Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)

It is usually very taboo for a film, any film, to show children getting killed. The daring Who Can Kill A Child? decided to break that taboo and prominently features children getting shot and beaten to death. It also shows real footage of suffering children during the horrors of the Holocaust, the Vietnam War, the Korean War and many African civil wars. There is very graphic footage of starving, wounded, dying and dead children that is sad and shocking to see.

The film aspires to show us how children are usually the ones that suffer most during famine, war, natural and man-made disasters. Why shouldn’t children turn on the very people that are supposed to protect them but fail to do so? What would happen if children banded together to stand up against adults and fought back against the many years of cruelty and neglect? Could you really kill a child if you had to, if it meant the little tyke’s life or yours?

An English couple is taking a vacation in Spain. The woman is pregnant and wants some peace and relaxation, so her husband suggests the island of Almanzora, which he has fond memories of. The two set off by themselves in a small powerboat for the island, but when they arrive, it’s not as the husband remembered it. It is utterly devoid of grown-ups, though there are plenty of children frolicking around. Assuming that there is a big fiesta on the other side of the island, the two stay and wait for the grown-ups to come back. Except that there is no one left alive on the island except for the children, who’ve gone mad and murdered all the adults. Can the couple save themselves or will they be forced to kill a child (or two or three) to survive?

Who Can Kill a Child? is a fantastic film made in 1976 and it has recently been released on DVD for the first time by the wonderful Dark Sky Films. With its disturbingly shocking story and beautiful direction by Narciso Ibanez Serrador (who also penned the script from a novel by Juan Jose Plans called “El Juego”) the film works wonderfully. The setting of the Spanish isle of Almanzora is gorgeous. The bright, white Mediterranean-style village, bright blue skies and sparkling waters create a contrasting backdrop to the horrors that unfold on-screen. It’s also interesting to note that most of the killings occur in broad daylight, with the hot sun relentlessly beating down on the victims. Not many films that are set during the day can pull off a creepy vibe, but in Who Can Kill a Child? it works like a charm, making events even more uncomfortable because they occur right out in the open.

Another aspect that makes the film work so effectively is the acting. All of the children (and there are A LOT of them) are wonderful in the film. Every single one of them oozes hatred out of their dark and stormy eyes; just one look and we know they mean business. The acting is so realistic that it’s chilling! Perhaps one of the most effective scenes involves a wife of a fisherman who lives on the other side of Almanzora with her children and their grandmother. Two children from the village “infect” the wife’s children with their pure hatred, and as the woman calls them into dinner, they silently defy her. As we see her perplexed expression, we also see all of the children in the village ominously emerge from the cliffs above her home.

The film does have its faults, most noticeably in believability. After the couple witnesses a little girl who kills an old man by beating him with his own cane and children using a dead body as a piƱata, it may seem wise to get the heck off the island! But do they leave? No, they opt to stick around to rescue a Dutch teenager who is hiding out somewhere on the island and keeps tracking them down with phone calls. Another quibble is with the color of the blood, which looks almost orange in color! If you are going to prominently feature children getting killed in your film, at least make it realistic! The “blood” that was used looked more like thick orange-ish paint that was splashed and dribbled on the victims. Still, these are small problems compared to the remarkable story and taboo subject the film deals with.

Dark Sky Films have done a spectacular job with this release – the original 1:8.5.1 anamorphic widescreen has been restored and the picture looks absolutely stunning and clean. I usually don’t mention these technical aspects, but I felt that Dark Sky did such a great job with this film that they deserved mention. This film probably hasn’t looked this good since its original theatrical release!

Who Can Kill a Child? is a superb film that shouldn’t be missed. Its notorious scenes of child murder aren’t all that shocking nowadays, but they still pack a punch, especially when other films usually won’t touch the taboo subject.

Available on Amazon!

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