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17.11.14

Children of the Living Dead (2001)


Director: Tor Ramsey
Starring: Tom Savini, Damien Luvara, Jamie McCoy, Sam Nicotero, Heidi Hinzman
Rated R 90 minutes

Two NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD alumni, screenwriter John Russo and "they're coming to get you, Barbara!" zombie Bill Hinzman, reunite to excrete a movie that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that George Romero was the brains of the operation. CHILDREN OF THE LIVING DEAD is a sequel of sorts to Russo's NOTLD: 30th Anniversary Edition version of the 1968 original film. Like its predecessor, it's awful in every way you can imagine, and some you probably can't.

Where do I begin? The film struggles to tell a story about a Pennsylvania town that has come under siege by a horde of zombies led by the notorious Abbott Hayes, a rapist and murderer who has now joined the ranks of the undead. It seems that a greedy businessman's decision to relocate a small cemetery into one giant mass grave under his soon-to-be constructed car lot has stirred Hayes from his slumber. Why this matters to Hayes, I couldn't tell you. CHILDREN OF THE LIVING DEAD is easily one of the most incomprehensibly written and edited films I've ever seen. With multiple prologues (three, by my count) and a story that never seems to achieve any degree of coherence, the movie is confusing beyond words. The terrible acting, dialogue, camerawork, and sound is the icing on one really crappy cake.

There are a few amusing moments. The first prologue, starring Tom Savini as a zombie killing mercenary, is the most energetic section of the film. It's still awful, but it was somewhat entertaining watching Savini fight a bunch of zombies in a Pennsylvania field. Too bad the makers decided to kill him off in the first ten minutes. I also got a few laughs out of the film's head baddie, Abbott Hayes (makeup created by Vincent J. Guastini, HOOD OF HORROR; SPOOKIES). I'm not sure who told him to walk with a high-stepping strut like a background dancer from the "Thriller" video, but added a surreal and hilarious touch to a movie that was otherwise painfully stupid.

CHILDREN OF THE LIVING DEAD is a movie that is so thoroughly rotten, you almost have to see it to believe it. Director Tor Ramsey took to the internet to respond to a bad review, and wrote a long, detailed apology to anyone who endured this atrocity. I'm pasting it here because I think Ramsey's message is more entertaining than the movie itself.

Director Tor Ramsey:

