Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)
Director: Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Writers: Juan José Plans and Narciso Ibáñez Serrador
Starring: Lewis Fiander, Prunella Ransome and Antonio Iranzo

The Plot: A young English couple travel to Spain in order to get away from their worries. They seek some rest and relaxation, well away from their burdens and away from the world as they know it. However, what they find in Spain isn’t all that relaxing. Husband, Tom (Lewis Flander), has decided to take his pregnant wife, Evelyn (Prunella Ransome), to an island getaway that he once visited years before. However, when they arrive they find that this small town is uninhabited. An island of roughly two hundred living souls seems to have been completely deserted! As Tom and his wife begin searching the island for others, they notice a strange series of phone calls that keep popping up at the different locations that they stop into. Finally, after searching for hours, the group sees an elderly man with a cane from a distance. However, as they get closer to this gentleman, he is promptly killed by a little girl who quickly wanders up and beats the elderly man with his own cane. There is something VERY wrong with the children on this island. Now, Tom and Evelyn must find a way to travel back to their boat in order to leave the island… if they can get past these deranged children.

The Review
The killer child genre has been done to death, there’s no denying this. Ever since the original Village of the Damned, evil little kids have been a staple of the genre. The genre itself has been tackled in multiple ways, some good and some bad. More often than not, the movies generally follow a plot similar to this: Some group of parents are forced to contend with a singular evil child who carries with him/her a promise of evil. You can see this a million times over in films such as The Omen, The Good Son, Orphan and even Root of Evil, which was reviewed recently here on Varied Celluloid recently. However, few films have the audacity to take a page from Village of the Damned and pit a protagonist against a gang of evil children. This concept is sort of baffling, considering how cannibalistic the horror genre can be. There have been a few to step up to the plate throughout the years, though. Most notably titles such as Children of the Corn and Beware: Children at Play were infamous for using a group of children as their main villains, and upon doing so these films certainly antagonized a laundry list of parents. Yet, before those films were ever thought into existence, there was Who Can Kill a Child?. A Spanish horror film that looks less like Village of the Damned and more like Night of the Living Dead, the movie plays as a legitimately well made piece of horror cinema that challenges its audience in many good, and bad, ways.

When you feature content such as this, where children are viewed as the “villains” and must be murdered, you have to question the reasoning behind it. Do the filmmakers hope to simply acquire notoriety for doing something that few filmmakers would do, or is there a brain behind all of this exploitation? In the case of Who Can Kill a Child?, I firmly believe it is more of the former instead of the latter. A well crafted and suspense-filled film, this is a title that is done with a sense of style and expertise behind the lens. The first indicator of this comes in how the film opens. With a very morbid tone, the introduction features a graphic series of images presented from multiple scenes of real life carnage from multiple wars and famines. While these graphic images play out for us, a running count of the number of children killed during these horrible events is tallied up for the audience to read. A monotone narrator tells us bits of information about each atrocity and makes sure to point out just how children were affected during these awful segments of world history. This bizarre Mondo movie footage becomes even more unsettling as we hear a group of children hum a giddy little tune over the soundtrack. This musical accompaniment will become familiar to viewers, because it plays throughout the majority of the picture. Their laughter and humming almost seem to mock the atrocities that are demonstrated onscreen through this documentary footage. This terribly long sequence is graphic and really stresses the point of the film in a way that does actually grow tiring after the first several minutes. Finally, after an elongated period of time, the filmmakers cut away to a beach in Spain. The transition is very direct and not so subtle. We cut away from these images of famine and we find children who are plump and well fed, women who are obese and a general case of social malaise while we the audience know about these horrible things that are going on within the world. However, the filmmakers do not mean to simply point out how socially irresponsible humanity has grown. The filmmakers have far more intriguing concepts to throw in our direction.

The thesis for the film seems incredibly deceptive at first. Within the previously mentioned introduction, I started to over think the main intentions for the movie. I thought maybe it asked of its audience, “what are we teaching our children?” This seemed to be strengthened by the introductory segment with its strong comparison to all of the imagery of overweight men, women, and children wandering the beach. I imagined that the film seemed to show that humanity influences its children with its own internal aggression and social irresponsibility, and who is to say what would happen if those children took up the same violent aggressions. Later on within the movie, scenes such as a child praying at church and kneeling at confession while another child serves as a priest might have shown the dichotomy of certain adults who speak peace but act in aggression. I thought, surely the main point couldn’t be as casual and seemingly dumb as “what if children simply went on a rampage and started killing grown folks?” But that is precisely what the movie presents to us. Perhaps ‘dumb’ is a bit harsh, considering Village of the Damned wasn’t far away from this concept, but Who Can Kill a Child takes its central premise and doesn’t offer a very sustainable main idea. In essence, what could have been a very confrontational piece of cinema that asked a multitude of societal questions instead becomes something that is deviously simplistic and works best as a general piece of escapism. You honestly can’t count its shallowness as a negative, but it did come across as a bit of wasted opportunity.

Although the concept behind the film certainly seems to hint at a lot of exploitation, the violence here is shown in a very tasteful way. Generally, the film is completely classy in almost all regards. In the first scene of onscreen violence, we are told by one of the central characters that an elderly man has just walked off screen and is somewhere located in an alley just out of reach of the peering eye of our camera. We never actually see the older man while he is alive, but before you know it a little girl runs up and rips his walking stick from his hand and starts beating him with it. All violence occurs off screen and despite it lacking any gore, the scene is relatively unnerving. The child is shown perpetrating this violence in a manner of utmost glee. The children themselves all seem as if they are in a state of hypnosis except for the few moments where the are shown perpetuating violence. The film offers little exposition in why these children act the way they do (there is a explanation for the general reason that all of this seems to happen, but it doesn’t cover the small details), but it remains quite creepy. The entire film seems to carry an air of creepiness to it. This is no doubt thanks to the brilliant cinematography and the amazing locations that the film was shot in. Taking place primarily in a locale that brings to life Island of Death, with its sandstone buildings and dirty roads between what look to be ancient homes, the movie isn’t exactly what one pictures when they think “horror” but it seems to work even better due to this reason. The film does a spectacular job of crafting something desolate and yet also claustrophobic. As the nightmare unfolds, this ghost town seems to tighten up around our central characters. Although I mentioned Island of Death, one could just as easily point to many of the sets from the spaghetti western genre. This comparison may be slightly more fair, considering the artistic beauty that surrounds the cinematography in Who Can Kill a Child.
Unfortunately, all is now kosher within the film for me. Aside from the relatively simplistic concept that I feel should have had a bit more depth, the film plays games with its audience in the worst ways. Although I usually find it easy to forgive horror movie actors doing stupid things in order to progress a story, there are moments within Who Can Kill a Child? where I found myself fighting back my eye rolling. When characters are being hunted down for their lives and they throw their guns to the ground, throw away knives, and scissors, all while fighting for survival, you are taken out of the experience a bit. When your characters no longer react like human beings, they become obvious chess pieces and the illusion is shattered to a degree. A girl can fall in the woods while running from Jason. Sure, that can happen. However, it is hard to believe that someone could throw away their only means of survival two or three times in a row.

The Conclusion
A solid piece of classic horror. This is one that I think splits audiences right down the middle. Some feel that it is schlock, some feel that it is a classic piece of cinema. I reside somewhere in the center. I certainly found myself frustrated at times, but the overall impact of the film was felt for me. It’s a solid piece of horror with great suspense and I would absolutely recommend it for horror fans. Is it essential? Probably not, but its definitely worth a look. I give it a solid three out of five.