Written by Narciso Ibanez Serrador
Based on the novel El juego de los ninos (The Children’s Game) by Juan Jose Plans
Directed by Narciso Ibanez Serrador
Starring Lewis Flander, Prunella Ransome, Antonio Iranzo
Released April 26, 1976 (Spain)
RT 112 min.
Home Video Mondo Macabro (Blu-ray)
Classic Horrors rating = 9 (out of 10)
It comforts me to read that Who Can Kill a Child? (1976) was “virtually unavailable” until the last decade or so. That may explain why I’ve never seen it until now, and, prior to that, was only vaguely aware that it even existed. (The first time I heard of it was when it was mentioned in a review for its 2012 remake, Come Out & Play.) Regardless of my lack of history with it, I’m glad I’ve seen it now, because I absolutely loved it.
Newsreel footage behind the opening credits sets a gruesome tone for the movie. It’s some of the most horrifying imagery I’ve ever seen, multiplied exponentially by the fact that it’s real. We see Russians liberating survivors of Auschwitz, devastation following the end of the Korean War, and appalling conditions following the civil war in Nigeria. The point is that the world is mad and “the people who suffer the most from the madness is the children.”
If you don’t get that from the perspective of the newsreel footage, a camera store clerk in the Spanish village of Benavis tells it to tourists Tom (Lewis Flander) and Evelyn (Prunella Ransome) as they watch a current news report about the fall of Thailand. It becomes a little heavy-handed, and I was never quite sure if it’s provided as an explanation for events in the story, or as a tool to help us empathize with the maniacal children Tom and Evie later encounter on Almanzora Island.
Before that, though, the black and white transition from newsreel to movie changes to color and the body of a dead woman is found on the beach. Again, it’s a little heavy-handed. As newspaper headlines announce two more bodies washed onto shore, Tom and Evie ride a boat to the island and talk about how the current is so strong that “it brings all kinds of things from the island.” They don’t know about the dead bodies, but we can easily put two and two together.
They find the island deserted except for a few children fishing and playing around town. We can’t blame the couple for their cluelessness; Tom thinks everyone has gone to the other side of the island for a fiesta. However, we see the dead body on the other side of the grocery aisle that he doesn’t. Eventually, they learn that crazed children have killed/are killing all the adults, but they stay on the island for one event too many after I would have already run screaming back to my boat.
It’s OK, though, because in these pre-chaos island scenes, as well as in the extended introduction in Benavis, we learn all about Tom and Evie. By the time they’re in danger, we care about them deeply and are fully invested in their survival. First of all, they truly love each other. Second, they have children at home that they truly love. Third, Evie is six months pregnant and Tom wanted her to abort the baby; two children are enough for him.
The guilt over his stance on Evie’s pregnancy provides Tom with buckets of emotion about, and motivation for, the actions he takes to protect his wife from the murderous children on the island. At their moment of greatest desperation, he tells her they have to run, and when she has no energy left, she must think of their two children at home, not the one in her stomach. It’s brutal to see her fall flat on her face, then Tom lift her up and force her to continue running.
The title comes from something a lone survivor they encounter on the island (Antonio Iranzo) tells Tom and Evie. Describing the violent attack that killed his wife, he says he could do nothing to stop it “because, who can kill a child?” Tom finds out who can kill a child when he has no other option, but it’s not without demonstrating an overwhelming sense of sorrow about what he has to do. What happens to Evie and Tom is bleak. Sorry folks, there’s not going to be a happy ending.
Based on the novel, El juego de los ninos (The Children’s Game), the director of Who Can Kill a Child?, Narciso Ibanez Serrador (The House That Screamed, 1970), delivers a master class in suspense filmmaking. From a single child standing in the distance to a gang of them swarming down a mountainside, we’re terrified of the threat they pose. That’s amazing, in part, because other than playing piñata with an old man and a scythe, we don’t really see them inflicting any harm. In fact, there’s very little gore at all.
A couple of scenes reminded me of Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963). Instead of our heroes walking through a flock of resting birds, though, they walk past a gang of resting children. You don’t know if they’re safe or if all hell is going to break loose. Serrador uses the tropes of a car that won’t start and last minute getaways, but in ways that don’t seem predictable or trite. And then there are scenes of complete and total unpredictability.
The Mondo Macabro Blu-ray presentation is crystal clear and sounds amazing. If not for the 1970s clothing and mustaches, Who Can Kill a Child? would pass for a more recent film. It’s action and thrills are timeless. What a treat it is to discover it now. I have a feeling I’ll be discovering it over and over again, diving deep into the bonus features on the disc. I recommend you do the same. It’s not for the faint of heart, but may just provide a jolt to your heart that hasn’t been felt for a long time.
- Brand new 4K restoration from the original negative
- Two different English language tracks – the Spanish export version and the US Island of the Damned dub – as well as the Spanish language track with optional English subtitles
- Two options for the opening credits; the longer ‘mondo’-style opening of the Spanish/export version and the shorter US Island of the Damned opening
- Brand new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan of the Daughters of Darkness podcast
- Brand new interview with horror historian and critic Kim Newman
- Archival Spanish TV documentary on the film
- Archival interviews with director Narciso Ibanez Serrador and cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine
- Trailers and radio spots