Who Can Kill a Child (1976)?
A young couple head to an isolated Spanish island only to find all the adults have disappeared.
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.
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.
Hotdog rating: 9/10