Review Date: June 22, 2007
Released by: Dark Sky
Release date: 06/26/2007
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Any sort of killer kid film seems to be greeted with cultural shock no matter where or when it is released. Village of the Damned
, Devil Times Five
, The Bad Seed
, all have been met with outrage for depicting cultural innocents as adult-like monsters. It has been some time since the latest killer kid outing, and perhaps this has something to do with the fact that children today age so quickly, dressing like adults and exposed to the same sort of entertainment, that the prospect of an aged child doesn’t seem so outlandish. It certainly did in 1976, when Narciso Ibanez Serrador’s controversial Who Can Kill a Child?
was first released. It’s had a maligned history, censored here as Island of the Damned
could handle these kids!) but now Dark Sky finally presents it widescreen and uncut on DVD. Is this island worth traveling to?
In a story that kind of eerily resembles Babel
, we have a well-to-do English couple visiting Spain, with their two children left behind, only to find their bus trip halted by the acts of irresponsible children. Tom (Lewis Fiander) and Evelyn (Prunella Ransome) seek to eat up the Spanish summer lifestyle, traversing from festival to festival. Tom decides to visit the island of Almanzora, a small coastal village he remembers fondly from youth. Upon arriving, stillness surrounds them. The city seems abandoned. The hotel they were to check into is empty, and the local eatery is without people, although the television projects static and the roast is grossly overcooked. What has happened to this small little island?
As Tom goes to look for people, a young girl visits Evelyn. She immediately seems captivated by the lump on Evelyn’s stomach. She touches the unborn baby, smiles, and then quickly runs away. Tom and Evelyn finally run into and elderly gentleman as he sits himself down on the side of the road. Before they can speak, however, a joyous child skips down the road to where the old man is at rest. Tom and Evelyn wave, and then all of a sudden the little girl grabs the elder’s cane and beats him to death. What has happened to this small island?
Tom investigates further, and it’s become apparent – the children have run amok, killing all their parents and anything else alive on the island. They play piñata with a dead man and skewer a tourist. Tom and Evelyn try to escape to the other side of the island, where the children seem normal, but it takes only a gaze from the rebellious children to turn the others into vicious monsters. Tom and Evelyn must escape, they must fight back…but who can kill a child?
A kick in the stomach to any pro-life advocate, Who Can Kill a Child?
puts the burden of the children’s actions on the viewers’ shoulders. The opening montage indicts us with documentary footage of starving African children, Holocaust casualties and unclothed Vietnemese victims. Adults start the wars, and therefore, to answer director Narcisco Ibanez Serrador’s titular question, we all are the ones killing the children. That’s pretty heavy baggage for a movie about killer kids, but this was a time where the horror film was overtly political, so fed forth are we the message.
Where Serrador faults, and this is the leak that ultimately sinks the boat, is the fact that a supernatural explanation is offered for the children’s behavior. When you are dealing with messages, subversion works best, but here Serrador betrays his narrative by showing the children as demons to some sort of supernatural plan. They look into the eyes of uninfected children, and without words the others suddenly become possessed. Even touching a stomach makes the unborn one of Satan’s minions. Even if the visual aesthetic and naturalistic performances make us believe this could happen in plain old reality, the moment the film cuts to the possessive eyes of a child, all sympathy and all power is drained with the literal blink of an eye.
Not that Serrador’s message that wars kill kids and therefore incite their rage is really is all that good to begin with though. Wars hurt far more than just children, they destroy families, cities, counties, and it is hardly just adults in general that are to blame. Wars are stopped by adults too, you know. Serrador’s thesis is paper thin, so instead he tries to convince through shock. We see starving children and then children shot down in the narrative, but where is the logic? It must have missed the boat to Almanzora. The film runs nearly two hours, yet Serrador fails to give any sort of logical weight to a plot that most horror masters can accomplish in ninety minutes.
The film is lensed with a realist beauty by Jose Luis Alcaine, arguably Spain’s greatest cinematographer, the prime choice of Pedro Almodovar and Victor Erice, and that is without a doubt its greatest asset. While Serrador may insult with his amalgam rip-off of Village of the Damned
and The Birds
, at least Alcaine always keeps the visuals raw and artistic. This is probably the only time someone getting beaten to death with a cane can be considered artfully executed. Borrowing the Polanski aesthetic where the camera just barely conceals what the viewer wants to see makes some of the most brutal portions of the film that much more frightening. It looks great, but there’s no doubt that Serrador spent more time storyboarding than he did writing the thing. Without a point, pretty pictures end up being nothing more.
As said, the movie is nice to look at, and so too is the transfer. Presented in a cleaned-up 18.5:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, this is yet another fantastic Dark Sky restoration. Like with their work on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
, the detail and sharpness have been increased significantly, but it still retains that filmic seventies look to it. In no small part to the perfectly saturated colors, a dish of browns and pastels, dually representing the seventies aesthetic and those sandy Spanish vistas. There are a few small moments here and there where the film will jump in the gate or a flurry of small specks will show up, but for the most part everything is very clean and very prestine. Easily the best the film has ever looked on video, and another job well done by Dark Sky.
Both English and Spanish mono tracks are included, and both sound fine. They are all dubbed and have apparently been kept well, since everything sounds pretty sharp and is without hiss. The best way to go is the English track, since the two main characters are from England, and when they do talk to the locals it is occasionally subtitled in Spanish. This language barrier that presents itself, again much like Babel
, makes things seem more intense than if you were to just listen to the complete Spanish track.
David Gregory provides a pair of interviews for this disc, the first with the cinematographer and the second with the director. “Who Can Shoot a Child?” Interviews Alcaine, and although it gets off to a slow start with a drawn out anecdote about how he already knew the director, it gets better when he starts talking about his intent with the film. He talks about the genre and the visual preconceptions that come with it, and how he and Serrador tried to subvert the clichés by having almost everything play out in daylight and in a realist construction. There’s even a few words on Almodovar after the credits.
The second interview, “Child Director”, has Serrador try to explain his thin idea of why children would (should?) revolt against adults. He even brings Iraq into it, which is probably a can of worms he shouldn’t have opened, considering the film already has a tough enough time crawling in the right narrative direction as it is. He vaguely talks of the acting and cinematography too, saying that he didn’t like the main actor, but never explains why. His piece runs nine minutes, compared to Alcaine’s sixteen. The only other extra is a brief still gallery.
Who Can Kill a Child?
is a beautiful-looking, and occasionally shocking film that is marred by poor pacing, forced supernatural logic and an insulting preconception about adult behavior. We all start all the wars, so think twice before tucking your little one’s in bed at night…you might just become the next human piñata. The visual restoration is top notch, and the inclusion of English and Spanish audio options should keep everyone happy. Everyone who can overlook the flaws in the film itself, that is. The supplements are brief, but illuminate enough about the film to at least hold some worth. For those looking for enjoyable killer kiddie delights, this is certainly better than Devil Times Five
, but still doesn’t hold a candle to Village of the Damned
. Serrador’s script is kid's stuff.
Movie - C
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B+
Supplements - B
- Running time - 1 hour 52 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono
- French mono
- English subtitles
- "Who Can Shoot A Child?" featurette
- "Child Director" featurette
- Still gallery