Who Can Kill a Child?: Night of the living moppets

Who Can Kill a Child? Directed by Narciso Ibanez Serrador horror film reviewsWho Can Kill a Child? Directed by Narciso Ibanez Serrador

In the 10/27/66 episode of Star Trek, the one entitled “Miri,” Capt. Kirk & Co. beam down to a planet on which all the adults have long since expired, and only feral children reign. Well, although taken from a wholly different source, a similar setup can be found in the surprisingly excellent Spanish horror film Who Can Kill a Child? (1976). But while a planet-wide virus was to blame for the extinction of the adults in the classic Star Trek story, Who Can Kill a Child? gives us an even more sinister explanation. In that film, we meet a young English couple, Tom and Evelyn (Lewis Flander, filling in when Anthony Hopkins’ services could not be obtained, and Prunella Ransome), on holiday in the Spanish coastal town of Benavis. Tom is a biologist, while his wife — a beautiful blonde who almost resembles the early ’70s Joni Mitchell — is pregnant with their third child. The couple hires a boat and goes to the small island of Almanzora, four hours off the Spanish coast, but when they arrive, they realize that there are no adults around; only dozens of giggly children. And this is only the start of a progressively nightmarish ordeal for the decent British couple…

As I watched this film for the first time, the thought struck me that what we have here is an ingenious mash-up of Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963) and Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), substituting young, fresh-faced moppets for the avian terror and the lurching undead. And in one of the interview extras on this great-looking Dark Sky DVD, the film’s cinematographer, Jose Luis Alcaine, voices that same opinion. But whereas no explanation was vouchsafed in the Hitchcock film for the winged attacks (other than that order for a chicken dinner in the luncheonette, perhaps), Who Can Kill a Child? spells things out for the viewer quite plainly. Interspersed throughout the film’s opening credits, we see a good 10 minutes’ worth of B&W documentary footage from the Auschwitz death camp during WW2, from the India-Pakistan War of 1947- ’48, from the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and from Biafra … along with the numbered tallies of children killed in each conflict. Children, it seems, always get the worst of it in these upheavals, and this barrage of newsreel footage will make the viewer wonder why the young ones on planet Earth have not homicidally rebelled against all the adults even sooner!

Featuring exceptionally fine acting from its two leads, meticulous direction by Narciso Ibanez Serrador, outstanding photography by Alcaine, and a creepily effective lullaby theme that permeates the film — alternating with the effective and realistic use of silence — Who Can Kill a Child? is a minor horror masterpiece; a real find for the horror fan who thinks he/she has seen it all. The picture edges toward the supernatural as it proceeds, and Evelyn’s ultimate fate is one of the most brilliant and shocking sequences in any horror film that I’ve ever seen (and believe me, I’ve seen quite a number at this point!). The film builds tension slowly, spaces its shocks wisely, and is not overly dependent on gore to get the job done, although it certainly does not shy away when the time is right.

As Alcaine tells us in his interview, Who Can Kill a Child? was shot not in one island village, but rather, and incredibly, in four locations: in the inland sites of Madrid and Toledo, on the coast at Sitges and on Minorca, in the town of Fornells. Matching the harsh sunlight glare of the inland sites to the hazier light of the Mediterranean locations posed a problem, apparently, but the viewer will never be aware of it. I would have sworn that the film was shot in this one sunbaked island village, and could almost feel the heat rising off my television screen. In case you couldn’t tell from my 5-star perfect rating, which I rarely give out, I absolutely love this film, and more than heartily recommend it to the discerning horror fan. Watch it for yourself, and then see if YOU can answer the tough question that the title poses…

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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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