Time for some more zombie children over here in the Terror Tots (naughty) corner, and as with 1980’s The Children, we’re talking undead kids with a difference.
This time, it’s director J.S. Cardone’s 2006 effort, Wicked Little Things – also known as Zombies.
Following the death of her husband, grieving Karen Tunney (Lori Heuring) discovers that she is the inheritor of her late hubby’s old, abandoned family home. With her two daughters, Sarah and Emma, in tow, she sets off to check the place out in the hope of making the rather grand-looking, secluded homestead their permanent new residence.
Unfortunately for them, the place has a rather disturbing reputation: Years ago, there was once an active coal mine nearby – but owing to the demanding arrogance and abandonment of safety concerns of its owner, Mr. Carlton, an accidental cave-in left it little more than a burial site for many of the workers… and a large number of children, utilised as scouts who could squeeze into the narrower chambers to plant the explosives needed to open them up. Unwilling to step into the light following their untimely demises, the gang of children now roam the surrounding woods at night, making mincemeat of any hapless wanderer who crosses their path.
While it sounds like a neat idea, Wicked Little Things is entirely a letdown. The core narrative is little more than your standard ‘vengeance from beyond the grave’ tale – the murderous brood won’t rest until they’ve exacted revenge on the last of Carlton’s bloodline… and would you look at that, he’s just shown up! – masquerading as something new because these aren’t ghosts, but zombies.
Yet while the pasty-faced, black-eyed children are inherently creepy-looking, they never feel particularly threatening despite the intensity with which they set about their victims – utilising all manner of picks, spears and mallets to completely pulverise the body of their prey before the feast begins. Otherwise, they just stand around and… stare; they don’t behave quite like one would expect of your typical zombie. There’s no shambling, no groaning… they’re simply reanimated dead that happen to feed on flesh. It doesn’t even have to be human flesh, as Karen’s nearest neighbour – the kooky Mr. Hanks – proves via his regular night-time ritual of providing the tykes a pig to slaughter and eat. Perhaps they even ghosts for all the light that’s shed on the nature of their existence.
Speaking of light shed, also – Wicked Little Things is one impenetrably dark film, most of the detail lost in an inky sea of obscuring visual ‘atmosphere’ whose only effect appears to be sucking your will to keep watching out and into your screen by some preternatural osmosis. Compound this with an abundance of molasses-slow, dragged out scenes standing in for actual tension, and some inconceivably stupid dialogue and character behaviour and the results simply aren’t pretty.
See, for example, the mind-bogglingly dumb scene involving a trio of teens attempting to get a car unstuck from the mud. As one of their number lifts and pushes from the rear, the others inside crank the gas in order to get it moving. Unbeknownst to our ill-fated friend at the rear of the car, one of the zombie children climbs onto the bonnet, walks up the windshield, across the top of the car, and plants a mining utensil in his back.
What’s made even more unfortunate for the wounded individual is that they obviously didn’t realise the sheer depths of idiocy within which lie the minds of their friends – friends who hoot, holler and scream for their buddy’s attention WHILE KEEPING THE ACCELERATOR PRESSED THE ENTIRE TIME as the zombie-child ever-so-slowly creeps his way across the top of the car – ensuring that not a thing can be heard outside of the vehicle but the revving of an engine and the spinning of tyres.
It takes a special kind of forgiving nature to let a film away with such blatant, painful disdain for its audience. Here, that’s impossible, because most of all… it’s boring and simply a chore to watch. Bathing everything in pitch darkness and dragging out scenes to interminable length in an attempt to create tension is not what makes for an effective horror film.
Yet someone didn’t get the memo.
The most attention that Wicked Little Things can rightfully be given is mainly to see a very young, pre-rise to fame Chloë Grace Moretz as daughter Emma, and Scout Taylor-Compton taking the role of her sister, Sarah – just a mere year away from her break-out genre appearance as Laurie Strode in Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake.
Another interesting turn is that when first announced, Wicked Little Things held the firm title Zombies, and had genre legend Tobe Hooper attached to direct. Soon after, he dropped from the project and went on to make the straight-to-bargain-bucket Mortuary instead. Had he remained attached, the end result may have been very different.
One thing’s for sure: we’ll never know. But we’re probably better off for it.
I like to think that every film we’ve looked at so far on Terror Tots is worth a look – respectable in various ways, warts and all – but Wicked Little Things does not have that luxury. Some things should just stay buried.
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