WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? Only One Person, Evidently

If you’ve never seen Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s 1976 killer kid movie, Who Can Kill A Child? (aka Island of the Damned, aka Who Could Kill a Child?, aka Death is Child’s Play, aka The Hex Massacre, aka Trapped), be prepared to be slightly bored for about 80 minutes of its nearly two-hour runtime. It’s not due to the usual slower pace of ‘70s European horror films, but rather due to some legitimate issues with the flow of the film.

Who Can Kill A Child? falls in the category of films which pad their running time with what feels like ages of the main characters wandering around the locale in which the film is set, seemingly shooting enough b-roll to create a tourist advertisement should the genre picture tank. The movie starts out with ten minutes of newsreel footage, as it is, meaning Serrador’s really milking this for all its worth.

Now, it’s got to be said that, when the film works, it really works. The plot:

“An English tourist couple rent a boat to visit the island of Almanzora, just off the southern Spanish coast. When they arrive, they find the island apparently empty of adults. There are only children, who don’t speak but only stare at the strangers with eerie smiles on their faces. The couple soon discover that all the island’s children have been possessed by a mysterious force, a kind of madness that they pass from one to another, and which makes them attack and murder their elders, who can’t defend themselves because, of course, nobody can kill a child …”

Once the couple gets to Almanzora, shit gets really creepy really fast, and while things move at a snail’s pace, the scenes wherein the kids silently swarm and gather around the pair, uttering little more than giggles, are astonishingly effective. Given the fact that the husband doesn’t want to burden his pregnant wife with the strain of knowing the truth about their situation, it seemingly creates even more stress and confusion between the two, with quite a lot of “What’s going on? That can’t be true!” dialogue, to the point of irritation.

So, anyway — kind of freaky, kind of scary, a lot of ho-hum doldrums, and then there’s the last 15 minutes and holy fuck. Just stick with Who Can Kill A Child? Even if you think you’re going to tap out, and maybe switch to something with a little more pep, keep on it. It’s totally worth it, in a way which will blow your goddamn mind. Plus, the film looks good. It was shot in Toledo, and the restoration makes everything all warm and gorgeous. That tourism comment from earlier wasn’t for nothing.

Extras include the ubiquitous film scholar Kim Newman, here discussing killer kiddo flicks. I’m not a fan of his book, Nightmare Movies, hardly at all, but damn if the man doesn’t know his shit. He’s a deep font of knowledge — not only of older films, but even referencing recent releases such as Cooties. An archival making-of documentary from Spanish television show Versión Española features both director Serrador and cinematographer José Luis Alcaine, and the round-table discussion about the film’s impact is absolutely fascinating, presenting the film within the historical context of Spain.

Who Can Kill A Child? is available now on Blu-ray from Diabolik.

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek writes about films scores in his monthly OST column for Starburst Magazine (http://www.starburstmagazine.com), and can be found talking about movie soundtracks via the From & Inspired By podcast (http:///www.fromandinspiredby.com). He was once a punk, but realized you can't be hardcore and use the word "adorable" as often as he does.
Nick Spacek
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