CHILDREN OF HORROR
By Robert Monell (*)
WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? is one of the English language titles of Narciso Ibañez Serrador’s 1976 horror film QUIEN PUEDE MATAR A UN NINO?. The very title is ironic and disturbing. At first the film seems like another entry in the tourist horror subgenre of 1970s Spanish horror, films such as FEAST OF SATAN (1971), A CANDLE FOR THE DEVIL (1973), which revolve around European tourists who arrive in 1970s Spain only to fall victim to ingrained local evils and prejudices. It was filmed mainly in English, given the main characters are British tourists, except scenes with Spanish actor Antonio Iranzo and other minor roles where those actors speak their native language. The British couple (Lewis Fiander and Prunella Ransome) arrive on an offshore Spanish island for a few weeks of relaxation. What they find is unimaginable horror, brutality and death.
A body of a woman washed up on the beach at their mainland point of departure is the first unsettling piece of the puzzle and events become more baffling and unsettling once they actually arrive on the island. The main town is strangely empty of residents, seemingly away for an annual local event. But something else is up as a figure is glimpsed watching the couple from behind a second floor blind, then a strange young girl appears and listens to the child in the womb of the pregnant female tourist. An eerie sonic impulse is heard. Meanwhile, an adult female lies dead in a local store, although the tourists don’t see the body at first. Serrador efficiently uses indirection, suggestion, sound, silence and editing in a very Hitchock-style manner in these opening scenes. When the reality that the local children have mysteriously turned on the adults, murdering them for no apparent reason, becomes apparent, the film begins to resemble Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS (1963), in that an element everyone takes for granted, Birds, or children, suddenly and inexplicably becomes an unstoppable destructive force which the protagonists attempt to escape. There is no happy ending here…
Suspense, interrupted by brutal surges of bloody violence by groups of children, make up the rest of the film’s run-time. The lack of explanation for the attacks makes the suspense all the more effective and the menace all the more frightening. This is one of the most disturbing and frightening movies ever made. The most horrifying episode occurs when the female tourist’s unborn baby attacks her from within the womb. We see her pain as blood runs down her legs. She dies in agony. Fiander attempts to make to it the boat launch only to suffer a more ironic fate as he shot down by the coast guard after machine gunning the murderous children. The kids then turn on the police and unload weapons from the boat for further attacks as another group head for the mainland. The horror is ramped up by the superb, subtle score of Waldo De Los Rios and the atmospheric cinematography of Jose Luis Alcaine.
This wasn’t the first Evil Children movie, such films as THE BAD SEED, VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED and THE INNOCENTS famously preceded it, among others, and THE EXORCIST (1973) is perhaps the most notorious of all 1970s Evil Child movie. THE OMEN and its sequel would follow, along with Stephen King’s later CHILDREN OF THE CORN book and film. There are many more titles in this popular sub genre to contend with. A personal favorite is Lamberto Bava’s 1980 MACABRO. Because this is a Spanish film, set in Spain, it also could be viewed to have a political subtext as an allegory of the post Francisco Franco era, where the young generation arises to avenge decades of adult repression. The Spanish dictator had died the year before the film was produced.
The Spanish version ¿Quién puede matar a un niño? in fact opens with over seven minutes of documentary atrocity footage of children as victims of the Holocaust, the war in Vietnam and other conflicts. A total Spanish language version was opposed by the director since having the tourists speak and understand the local Spanish blurred the theme of failure of communication which is at the center of the drama. The best way to see the film is the version with the tourist protagonists speak their British English and having the few local characters speaking Spanish. This is the version in which I first encountered the film, which was titled ISLAND OF THE DAMNED. Unfortunately, this version is missing the opening documentary of atrocities reel and other footage, but is still quite effective. The complete run-time of the Spanish version is 1hr 52m.
Robert Monell is a filmmaker, writer, critic and blogger. He is the creator and editor of I’M IN A JESS FRANCO STATE OF MIND and CINEMADROMEwww.cinemadrome.yuku.com. His films include the screenplays for the web series RETURN OF THE BLOODSUCKING NAZI ZOMBIES, the short feature ZOMBIE 2024