Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What's the Matter With Kids Today?

I was thinking last week how it’s been too long since I’ve watched an actual scary movie. Ignore, for a moment, the fact that about 233 out of the 250 titles currently on my Netflix queue are classified as horror and accept that films such as Rabid Grannies and Bio Zombie aren’t intended to give a gal like me nightmares.

My life, you might say, was wanting.

After a few shuffles and hopeful mailbox openings, I’m happy to report that I have been disturbed. Who Can Kill a Child?, a 1976 film from Spain, is sufficiently frightening and wrong enough to satisfy the masochist inside.

This one got to me.

From the brutal stock footage of dying refugee children that opens the film to the cheerfully sinister afternoon swim of the closing credits, Who Can Kill a Child? is a a rough ride. Obviously, that makes it a hearty recommendation.

Quick Plot: As all-too-real images of abused children roll in black and white, a narrator takes us through some of the atrocities suffered by children in the 20th century--medical experimentations in Auschwitz, orphans of war in Vietnam, starvation in Nigeria. Man commits a lot of crime, but nobody suffers more for it than the defenseless youths...until now.

On a tourist-filled beach off the coast of Spain, a happy British couple decides to celebrate the upcoming birth of their third child with a romanic getaway to the secluded island of Almanzara. They dock their boat with the help of some kids that are quiet but seemingly cheerful, save for one surly banged boy with a slight resemblance to Suri Cruise. 

Tom and Evelyn wander the hauntingly quiet town, enjoying the peacefulness and assuming the entire population is celebrating a holiday or savoring a siesta. Because they've apparently never seen a horror movie, the couple continue on, stopping occasionally to catch a glance of giggling tweens and answer ominous phone calls. They (and director Narciso Ibanez Serrador) take their time in realizing that something is clearly amiss and very bad things are about to happen.

Do they ever. These kids make the Children of the Corn look like a herd of pocket protector wearing members of the National Honor Society. With no explanation of why or how, the Almanzaritos have taken over with pitchforks and vengeance. Goodbye, homework and vegetables. Hello, human pinatas and ice cream breakfasts (okay, I’m just assuming the second part because that’s how I would have rebelled).

Who Can Kill a Child? is a freaky and fascinating ride for most of the way through. Its nearly 2 hour running time does drag here and there, but once the kids take charge, we (along with the baffled and not entirely bright adults) are stranded in a hell unlike the usual horror fare. The children seem to operate from a hive mind (a la Village of the Damned) but there is no sermonizing to explain the motives behind their sudden blood thirst. Imagine Peter Pan’s Lost Boys, but without the childhood sense of adventure. There is humor to be found, but it’s uncomfortably macabre, not campy or cute, made all the more disturbing by the bright eyes and giddy smiles on the bat-wielding pre-teens with a complete lack of sympathy.

High Points
Serrador‘s decision to not score some of the early scenes (pre-pinata) add an eerie level of discomfort that keeps both the audience and characters on edge

The acapella lullaby of the opening calls to mind another would-you-kill-a-child? classic, Rosemary’s Baby

Pregnancy in horror films requires some big plot explosion, and this one is an insanely upsetting doozy

Low Points
I’ll accept the 70sness of marital relations, but did Evelyn have to be such a dumb blond? Sample line: “Gracias. Is that what they say here?” Really? You have to ask?

Lessons Learned
It’s generally not a good ideal to travel to a nearly deserted island when you’re 6+ months pregnant

All Italians are fascists

Sociopathic and intensely violent kids take the driving age very seriously

I somehow had never seen this cult classic until recently, but I’m actually quite thankful I watched it at this point in my own life. Having young children in my family lets the significance of the title feel as deep and wrong as it should, but not having kids of my own makes me able to actually view it (those of you who turned off Inside due to its subject matter should probably avoid Who Can Kill a Child?). I’ve heard some reviews call it out for being too dated or cheesy, but I found this to be one of the most disturbing films I’ve seen in some time. The DVD isn’t overly extra heavy, but an intriguing interview with Serrador gives some nice behind the scene tidbits (like how much he disliked lead actor Lewis Fiander). This is a film for fans with patience for mood setting and the stomach for true horror.


  1. This is one of the few films that I believe actually still holds up today. I felt the same way when I saw it the first time. A great movie.

  2. I'm glad you like the movie and can't wait to check it out for myself.

    The strange thing about this blog though, is I was supposed to get the movie a few days ago and it wasn't available. So they sent me the next movie in my queue (so i get an extra!) and Who can kill a child came today! Did you have it?! If so then that is pretty funny, and I was also going to write a blog about it too but since you beat me to it I'll write about something else. But seriously, great minds think alike don't they?

    Great blog by the way!

  3. Matt: Let's see, I received the movie last Thursday and returned it Saturday. With the holiday, it may very well have been timed a few days off. I promise, I sent it back in prime condition. You should definitely still blog about it though! I'm curious to hear more thoughts and if you found it as effective and disturbing as me.

    As for very long waits, The Sinful Dwarf has been stuck at number 1 on my queue since it came out. Share the little people, people!

    Hans: Do you have any other recommendations from Serrador's filmography?

  4. I've only seen his previous La Residencia with Cristina Galbo which I enjoyed. However, he made one of the recent 6 Films to Keep You Awake, Spanish horror, entitled "Blame." Btw, Sinful Dwarf is incredibly sick, so maybe a good wait will help you prepare.:)

  5. Blame is now on the queue! Thanks again Hans.
    See, now that you say the Sinful Dward is so sick, it obviously makes me more impatient for that 'very long wait' to end!