Children of the Living Dead (2004) Movie Review

After standing on the sideline and witnessing the success George Romero had with his two sequels to “Night of the Living Dead”, John Russo, who co-wrote and produced “Night”, decided to make a sequel without Romero’s involvement, and presumably “cash in” on the name recognition of “Night” all by his little lonesome. In hindsight, that probably wasn’t a very good idea, as the result is abysmal and has been universally crushed by every critic, mainstream or otherwise, who has seen the film. It’s safe to say that if the phrase, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all” was applied here, then this review would end after the plot summary.

“Children of the Living Dead” picks things up with the dead rising from the grave in a small Pennsylvania town in 1987. As bad luck would have it, the return of the living dead coincides with the disappearance of Abbot Hayes, a dead rapist/murderer, from the county morgue. Fourteen years later, a businessman arrives in town looking to build a car dealership. The spot he’s eyeing to break ground on happens to be a former cemetery, so it’s arranged for the graves to be quietly moved. The deceased don’t take too kindly to this little home invasion, and they crawl from their coffins seeking revenge upon the townspeople, with Abbott Hayes as their leader.

The most glaring offense with “Children of the Living Dead” is the terrible dialogue looping. A lot of the dialogue doesn’t match the mouth movements of the actors, and occasionally characters in the film develop the ability to speak without moving their lips at all. This represents one of the worst cases of dubbing on a picture that wasn’t a Godzilla movie made in the 70s, and if “Dead’s” looper ever worked for Toho Studios, the Tokyo management would have locked him in a room with a samurai sword and expected him to do the honorable thing.

The editing is terrible as well, with scenes sometimes appear out of sequence and leaving the viewer feeling perplexed as to what the hell just happened. You’d have to seriously wonder if Lewis Schoenbrun edited this thing while under the influence. Add to that poor photography by Bill Hinzman, and “Children of the Living Dead” doesn’t have a single bony leg to stand on. The only thing Hinzman manages to accomplish is to get his relative hired as second assistant camera operator, which should make for a happy Thanksgiving at the Hinzman household.

Karen Wolf’s screenplay is also suspect. It’s got a few decent ideas that a talented writer could have salvaged into a decent script, but Wolf isn’t very talented, so there goes that idea. And as if zombie fans needed a tire iron in an already gaping head wound, it feels as if Wolf hasn’t even watched a single George Romero zombie film. How else to explain the idea that the undead never harm children? Not that it really matters, since between the bad dialogue and limp story development, you won’t care about the why, how, and when after a very short while.

As the director of record, Tor Ramsey manages a pacing that is both sluggish and visually unattractive to the point where the foliage seems to be battling tuberculosis. Or at least trying to get the hell out of this movie, along with any actor who still wants to call himself an “actor” and not have to list “Children” on his resume for future projects. Even so, Ramsey may be allowed some absolution for his crimes against cinema, as the film was reportedly restructured without his consent by the producers in post-production. Even so, you’d be skeptical to hire Ramsey to direct a cable access show after this misbegotten nightmare of a film.

There are some bright spots in this mess, however. Tom Savini puts in a nice cameo at the very beginning of “Children”, and Alan Howarth’s score is decent. Unfortunately those minor pluses are wasted, and focusing on them is akin to feeling relieved that you’ve still got your car keys after your Porsche has been totaled. The ending of “Children of the Living Dead” is particularly gruesome, especially since it hints at a sequel.

Dear filmmakers: Please don’t trouble yourselves on our account.

Tor Ramsey (director) / Karen L. Wolf (screenplay)
CAST: 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

Buy Children of the Living Dead on DVD