes is still around, and a little PO'd that kids were partying on his mom's grave. He forces their van off the road, killing all the occupants. Abbott isn't content with just killing them though, and he manages to steal the corpses before they're interred.
Now it's a year later (time really jumps around in this movie), and Matthew Michaels (Damien Luvara) comes to town to set up his father's latest car dealership. Naturally, the remote farmhouse and cemetery is the perfect place for a dealership, and a construction crew, led by Greg (Tom Stoviak) arrives as well. You can tell his name is Greg, because every person who talks to him begins and/or ends every sentence with "Greg." The crew is noticing rather strange things, like all the empty coffins they keep digging up.
Matthew meets Laurie (Jamie McCoy), a local waitress. She fills in Matthew (along with the audience), about all the plot holes that we've been kept in the dark about so long. First, it's the story of Abbott Hayes, then it's the history of the living dead in the town. And you guessed it, she (along with the kids in the van) were the ones rescued by Hughes at the beginning of the movie. After all this exposition, it's time for the cataclysmic zombie vs. human battle we've been waiting for. Will it measure up to the countless other zombie films? Get a copy of Children of the Living Dead and find out.
Director Tor Ramsey and Screenwriter/Producer Karen Lee Wolf definitely set out to make an innovative film (at least for the genre). Unfortunately, it turned out to be a big mess. One of the biggest faults is the fact that it takes 30 minutes to finally introduce us to the main characters. A strength of Romero's trilogy (as well as Russo's sequels) is that the films center on real people in the face of a zombie invasion. We get to know and love (or hate) these people, thus making us want to find out what happens to them. The opening of this movie jumps around so many times, there's just no sense of plot. We only watch to the end to see if it all ties together, and while it does, it's still no big deal.
I think what they were going for in this film is an attempt at a new "franchise", centered around a villain. Again, not a bad idea, since most popular horror series are based on the monsters or killers, and not the protagonists. Here, it's the enigmatic Abbott Hayes that they were hoping would be the next Freddy Krueger. Unfortunately, it's real hard to make a zombie a character (even "Bub" in Day of the Dead was a bit of a reach), and Abbott Hayes is not very memorable.
Is it fair to compare this film to Romero's trilogy, or Russo's Return of the Living Dead series? I'd say yes, mostly due to Laurie's speech later in the film, where she discusses the "Venus probe of 1968" (the premise of Night of the Living Dead), and the plot of Return of the Living Dead from 1986. This really wasn't that necessary. It's not like every zombie movie has to be tied into Romero's classic. And if you do make that connection, you have to be able to stand up to comparison. This film is quite weak when viewed with those other movies in mind. Ramsey and Wolf should have tried to distance themselves from the more famous Living Dead films, rather than try to elbow their way into the series'.
Finally, the writing and acting is substandard, even for horror films. So much of the dialogue is cringe inducing, you'll wonder how the actors kept a straight face delivering their lines. It's pretty hard to forget many characters' names, since anytime someone talks to someone else, he or she will always use that person's name in nearly every sentence. Perhaps I shouldn't mention that, since if you read this with that in mind, you'll only notice it more. And I was glad that that the film wasn't centered on the kids in the van, because those were some BAD actors. Not that the rest of the cast are preparing their Oscar speeches, but they were definitely better than the concertgoers from early in the film. Tom Savini's brief appearance early on looks like a favor he may have owed to the producers.
I realize I'm being a little over critical of this film, but there was some promise of a good movie here, had they only taken a little more time with it. Giving us characters early on to root for (and against), rather than open with nothing but killing would have been an improvement. Next, since they were trying to make a zombie the focus of the story, they should have given that zombie a little more depth. And finally, I'd suggest the writers go through the dialogue a few times and ask themselves if that's how people really sound. I do hope the makers of this film keep trying, but this effort is best left forgotten.
This may not be the best movie out there, but Artisan sure treated it with respect. First of all, unlike some other recent Artisan releases, they went with a widescreen transfer, enhanced for anamorphic televisions. This adds so much to a title. The picture is exceptionally clean and detailed, and colors are well done as well. No matter how bad a movie may be, there's always one person who will swear up and down that it's the best movie ever made. Studios should produce their DVDs with that one person in mind. In the case of Children of the Living Dead, it looks like that's just what Artisan did. Great work, and they should be commended for it.
Just like the image quality, Artisan gave a lot of concern to the sound portion of the disc as well. This time, we get both a 5.1 and a 2.0 Dolby Digital track. It's not the most amazing soundtrack ever made, but it's quite good for this movie. Everything is mostly confined up front, and there's not a lot of music, so it's your center channel doing most of the work. Still, it's quite crisp and clear, and you won't miss much dialogue, no matter how bad it's written.
Supplements are pretty sparse in comparison with some releases, but for a small title like this, it's a nice little edition. Extras are limited to a trailer (as well as a trailer gallery for other Artisan releases) and a photo gallery. Yes, there could have been a few more additions, but many films of this ilk are pretty bare-bones releases. So it does show more care on the part of Artisan Entertainment to include what extras they could.
This one isn't even on the map of zombie films. There's Romero's amazing trilogy, Russo's follow-ups, and even Fulci's Italian gore-fests. I'd be more lenient with this movie if it never tried to associate with the classic living dead films. It has some moments, and it shows some promise, but I can't get past the poor structure, embarrassing dialogue, and sub-poor acting. I'll give Artisan credit for putting some love into the DVD release, but the film itself is not worth the time.
Movie - D
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B
Supplements - C+
- Running time - 1 hour 30 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Dolby Digital Surround 5.1
- Dolby Stereo 2.0
- Trailer and Trailer Gallery
- Photo Gallery