Sunday, August 23, 2009

Who Can Kill A Child? (1976)

Fear 1/5
Gore 1/5
Entertainment 2/5
Creepiness 2/5

Starting with brutal stock footage from Auschwitz, Vietnam, the Korean War and the mass starvation in early 70's Biafra, Who Can Kill a Child immediately sets a tone so grim and depressing that it can only go one of two ways: tasteless exploitation or heavy handed and misguided message. Sadly, we get a bit of both, though mainly erring on the side of "moral" which is that war and greed are bad and that children are usually the biggest victim. According to the director, the film is a portrait of what could happen if the children of the world ever got their revenge.

So, the premise (and shock value) behind 1976's Who Can Kill a Child is that a couple of tourists wind up on a small island off the coast of Spain where all of the adults have been killed off by the children. To survive and get off the island, the protagonists will have to do the unthinkable - kill their way past the gun packing, knife wielding children hellbent on killing them off first. Sounds easy enough except "who can kill a child"?

A neat premise that, in 1976 at least, could pack a bit of a punch were it not ultimately crushed under the weight of it's own hamfisted message and faults, two of which are far too annoying to overlook. First off, their are two main characters who are fighting to survive: a husband and his pregnant wife. The problem is that this being 1976, feminism and women's lib have not really set in all the way. This being 1976 there is also a distracting lack of bodily hygiene, but that's a whole other story.

So what we have is a a guy struggling to make all the right decisions to keep he and his wife alive and a woman who trips, bumbles, whines and screams all along the way like a 3 ton anchor dragging him down. She is so pathetic and clueless, weak and pointless that you can't help but wind up rooting for her demise (which is kind of cool actually). At one point, while on the Spanish mainland, the husband thanks a guy he's been talking with and ends with "gracias". The wife says "Gracias? Is that how you say 'Thank you'?" I mean, c'mon, really?

The second fault is that the guy isn't trying all that hard to get them out of this situation. He witnesses a group of children using a hanging corpse as a pinata and an enormous scythe as the stick. Instead of gettin' the fuck outta Dodge, he heads back to his wife and assures her that nothing is going on. When they stumble across the last surviving adult, they hang out with him for a bit discussing what's been going on. At this point, were it me, I'd have said "corpse pinata = time to go".

Obviously these ridiculous situations are a standard in most horror films and are usually overlooked. But because Who Can Kill a Child tried so hard to break stereotypes and be inventive (and to be fair, it is a few times) it just can't overcome them.

Still, it's not all that bad a film and it is fairly effective. Were I a parent or even just someone who does not loathe the sight and sound of children, I'd probably be a bit shocked to see rows of children bloodily gunned down, a cute 5 year get his head blown open and a grown man attack groups of kids with knives and clubs. What makes it slightly more unnerving is that there is no real effort to make the kids scary or excessively cute. They just seem like kids. . . well, actually. come to think of it, they do end the film with one of the kids asking another "do you think other kids will want to play like us?" It might have been more fun to simply assume the kids "went evil" instead of "just playing". I don't know, kids in horror movies generally don't do much for me.

The director described Who Can Kill a Child as a mix of The Birds and Night of the Living Dead. This is pretty accurate, though both movies are far superior.

- Complaint Department


Lily Strange said...

Not having seen it the premise sounds like it was rather inspired by Lord of the Flies.
Evil children are always frightening. Even though I found the film "The Haunting of Julia" pretty cheesy in a lot of ways, that evil little girl scared the hell out of me. The ending was not bloody, but it was one of the more frightening things I'd seen.

Matt-suzaka said...

Ha ha! Gracias? is some funny shit!

I have heard a lot of good things about this movie, so I'm glad I read your post before seeing the film. Sets my anticipation a little lower than before, which is a good thing usually. I (hate to admit it) have had this movie from NetFlix for like 3 months now (Sorry any one in Western MA that wants to see it), but I'll get to it soon enough.