ZERO STARS/**** Image D Sound C-
starring Tom Savini, Martin Schiff, Damien Luvara, Jamie McCoy
screenplay by Karen Lee Wolf
directed by Tor A. Ramsey
by Walter Chaw With the appearance of having been shot over a long weekend in someone's backyard, Children of the Living Dead is a cynical attempt to cash in on George Romero's zombie trilogy (and The Blair Witch Project) so stale and amateurish that it qualifies as a barely-releasable embarrassment to everyone involved, including gore-legend Tom Savini, who seems to have hit rock bottom in his extended cameo. The film starts just outside of the old house from Romero's seminal Night of the Living Dead, with rednecks potting zombies in a field--a scene already familiar to fans of Dawn of the Dead, but robbed of all pathos and dread--and continues on through a series of disconnected vignettes that neglect genre imperatives like gore, nudity, and fear plus narrative film prerequisites like story, acting, directing, and script. Children of the Living Dead doesn't even offer any puerile thrills.
It begins in one time frame, jumps forward a decade or so, then jumps back to a year after its prologue--it exists in Romero's zombie wonderland one moment and switches to a perfectly normal small town/Children of the Corn provincial paranoia-setting the next without any hint of lucidity. Some mention is made of a cross-dressing serial killer; we see a bunch of children held in a pen (because zombies don't eat children--hey, don't look at me); there's a Texas Chain Saw Massacre-esque setup with a group of irritating teens driving around in a van; there's a weird bumpkin mating-dance involving a pretty truck-stop waitress; and then we have a Poltergeist grave-relocation deal that commences abruptly and goes nowhere for a long, long time. Each of the storylines is abandoned once something interesting threatens to happen. Listen, I'm not saying that a film called Children of the Living Dead directed by a guy named "Tor" and written by the daughter of a producer on the first A Nightmare on Elm Street should be held to a high standard, but it should be held to some standard.
Worse than a lack of plot is an almost total lack of events. The film isn't only inept from every imaginable critical perspective, it's dull as dishwater and twice as tepid. The gore is basically a few squibs, latex masks, and fake-looking appliances staggered at long and irregular intervals, and there is a complete lack of coherence in regards to the mysterious love story and the equally befuddling construction of an apocalyptic zombie-scape. Children of the Living Dead is so stultifying that it substitutes inexorable zombie attacks for scenes of the shambling undead making crank calls and leaving dead dogs on porches. (The dead dog in question, by the way, suspiciously suggests a cuddly stuffed animal that's been crammed full of sheep guts.)
Every line of dialogue is looped, a decision that makes the already excruciating screenplay unspeakable and all the more inexplicable the intrusion of boom microphones in several shots. In an unintentional homage to Ed Wood, shadows of the crew are projected onto gravestones in a noticeably unthreatening graveyard set, close-ups are used without knowledge of how close-ups are used, and an exterior shot in chapter 14 is so poorly lit that it looks as though the lens had been smeared with Vaseline and the scene shot underwater before the film stock was exposed. There is not one kind thing I can say about this film: it's an irredeemable piece of offal that desperately needs a bullet to the head. Avoid at all costs.
Artisan's DVD release of Children of the Living Dead presents a nigh unwatchable 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that is grainy, washed-out, underexposed, ill-timed, and off-centre. It's difficult to blame Artisan for the video quality, but wherever blame is placed, the end result is that the film looks eye-gougingly awful. The scope of the 5.1 environment is sadly underutilized on the Dolby Digital track, but the dialogue is crisp, no doubt a result of the post-synch. Believe me when I say that being able to understand every line is a promise so depressing that it pains me to report it. There is, by the way, a surprise scene after the credits that is every bit as banal as the rest of the film. A stupid trailer, a 16-image photo gallery, and trailers for Deep in the Woods, Bloody Murder, Wishmaster 3, Ginger Snaps, Premonition, and If I Die Before I Wake round out the DVD. Originally published: November 26, 2001.