By C. Michael Forsyth
“Wicked Little Things,” now out on DVD, is a scary movie with a wickedly clever premise.
In 1913, the heartless owner of the Carlton Mine in Addytown, Pa. uses poor children for exploration, until the exploited kids are buried alive in an explosion. Now, nearly a century later, the restless undead tykes roam the woods, taking their bloody vengeance upon the living.
The main character is recently widowed Karen Tunny (Lori Heuring), who moves with her daughters Sarah and Emma into her late husband’s boyhood home near the mine. It isn’t long before 16-year-old Sarah (Scout Taylor-Compton) returns home with tales of pick axe-wielding zombie children who kill anyone foolish enough to venture into the woods at night. And 9-year-old Emma begins to hang out with a mysterious “imaginary friend” who just wants to play.
The movie has enough thrills to justify a respectable three pick axes up rating. In one highly memorable sequence, in which little Emma is led by children’s laughter to the mouth of the abandoned mine, the suspense is almost unbearable.
Excellent performances. Chloe Moretz, who more recently dazzled us as a vampire nymphet in “Let Me in,” is compelling as sweet, angelic Emma. A pleasant surprise is the great English actor Ben Cross of “Chariots of Fire” fame as creepy neighbor Aaron Hanks — the most convincing portrayal of a hillbilly by a British Islander since Liam Neeson’s impressive turn as Patrick Swayze’s shotgun-toting cousin in “Next of Kin” (1989).
The movie has two big problems, however, and they’re related. Horror films work best when the filmmakers create characters we care about and then put them in jeopardy.
We care about innocent, vulnerable Emma, which is why the scene mentioned above works so well. However, it soon turns out that both Hanks and the Tunny family are relatives of the zombie children, who recognize the blood of their kin and leave them unharmed. The zombie kids really DO just want to play with Emma and she’s actually off screen for the most critical scenes of the movie!
It is also revealed that the curse will be lifted when the ghostly children kill the last remaining descendent of the mine owner. That happens to be William Carlton (Martin McDowell), an arrogant, greedy, ruthless tycoon who is kicking people off their land to build a ski resort near the mine. The trouble is that you WANT this selfish, cowardly weasel to be killed. If he were sympathetic, the film’s climax — with the pick axe pixies closing in on him, Hanks and the Tunnys — would be truly terrifying.
Check out a movie with this cursed-bloodline theme that worked really well: “The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake.” In that 1959 oldie-but-goodie, the hero’s ancestor led a massacre of South American villagers. Vengeful supernatural headhunters have claimed the noggins of the male heirs in each generation ever since. And our hero is next in line for the head-shrinking treatment!
My other beef with the film is that the undead tots don’t only kill people, they eat them! Given their origins, one would expect these revenants to be more of the wraith-like variety, rather than flesh and blood monsters that require sustenance. (Especially since, presumably, the youngsters’ physical bodies were trapped under tons of rock.)
Just because they’re zombies do they HAVE to eat human flesh? Someday, I’d like a filmmaker to REALLY reinvent the zombie genre. (Sorry, “28 Days Later” fans, but making ’em run fast instead of shuffle isn’t reinventing). I mean create a new mythology, the way George Romero did with “Night of the Living Dead” in 1968.
Hey, if no one else steps up to the plate, I might just have to do it myself, by jiminy, as my old Weekly World News colleague Ed Anger would say.
Copyright C. Michael Forsyth