Monthly Archives: November 2013

Who Can Kill a Child (1976)?

who can kill a child_2

Synopsis:

A young couple head to an isolated Spanish island only to find all the adults have disappeared.

Review:

Although it sounds like a simple precursor  to 1984’s Children of the Corn, this Spanish gem from Narcisco Serrador is nothing of the sort. Eschewing the horrors of nightime and darkness, the film almost exclusively takes place during the day and under a baking sun which means the camerawork and lighting end up being quite unconventional for a horror movie.

The documentary style opening on the suffering of children in major conflicts is a stark introduction to a film which takes itself boldy seriously. The film has a thoroughly European feel to it and there are many close-up shots of faces, eyes and brows.  In typical continental fashion the emotion carved on those human canvasses often substitutes for a script.

The film refrains from explanation on a premise which is quite simple and  to this viewer in a way revocative of Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS.  Like that film, it’s the stage sequences which hold everything  together given the unsophisticated  nature of the narrative.  The first such sequence shows us a piñata with a difference, instead of a paper donkey dangling in the air, the children are scything and bludgeoning the hanging body of an old man winched high above their heads. The second ‘bravo’ moment occurs when the movie answers the rhetorical question posed in the film’s title and we find out that indeed our protagonist can kill a gun toting  5-year old when the time comes. But perhaps my favourite scene in the whole movie concerns an unborn foetus as the killer. It’s pure horror magic.

Our two adult leads – Lewis Fiander and Prunella Ransome – do a decent job as the lovestruck couple but Antonio Iranzo’s part is perhaps the best thespianism on offer.  His is the role of one of the few surviving adults on the island, reduced to hiding out in the abandoned hotel – his eyes wild, mind frazzled and appearance dishevelled. Iranzo’s funeral march as he follows his daughter all too knowingly to his doom is a real highlight for me and handled brilliantly by Sellardor in the director’s chair. Regarding the children in the cast it’s worth pointing out that they are indeed very young, most are not older teenagers but pre-pubescent making the film’s theme all that more uncomfortable at times for the more sensitive amongst us.

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The behaviour of the children on the island is a bit like a virus.  Their gleeful rampage being not only blood-thirsty but irrevocably contagious (although you don’t realise this until two thirds of the way through the film), implying that the whole world is at risk of this inexplicable phenomena.  This kind of Armageddon-type motif is further emboldened by scenes where our lovely little band of scamps desecrate the island’s church, using the marble floors of God’s house to molest the cadaver  of a female tourist.  All our hero can do is to watch in utter disbelief at the scene unfolding in front of his eyes as the children hurdle past him as if he had found them smoking a cigarette rather than engaging in such heinous crimes.

The cynicism and emotional emptiness of the movie’s closing scenes come as no surprise because we always knew our intrepid couple would never make it off the island alive. That’s no bad thing because in more ways than one it allows us, the audience, to relish their demise. This is one of the strange effects of the picture, because in the film’s signature set-piece – pitting one man and his machine gun against an army of children –  it’s not necessarily the man we are rooting for….

It’s hard to criticize Serrador’s movie, aside from perhaps taking a swipe at performances which are not of the mighty variety. But this is the horror genre and to hold the cast to such high standards would be misleading and unrealistic. If you are going to watch a horror film about evil kids, this should be it.

Top film.

Hotdog rating: 9/10

 

 

Franchise Financials – the big three

In the perhaps surreal world of horror franchises there are three that stand-out, their boogeymen now inescapable parts of modern pop culture. These are, of course,  Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Put another way – say hello to Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger.

Whether you came face-to-face with ‘the big three’ – Jason being the ‘good’, Michael the ‘bad’ and Freddy the ‘ugly’ ? – via a grainy video rental many years ago or by sitting in the theatre in front of the more recent reboots, everyone knows something about these irreplaceable killing machines.

Much has been written aboout these demi-gods of slasher cinema but what I want to do in this post is to take a look at the financial performance of the franchises over time.

Available box office data is unadjusted for inflation, which makes comparison over the time horizons for each of these series difficult. So what I’ve done here is to convert all the box office receipts into 2005 US dollars using the US GDP deflator so that we can compare performance over time.  Bear in mind that data limitations mean we can only examine US domestic box performance because gross international receipts are not easy to come by for some of the sequels.

