Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Who Can Kill A Child? (1976)

Stop trying to consult babelfish...this totally means "Who Can Kill A Child?" in Spanish, trust me.
"Who Can Kill A Child?" opens with a disturbing sequence of actual newsreels showing the suffering associated with various wars and disasters, with emphasis on skeletal children, often maimed in some horrible way. I never quite got over the shock of seeing those newsreels, although if the director's intention was to immediately plunge the viewer into feeling creepy, it sure worked for me. The actual narrative of the film starts  with a way-too-happy English couple, Tom and Evelyn, enjoying a wild Spanish festival full of fireworks, strange costumes, and lots of shots that emphasize how lucky they are to be alive. Never a good sign at the start of a horror movie, if you ask me.
"Darling, I sense danger, possibly even MUR...."
"Just ignore it, and please don't mention it again, mmkay? Thanks!"
Tom and Evelyn are actually making their way to a small island off the Spanish coast called Almanzora, because Tom once visited the island years before. Even before they leave the mainland, there is a rash of corpses washing up on the beach, and just in case you didn't get the point, Tom mentions to Evelyn that the current sometimes brings debris from Almanzora to the mainland. Despite all these red flags, the happy, annoyingly oblivious couple are dropped off at Almanzora, where they are greeted by several children near the shore. Although the kids help them ashore, they behave strangely once the boatman leaves.

Of course, Evelyn and Tom ignore the hell out of all of it, just like they ignore the fact that they can't find a damn person on the island who has reached voting age. There's nobody minding the ice cream cart they find abandoned (an island ruled by kids has an ice cream cart that hasn't been ransacked yet???).  There's nobody running the hotel they check into, either. In the movie's most alarming moment of dumbfuckery, Tom witnesses the children beat an old man to death and use his dangling dead body as a pinata, yet returns to Evelyn and lies to her about everything he's seen. Truth be told, I was wondering why they hadn't just bolted for the nearest boat the minute they couldn't find anybody on the island other than children grinning at them in an evil way.

Soon they find themselves in the middle of an outbreak of unexplained madness among the children. A lone adult survivor tells them that one night, the kids in town all woke up screaming at the same time and massed together, murdering adults from one house to the next. Nobody fought back, because nobody could bring themselves to actually murder any of the kids themselves, even in self defense. Worst of all, the children all seemed to understand this, and it empowers them to commit widespread mayhem.

By now you have probably been thinking about corn, and more importantly of the children who belong to the corn, if you know what I mean. I'm not saying anything, especially not that Stephen King might have seen this movie and came up with his own ideas about kids who get to murderin'. Actually, "Who Can Kill A Child?" is a zombie movie at heart, in the same vein as "The Crazies". At one point, it's established that the evil kids can 'infect' normal kids just by staring at them, so it's more like a supernatural plague that affects only kids.
"I have this strange feeling I'm being watched, like fifty pairs of eyes burning into the back of my head, I can't understand it..."
The violence in "Who Can Kill A Child?" is shocking, but there's nothing all that horrifying about the blood, it's the more subtle moments in the movie that stick with you. In one scene, Tom discovers a group of young boys undressing a female victim's dead body in a lascivious way--inside a church, no less. The suspense in the film is also very well done, with a great moment where Tom and Evelyn are trapped in a small room with only a large wooden door separating them from the horde of murderous children; the kids repeatedly leap up like wild animals to a tiny window in the door, with flashes of their hands and eyes moving quickly up and down in the small opening.

Although it's not a perfect movie, and suffers a few problems with the pacing and logical motivation of the characters, director Narciso Ibanez Serrador captures a very real sense of dread and terror that mounts effectively to a strange climax. The film was once obscure, having made the rounds briefly in the US in 1978 as "Island of the Damned", where it undoubtedly played grindhouses and drive-ins before vanishing. Now that home video has made it more accessible, "Who Can Kill A Child?" is one of those rare time capsule films, genre movies made in the 1970s that languished in obscurity for so long that they seem more fresh when viewed today, decades after they were made.

No comments: