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Dark Sky Films presents
Who Can Kill a Child? (¿Quien puede matar a un niño?) (1976)

"There is something wrong on this island, and you're trying to keep it from me."
- Evelyn (Prunella Ransome)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: July 02, 2007

Stars: Lewis Fiander, Prunella Ransome
Other Stars: Antonio Iranzo
Director: Narciso Ibañez Serrador

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (disturbing newsreel footage; gore, violence, brief partial nudity)
Run Time: 01h:51m:53s
Release Date: June 26, 2007
UPC: 030306813394
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ ABC+ B-

DVD Review

Director Narciso Ibañez Serrador regrettably helmed only a handful of movies, preferring to spend most of his career working in television. But his two movies are unforgettable: his epochal 1969 debut La Residencia (released in cut form as The House That Screamed), and this excellent followup from 1976. While the former unfortunately still seems to be tied up in rights issues, his second and final film has finally made it to DVD courtesy of Dark Sky. Even though the concept has been worn threadbare by countless imitations since, Who Can Kill a Child is nevertheless one of the most solidly terrifying movies I've seen in years.

Tom (Lewis Fiander) and his pregnant wife Evelyn (Prunella Ransome) are on a vacation or second honeymoon on the southern coast of Spain, amidst noisy crowds at fiestas. Desiring a more secluded place to relax, they head for the island of Almanzora, four hours off the shore, visited only twice per week by a mail boat. But when they arrive, the couple is mystified to find the village on the island deserted...except for a number of children who behave in an ominously peculiar fashion. Only too late do they discover that the children have risen as one and murdered nearly every adult on the island, and that Tom and Evelyn are next in their sights.

Functioning as a cross between The Birds and Night of the Living Dead, the children of the picture are so off-kilter and disturbing that all by itself the effect is quite unnerving. Even before their homicidal tendencies are revealed, the children behave in strange ways that aren't quite sociopathic but are just a wee bit too far outside the realm of politeness. Their almost complete refusal to speak only emphasizes their strangeness, and the contrast of their murderous behavior to their childlike laughing, running, and playing is tremendously effective. The cause of the revolt of the children is never clearly set forth, although a reaction against the victimization of children in wars from Auschwitz to Biafra to Vietnam is the strong suggestion of the picture's lengthy prologue. But as is the case in The Birds, there's no direct cause, natural or supernatural, suggested. The children are only an implacable force of nature, traveling in crowds and often watching like a pack of vultures in an unnerving fashion. They seem to have a hive mind as well, and their madness is revealed to be contagious in a particularly chilling sequence.

What is particularly notable about this as a horror film is that unlike many of its ilk, there are precious few scenes that take place at night or in darkness. The entire production is drenched in the sunlight of Spain and the Balearic Islands, giving a grounding sense of normalcy and reality to the horrific proceedings. The title is derived from one of the strongest weapons of the children: the refusal of anyone to believe that the little monsters are capable of such things, and the adults' inability to take effective action to stop their rampages. It's something they're clearly well aware of, and it's a tactic that they use ruthlessly to make themselves even more dangerous. When Tom is finally able to bring himself to it, the reaction of Evelyn is just as horrified at him as at the children, driving a wedge between them just when they need each other most in order to survive.

A pair of fairly bland leads just helps underline the feeling of everyday life gone horribly wrong. Fiander is nothing special, but Ransome turns in a particularly fine performance as she devolves into controlled hysterics, culminating in an intensely disturbing sequence. The script plays with the relationship between the two in an interesting manner, as Tom gallantly tries to conceal the truth from Evelyn, and in the process makes their dooms all that more likely. There are some odd touches that suggest depth to their relationship, such as Tom's speaking of having once been to Almanzora eleven years before, though once he arrives it's quite clear he's not been telling the truth. Why? Serrador (who also wrote the screenplay) never tells us. But it's a detail that helps make their relationship feel real. The children in particular are quite natural, with a few sequences that feel staged being revealed to be the children shamming emotions to set traps for the adults. There's a strong sense of doom hanging over the couple, with the children biding their time and toying with them rather than going directly for the throat. The rules of what's going on are never entirely certain, making it all the more ominous. The camera work by José Luis Alcaine is also an effective part of the almost unbearable tension. There are a number of striking reveals presented in an offhand fashion that makes them all the more effective.

The film played in the United States under the name Island of the Damned, among several others. While it's entirely possible that Stephen King ripped off the concept for his short story Children of the Corn, and the multitude of pictures ostensibly based upon it, ranging in quality from dismal to dreadful, Who Can Kill a Child? bears little similarity to them beyond that central conceit. Crammed with suspense, disturbing imagery and a few moments of exceptionally brutal nastiness (is that a piñata that that little girl is hitting with a sickle? Um...no.), it's a picture that will stay with the viewer for a long time.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The source print has a few serious issues. There are several nasty tears that are sloppily reassembled, and speckling is visible throughout. The anamorphic widescreen transfer itself is quite attractive, with good color and reasonable black levels for a movie shot in the mid-1970s. At times it seems a little soft, possibly from grain filtering. Some scenes that have been restored in (and have no English dub) are rather darker and murkier, but it's quite acceptable viewing.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Spanishno


Audio Transfer Review: Both English and Spanish mono tracks are provided. Although it was a Spanish production, the leads are English speakers, so the English track will be the track of preference for most people. But it's very nice to have the choice of both. The Spanish track is a bit noisier, with some substantial crackle at the beginning, though it cleans up reasonably well after a while. The English track has its limitations as well, with the sound of fireworks in one scene being boomy but lacking in deep bass. The audio is rather mediocre but that is a fault of the original production. Oddly, the two tracks are not switchable on the fly.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: clear plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:22m:14s

Extra Extras:
  1. Gallery
Extras Review: Director of photography Alcaine provides his recollections of working on the picture, particularly the difficulty of matching the light of the diverse locations utilized. He briefly touches on his work with Almodóvar as well. Serrador discusses the genesis of the movie and his motivations, as well as his regrets that his first choice to play Tom, Anthony Hopkins, was unavailable. Hopkins could have become a horror film icon even earlier. Finally, there's a gallery of posters, video covers and about 20 lobby cards for the movie in its various incarnations.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

A riveting horror film that is truly disturbing and frightening. Dark Sky presents a fine transfer of problematic elements, accompanied by some worthwhile extras. Very highly recommended.

 


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