Let’s start with the quintessential slasher, Halloween.

hseries

Three things jump out from this chart. (1) The phenomenal success of John Carpenter’s 1978 original; (2)  the sharp drop in box office returns beginning with the actually quite excellent Halloween 2 in 1981 and (3) the rebound in performance with 1998’s Halloween: H20 and also with Rob Zombie’s 2007 ‘reboot’.

It’s interesting to contrast the box office profile with that of Friday the 13th shown below.

f13series

Whilst again there is a decline in box office returns as we move throughout the 1980s, this fall is far more gradual than in the Halloween franchise. In the Halloween case, the franchise did not recover from the drop in income associated with the immediate sequel – namely, Halloween 2 – whereas in the Friday the 13th series, parts 3 and 4 clearly outperform Friday the 13th Part 2.

By the time of the dreadful Halloween 3: Season of the Witch in 1982, the Halloween series was oscillating around the $20 million mark. In contrast, it would take Jason until the almost comedic Part 8 in his own franchise to reach that level of box office income.  In other words, Friday the 13th sequels were generally outperforming Halloween sequels.

There also differences in the performance of the more recent additions to the series.  Whilst Rob Zombie’s reworking of Halloween did do a lot more business than most of the sequels, it did not do nearly as well as 2003’s Freddy VS Jason in reversing the trend in the franchise.  Freddy VS Jason, the film that famously spent years in development hell , actually surpassed the box office performance of Sean S Cunningham’s original 1980 Friday the 13th  movie. Moreover, the controversial reboot of Friday the 13th released in 2009 – essentially a botched merger of parts 1 and 2 – was raking in the same level of income as the early/mid 80s hits of the series, parts 3 and 4.

Talking of the dream master himself, let’s now turn to the nightmare franchise.

nightmareseries

What’s fascinating with the nightmare series is the lack of any obvious trend in box office performance.  The general assumption – or ‘stylized fact’ if you will – is that as a franchise goes on, box office receipts tend to exhibit a downward trend.  Freddy bucks this trend – Parts 3 and 4 exhibit significant better box office performance than their predecessors and frankly aren’t too far away from the heights of Freddy VS Jason.  It also surprised me that 1991’s Freddy’s Dead:  The Final Nightmare did better than the 1984 original – although, I think the 3D gimmick levied with Freddy’s Dead may have been enough to just push it over the line.

So, what happens when you look at the growth rates in box office income over the first six movies in each franchise, well you get the following per movie equivalents:

Franchise Per Movie Growth Rate in Box Office (first six movies)
Halloween -30%
Friday 13th -17%
Nightmare +2%

You can see the starker decay rate of Halloween, and the lack of a real trend in the Nightmare series.

What I haven’t covered so far relates to movie budgets. It is instructive to calculate box office-budget ratios for films in each series. What these ratios tell you is how much you get back at the box office for every dollar of budget i.e. for every dollar spent in making the movie.  I have had to exclude the original entries in each series from this chart unfortunately because they distort the graphic. But, for reference, the original Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare movies had ratios of 145, 72 and 14 respectively. The Halloween ratio is staggering; for every dollar spend making the movie, 145 dollars were earned at the box office. That’s indeed why for many years it held the title of most successful independent motion picture of all time.

ratioseries

On this basis, it’s clear that Friday the 13th gave the most return per dollar budgeted, indicating why that franchise seemingly had no end (much to fan delight/critic annoyance). I would attribute this to two factors. Firstly, and most obviously, Friday the 13th movies tended to have markedly lower budgets than either their Halloween or Nightmare equivalents (partly explained by the lack of re-occurring stars aside from Jason, whose acting talent hardly cost much). Secondly, to the smaller  ‘decay-rate’ of box office receipts in  the Friday the 13th – as compared to Halloween – series. You can also observe that whilst Nightmare 4: The Dream Master is often regarded as the most successful of the franchises during the 1980s, the return per dollar of budget was much lower than either Part 3: Dream Warriors or Part 2: Freddy’s revenge. This was because the budget for The Dream Master increased by a greater percentage than  the increase in the box office revenue.

Can we learn anything about the future from looking at this kind of historical data? Well, I suppose a  movie executive taking a look at these figures might think that out of the three, audiences seem most willing to consider spending money on seeing updated versions of Freddy and Jason, rather than Michael. This is simply based on the strength of the rebound effect of recent reboots. You could well argue that the Halloween series was the first to experience a reboot, way back in 1998, with Hallwoeen: H20.

One final word:  of course, once adjusted for inflation, Halloween (1978) is the top grossing film in any of the three series by some margin…..