Lets see what’s on, shall we?
*turns on TV*
Oh, here’s an old favorite. Night of the Living Dead.
Ah, Candyman. Now that one brings back memories, eh?
The Thing! My favorite movie! But let’s just look around a bit more …
Nightmare on Elm Street. Meh, I could take it or leave it.
Saw? Not today.
Ohhhh, Psycho. Nice one.
Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle! It’s—
Hey! Wait now. You didn’t even give that one a chance. Don’t look at me like that, I happen to love Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. What? You’ve never seen it? Then quit yer belly aching and give me the remote.
Yeah, you saw that name roll on by, didn’t ya? Bob Clark. The same Bob Clark from Porky’s fame! Yup. He directed and produced the film, while Alan Ormsby wrote, starred in it and did the makeup. You might recognize the scripting style from the film Popcorn, which Ormsby wrote later under a pseudonym. Clark and Ormsby did the whole CSPWDT gig in fourteen days for about seventy grand. I know. I know. Low budget horror must equal garbage, right? Not necessarily. I’m not saying it’s some sleeper hit of the century, ‘cause Shakespeare it ain’t. But then again, what is? (Aside from Shakespeare, of course.) Sure, the plot is simple and the makeup is okay, but the characters! Aye, there’s the rub! The kooky cast is the whole reason to watch this B-grade zombie chompfest.
That and the world’s best pair of pants, but more on that later.
To start things off you should know that the majority of the cast used their own names. This must have made good old Bob’s job a lot easier, huh? As luck would have it he knew most of them already because he dipped into his college days and got a bunch of friends to fill out the cast, as well as crew, and a finer selection of actors have never been gathered. I see that sideways look you’re cutting me, but you gotta trust me on this one. Considering the script and the subject matter and the speed in which it was shot, these kids did a job well worth your measly eighty-seven minutes to watch.
(Yeah, that’s eighty-seven minutes you aren’t going to get back, but you made me sit through House of the Dead, so you owe me one. Remember? To live forever, indeed. At least this one has better lines.)
First in our clever cast is Alan, you’ll remember he was the writer and the star of the film. He plays the eccentric, and not to mention egocentric, boss man of a down and out theater troupe. Alan is simply the meanest, orneriest, gayest jackass cinema has seen for some time. His main role in the film is to flounce about degrading the others through verbal and sometimes physical abuse, most of which revolves around the use of their future employment as a kind of carrot on a stick. Do what he says or you’re fired. Simple enough, only his demands usually aren’t. His commands range from carrying his oversized luggage to digging up the dead.Yes, I said digging up the dead.
Our next character is Anya, the troupe’s wacky new age girl and the real live consort of Mr. Ormsby. She’s as thin as a rail and as willowy as a tree and spends most of the movie wearing what I swear is a potato sack. Anya comes on early in the film as a bit of a gentle soul who, as luck would have it, turns out to be ‘in touch’ with the spirits of the island. And by ‘in touch’ I mean going completely bonkers when the poop hits the group. She knows what’s coming long before the others, but instead of making herself useful by warning them that the dead are rising, she opts to have herself a little freak out and then take a little nap. Don’t worry though; I’m sure she’ll serve Alan’s purpose before too long.
Next on our lineup are Paul and Terry. Two ordinary kids, on a night out… oops, wrong movie. Seriously though, they’re supposed to be the epitome of normal for the film, and when compared to the other freaks they certainly are. How did two average souls get mixed up with this lot? Apparently the theatre world of 1972 was harsh and cruel, forcing even the best of thespians to mingle with lowly character actors. Paul plays the muscleman of the movie, flexing his biceps every chance he gets. Terry’s the newest fawn to join the troupe, and thusly hasn’t been through Alan’s emotional wringer. Yet. She learns soon enough though, and before long she finds herself graveling at a dead man’s feet just to keep her job.
Then we move onto Val. Ah, Val! What old Jewish mother lent you that accent, that hair, that joie de vivre? Here we have the height of seventies hilarity. Over the top doesn’t even begin to describe this woman’s onscreen presence. She dramatizes. She aggrandizes. She overworks her limited lines like a stripper trying for a twenty instead of that five you’re waving at her thong. At one point she drops to her knees in a grave in an attempt to mock their glorious leader, and does a pretty damned good job of it. You know, when it comes down to brass tacks, I think it was her mock summoning that brought back the dead, not Alan’s real ritual. So I guess the terrible ending is really all her fault.
But the terrible movie is still all his fault.
Now we come to Jeff, that hefty hunk of burning love. His presence in the film leads me to ask the serious questions. Is there a God? What is the meaning of life? Why must there always be a laughable fat guy in these kinds of movies? In this case, I know the answer. Jeff’s sole objective in the entire film is simple; he is nothing but a conveyance for those glorious pants. Striped and bright and eye catching, his bellbottom slacks are everything we celebrate about the seventies, and a couple of things we don’t. Yes, his pants make a better screen presence than he does, but to give the guy some credit he did end up with the movie’s best line:
“I peed my pants. I can’t believe I peed my pants.”
Poor Jeff! Poor pants!
The rest of the fictional acting troupe consists of Roy and Emerson, two fairly faggy guys and I mean no offense by this. The truth is these guys aren’t just homosexual characters in a film. They practically set the celluloid on fire they are so flaming! I don’t know if Alan was giving a shout out to the gay community in theatre, or if he was just shouting at them. Either way, the two play a pair of nervous Nancys, fussing over makeup and jewelry and screaming like girls when the dead start to walk. They are also the first ones to bite the big one. Nice work there Alan!
The last of the cast of characters is Orville, the tallest corpse to grace a movie since, well, I don’t know if there is a taller one! He doesn’t do much in the film early on. Lying about. Propping against headstones. Lying about some more. Holding very still while others carry him from place to place. Standing motionless while playing the bride to another man. Lifelessly sharing a bed with Alan. (What an acting challenge that must have been!) At the end of the movie, however, Orville pulls out all of the stops and becomes the focus of a frightening last few moments of cinematic terror. Honestly, the whole thing is worth sitting through just to see that gratifying WTF look that comes over Alan’s face.
So there you have it, a fine cast for a fine film. Again, this isn’t prize winning material. It isn’t gonna snare any indie awards, or make a comeback as history’s greatest horror movie. In the end it is what it is; a zombie movie that refuses to take itself so damned seriously. And I do believe that’s a trick that today’s zombie films could stand to learn.