I am writing to you to offer my sincerest apology for the 90 minutes of your life wasted watching the movie CHILDREN OF THE LIVING DEAD. I read your review on the internet and would like to thank you for understating its worthlessness. 
So you're a filmmaker? Quick, find another profession that causes less stress, like painting the tops of radio towers! But if you insist, perhaps you'd like to know some of the circumstances behind the amazing CHILDREN OF THE LIVING DEAD. 
Let me address a few specific areas you mentioned: 
1) we had two lens, a 25:250 and a 18mm. Later when I gently requested two more primes, a 50 and a 35, I was blamed for jacking up the budget with unreasonable demands. (???????) 
2) the choice of shots isn't as poor as the choice the editor who re-edited made in choosing the shots. There's more to work withm he just didn't. See below 
3) The robotic delivery of the lines was due mainly to the fact that all the dialogue was looped needlessly and I was invited to the looping session. 
4) The reason the Savini stuff works better than the rest is that once Savini's stuff was shot was whem the Karen lunacy binge kicked in full throttle. 
5) Among the highlights of my brilliant cinematography team was the twomost expensive days of production when they loaded five rolls of film backwards, and shot it without realizing it, ruining precious footage. 
Seriously, what can I tell you but the Executive Producer of HALLOWEEN and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET teamed up with the co-author of the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD to do what was described to me as the sequel to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, on the same level as a RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Hell, who wouldn't have jumped at the chance! 
Unfortunately I was to find that if it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck and walks like a duck it ain’'t always a duck. I was to find out later that the only connection this thing had to George Romero’s great trilogy was John Russo and the words “Living Dead”. 
The Exec. Producer’s daughter Karen Lee Wolf wrote a script so horribly incompetent that nearly a dozen writers and directors had walked off the project due to her obsessiveness over no changes being made to her script. In addition to being an untalented, inexperienced, uninformed---excuse me while I get my other list of adjectives --- spoiled, immature, arrogant hack. 
Karen had never seen DAY OF THE DEAD or DAWN OF THE DEAD or even modern horror films like SCREAM. In fact she thought zombie movies and Fangoria fans were stupid and wouldn’'t stoop to that level. So she created a level all her own to stoop to. 
The Producer of HOWLING and LAWNMOWER MAN had gotten me on this thing and he immediately began pleading with me to leave the project. Every one that gopr within a three mile radius of this unreadable abomination told Karen her script ---to use Harry Knowles words “sucked a big poodle turd” She refused to listen, threatening to fire anyone who questioned her script. 
Karen conned and manipulated her aging father into greenlighting her pathetic script then Joe let Karen go out to Pittsburgh to “supervise”. In her case, this meant threatening to fire anyone who changed so much as a word in her script. No *beep* --- we were running interference on Karen sneaking around to do the gags with Savini. 
When actors told me the lines made no sense and wanted to work through the scene, Karen wouldn’t allow changes to be made. 
As for Russo, I was surprised to find him not quite the idiot internet sites make him out to be and certainly doesn’t derve to be fed to one of his own zombies as the prevailing winds usually concur. . He’s basically a decent guy who should be allowed nowhere near a movie set. Sadly I must confess his reputation as a hack is well deserved. He insisted I use his DP, a 63 year old farmer named Bill Hinzman who played the cemetery zombie in the original NIGHT. Bill’s previous work was unwatchable garbage like FLESHEATER and SANTA CLAWS and though the Wolf’s knew Hinzman’s work, they told me I had to use him anyway due to Russo. I also had to use Russo’s pal Bob Michelucci as my Art Director though he had never set foot on a movie set and his experience was limited to doing sets for a softcore porno mag called SCREAM QUEENS. 
Russo also insisted on shooting without an on-set art department, no Assistant Directors, no Script Supervisors, no Wardrobe department and no makeup department. Also no Production Manager. Basically we had a 9 man crew made up of friends of Russo. Also Russo said we could not afford a Generator or anything stronger than a 4K. 
I didn’t shoot stuff this amateurish in film school. 
Here’s the clincher --- the budget for this thing was $500,000. Lunch money by Hollywood standards, but my first film was $200,000 and when you getout of LA its possible to get at least movie of the week type quality in production value for that amount of money. But not if the Producers scoop $120,000 off the top for their back pockets, and not if the Producer (Russo) pays his friends ridiculously high salaries. 
I will always maintain that a lack of money is no excuse for poor production value. Deals can be made and favors called in, and if not then you can get creative with the lighting style and create your own scheme. In any event, half a million bucks is PLENTY of money to pull in a good-looking movie. 
Though I had an Emmy award winning DP who worked for MTV ready to come on board at half his usual rate, they made me hire Hinzman who made almost four times what my guy was going to get. 
Next up was they wouldn’t let me do it SAG, or even using out of toen actors from LA, so we cast using local actors from Pittsburgh --- except for Barrett Worland who was Karen’s pet project from LA. Jamie was a non-SAG actress I had worked with before in my first film. In any event, after five days of auditions, it became obvious I had little to work with. 
Savini was great to work with, and I came up with all those gags he did outside, while he came up with the ones in the barn. I wanted to do much more but my job came in jeopardy when I was accused of allowing Tom Savini to take over the movie. Later, Joe Wolf found what a name Savini is and said he made a mistake not building the movie around him. 
Savini saw the ordeal I was going through and used to come by my room to make sure I was surviving --- he was very supportive and told me these guys didn’t deserve the job I was giving them. 
Regarding the final cut of the film, I turned in a Director’s cut which I felt worked on some level and that at least wouldn’t be an embarrassment to anyone whose name was involved. I emphasized the action scenes and whittled the LOOOONNNGGG dialogue driven scenes down to a bare minimum. I still think it was a lousy movie, but it had a little something going for it, as I cut around some of the bad performances. (The saying goes that performances are made in the editing room, well poorly edited performances are also.) 
Joe Wolf told me he thought we had a winner in the film with the cut I turned in, and others who saw the cut said they thought it worked as a zombie movie. 
What happened next was truly mind-boggling. Karen Wolf fired every one in Pittsburgh, shut the door on yours truly, and hired a new editor, supervised the edit, then brought in all the actors and replaced the dialogue in nearly every scene. In her re-edit, she put back in all the long droning scenes of dialogue, then added back in the dialogue of hers that I changed. I was not present at the looping sessions---that’s one reason for the robotic delivery of the actors. 
Then to cover the endless plotholes and the lack of structure she added the looped dialogue in ways which as you noted are laughably absurd. For example --- the first date you see in the film where Matthew takes Laurie to the construction site was originally shot as the final scene in the movie when Matthew takes Laurie to overlook his shattered dreams. When it was brought up that there wasn;t enough character development in the relationship between Laurie and Matthew they added in the ridiculous dialogue you heard and tried to make it look like a first date. 
The worst thing she did was in her butchering and slaughtering the sequence with Tom Savini. Firstly, the incessant mumbling made me wonder if this was a zombie movie or Savini doing Popeye. Secondly, the scenes were completely robbed of any suspense or tension due to the unorthodox editing and lack of a musical score. Originally Savini’s daughter was cast, and she turned in a terrific performance as a girl being pursued by zombies – who Savini saved by blowing up the car. She was also in the scene right after that with Savini saving her from the two oncoming zombies. Why she was cut out is probably due to the fact that Karen didn’t like her. 
As for the choices in editing, I wasn’t present so I have no idea what was going through this guy’s head --- Lewis Shoenbraun did the re-edit. I was never once contacted by he or Karen. To cover the many numerous plotholes that were in Karen’s script, the two of these guys got together and put together scenes that were outtakes drawn from the context of other scenes with looped dialogue dropped over. What was going through these people’s heads is beyond me. 
But ain’t show business grand! 
My feeling is that there is a movie in there somewhere in the dailies that isn’t the travesty you unfortunately witnessed. Sorry you had to sit through it, and as much as I hate to say it, it is my fault for allowing this to go on. I am apologizing because as Director of the film, it is ultimately my responsibility to deliver the goods. When circumstances present themselves that make it impossible to do so, my obligation to the craft is to leave the project. 
This being my second film, I hung in there because no matter what happened, if I had walked it would look like I was a quitter. 
Anyway, my first film is actually quite good and has gotten really good reviews on it. Perhaps you’ll have the chance to check it out sometime and I would welcome any feedback on it. 
I agree with your assessment of CHILDREN --- based on the cut you saw, myself and every one involved look like idiots. I’d like to think I’m not one, and I’m walking away from CHILDREN with a brand new perspective on the perils of taking on a project when all the tools a filmmaker should have are taken away. 
Like the man said, experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And that is the end of the story! 
Best Wishes, Tor Ramsay 
Director CHILDREN OF THE LIVING DEAD 
I can assure you that Tor Ramsay's statement on the film's disastrous production is infinitely more interesting than the film itself. If you still feel compelled to watch this atrocity, you can probably find it on Youtube. For the love of god, don't spend any money on CHILDREN OF THE LIVING DEAD.
Easily one of the worst movies I've seen in a long, long time. If you insist on watching this turd, the full movie is up on Youtube. Whatever you do, don't spend any money to see it. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED.

1 out of 5.