…the remakes will walk the earth. Here's a news item I never thought I'd see: Bob Clark, the most successful filmmaker in the history of Canada (mostly on the strength of his Porky's franchise), is making a new version of his debut feature, the 1972 flower child/zombie massacre Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. We've reached some Absolute Zero of cultural self-reference when this Night of the Living Dead knockoff, wherein an astoundingly flamboyant group of hippie actors perform a far-out ritual to resurrect the dead, gets a second act. Even zombie enthusiasts tend to frown on this picture, expressing particular disdain for the brightly colored striped pants worn by leading man (and frequent Clark collaborator) Alan Ormsby. For me, this picture is literal in the wrong ways (with a foursquare moral lesson and comeuppance in the EC Comics mode) and none of the right ones (the gore is pretty tame by genre standards). As one IMDb commenter writes, "Another major set back is that the victims don't become zombies themselves after dying… See this only if you've already seen all the Romero zombie movies and all the Italian zombie movies and are in serious need of a zombie fix."
In serious need of a zombie fix—who hasn't been there? You could defend Children as an influential film. Its graveyard resurrection scene clearly inspired the look of the same sequence in John Landis' video for "Thriller." Its mocking performance of an incantation was copped by gay porn icon Jeff Stryker in Claudio Fragasso's Zombi 4 (AKA Zombie Flesh Eaters 3, confusingly enough). And through an accident of TV programming, this was the first zombie picture many of us saw; it got heavy rotation in Creature Features of the seventies, and held over those too young or too remotely located to see the real stuff.
But the reason Children stays with me, and the point of this post, is that it is possibly the greatest example of the anti-hippie horror film. There was a good long period there where the horror genre was replete with longhairs getting devoured, slashed, and eviscerated—to a degree that both chimes with and illuminates non-horror movies of the period such as Easy Rider and Joe, which also end with freaks getting offed. Children, whose acting troupe is even more annoying than the talking mimes in Easy Rider, obviously savors its holocaust of flower children, particularly because they've brought it on the themselves by scoffing at the taboos of their elders. Factor in hippie horror classics like I Drink Your Blood, the Larry Hagman-directed Son of Blob, the Robert Quarry vehicle Deathmaster, and several episodes of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and you've got the makings of a film festival. The pair of over-the-top gays who get dispatched by the late William Marshall in the beginning of Blacula would also have to count as counterculturites punished from beyond.
There are prosaic explanations for this phenomenon: that horror films appeal mostly to teens and young adults, that hippie culture was ubiquitous at the time, and so on. But I like to think that in that brief period between Joe Friday and the punks, it was left to horror films to express America's abiding hatred of hippies. In his critical work Danse Macabre, Stephen King engages himself in a long debate about whether horror is essentially a subversive genre or a conservative one, and he ends up leaning toward the latter view. How Clark's remake will resolve the tension between arrogant youth and ancient punishment, at a time when nobody talks about the generation gap anymore, is hard to imagine. In any event, the movie that really needs to be remade now is Easy Rider, which not only features murdered hippies but remains interesting in only one respect: the way it explores the tension between what we now call the Red States and the Blue States.