In 1975, Spanish film-maker Narciso Ibáñez Serrador, wrote, directed and released one of the most criminally underrated horror dramas I’ve ever seen. Originally entitled ¿QUIEN PUEDE MATAR A UN NINO?, it has become more famously known as TRAPPED, ISLAND OF THE DAMNED and/or DEATH IS CHILD’S PLAY, amongst many, many others. Released a couple of years ago, here in the United Kingdom, but under the more appropriate translation of WHO CAN KILL A CHILD, courtesy of Eureka Video, this is a hugely chilling and subtle horror DVD that will truly terrify the audience, like no other movie. Not since I saw the Japanese horror movie RINGU, back in 1998, have I been this chilled – and I say that as a good thing!
Set in the fictional town of Benevis, Spain, an English couple, Tom (Lewis Fiander) and Evelyn (Prunella Ransome) go on holiday, for some rest and relaxation, whilst awaiting the birth of their third child. Upon arrival, a noisy festival is in full-swing, so the couple head over, by boat, to the (fictitious) island of Almanzora, just off the southern Spanish coast, where a more taciturn environment awaits them.
Upon arrival, they are unable to find accommodation, and are directed to a small, coastal villa. When they get there, they are “met” by some local (but very reserved) youngsters, who help them secure their boat. Once on the island, Tom and Evelyn soon discover that the unnatural silence that surrounds them, is anything but quaint and relaxing, and it slowly dawns on them, when they arrive at the villa, that nothing and no one are who they seem. In complete silence, the most angelic of beings will prove their most terrifying of nightmares!
If I say any more, I will be doing you, my dear readers, a great disservice. Simply put, the less you know about this movie, the more terrifying it will be for you, and for a blog on extreme cinema, that is definitely what you want. My flesh hasn’t crawled this much in a very long time indeed. Watching it on my own, in the early evening, without the lights on, I loved every exquisite moment of this grim opus.
Viewers of a nervous disposition, should be warned that the film’s opening seven-minute-long sequence deals with real life death, and as such, features graphic and distressing footage of children – living and dead – from several wartime atrocities. Even some of the strongest of stomachs amongst you, may find scenes featuring children with limbs missing, with amputations, war wounds and chemical burns extremely disturbing. And, so you should. As such, it’s a startling, and horribly brutal opening to a film. One of the nastiest and bleakest seven minutes I’ve seen in ages. But there is a reason for its inclusion. The narration explains this, when it says that the worst casualty of war, is always the child. It is this salvo, that the following 100 minutes expands upon and draws you into. Should you wish too, you can skip it, if you prefer, as it will not affect the film too detrimentally, though I would recommend you sit through it, if at all possible. It’s inclusion is a necessary reminder that everyday horror is just a plane ride away, happening in every nation, around the globe!
Predominantly filmed in English, with some Spanish dialogue (subtitled in English where applicable), this devastating chiller features little actual on-screen violence – the opening sequence excused. But what lulls you into a real false sense of security, is the film’s everyday location, and everyday characters who are – quite literally – people like us. Here we have two everyday tourists, taking time out of their busy lives, to put their feet up and revel in their new joy of parenthood. The lush, sun-blessed photography, courtesy of award-winning cinematographer José Luis Alcaine, is delightful, and adds further credence to the false sense of security, but once the couple become isolated and paranoiac, the film’s tension escalates into almost unbearable moments of freakiness. You can tell something’s not right here, but you can’t quite put your finger on it! And whilst you sit there, telling yourself, “I know something’s going to happen in a minute, that’ll scare the bejeezus out of me, I just haven’t got the foggiest what it is“, there’s this deep and intensely foreboding atmosphere building-up. In effect, you begin to scare yourself senseless, lowering your body temperature and raising those hairs on the back of your neck, as your blood chills you to your core! By the conclusion, you will potentially be sitting in the corner of your living room, cowered in a huddle, telling yourself “it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie“!
I jest, of course, but this film is in my view, genuinely shocking stuff! The film bleeds terror from every minute of its 107-minute duration. You will feel your own flesh crawl, the more you watch, and that’s why I love this film so much. What you have here, is a solid, astoundingly creepy film that will chill you like no other! This is the very definition of horror, without the usual resorting to endless scenes of explicit gore and violence. Of course, it goes without saying, that – no – this is not particularly bloody as horror films go, and what blood is seen, doesn’t appear particularly realistic. But it’s that atmosphere! The atmosphere keeps reminding you, that this feels all so very, very real! And so you begin to kid yourself, that what you see could actually happen. Even now, as I write this, I can feel chills going up and down my spine. It’s that pervasive effect of harrowing horror, that the film fills you with, and what makes it is so damn effective!
Any film that features children that kill, can’t be accused of dealing in an original topic. It isn’t. From classics such as THE OMEN (1976, Richard Donner), or BLOODY BIRTHDAY (1981, Ed Hunt) to more classic films such as the aforementioned RINGU (1998, Hideo Nakata) or the acclaimed BATTLE ROYALE (2000, Kinji Fukasaku), killer kids are not remotely new. However, in almost all of the instances, the kids who do kill in these films do so, either as revenge for an act of violence perpetuated against them, or because they are treated as being evil.
Not so, in WHO CAN KILL A CHILD?! Oh no! In this film, the kids are just downright evil. Whilst there are hints of something unworldly going-on, the actual reason for why the kids have become unhinged, is never explained. It is left up to viewers imaginations. Online, some viewers have tried to explain and justify why the kids do what they do, but whatever the actual reasons are, it’s a deliciously sick twist to the film, that you never actually truly find out why. The kids are shown as being vicious little psychopaths, and you simply have to accept that, even though every fibre of your being is crying out that “they’re just kids“! For me, it is what makes the film so brutal and nasty. You have these angelic minors, all approximately aged between 7 and 13 years old, and they’re going round, offing all the adults, for no discernible reason. I like that unpalatable nature of the film. Sometimes, people do sick stuff, and you have to accept that, rather than try to explain it. That irrationality, is what gives the film the deliciously vicious edge it retains.
The film is available in the UK or USA, under the same title of WHO CAN KILL A CHILD?, and is easily purchasable via Amazon. Both releases are near-identical, so it won’t matter too much, which one you buy. For the UK version though, (as shown in the cover on the right), the film is uncut and uncensored, carries an 18 certificate, and is in Anamorphic Widescreen, with a 1.85:1 ratio. The print is clean looking, and in pretty good shape for such a rarity, with the image having been cleaned-up for its home video debut. Eureka Video give you the option to watch the film in four ways:
– in English, with the Spanish material NOT subtitled in English,
– in English WITH the Spanish material subtitled in English,
– in dubbed Spanish, with the entire film subtitled in English, or
– in English AND Spanish, but with full Deaf/Hard Of Hearing Subtitles in English, which also caption sounds, off-screen actions, and the like.
Accompanying the film, are a couple of brief, but interesting extras: a featurette interview with the director, and a second one with the cinematographer. Both are quite short, at around 10 minutes each, but are worth watching AFTER you’ve finished the film. (If you view them before, they contain massive spoilers, so please be aware of this!)
My only quibble, and this is truly borderline trivial, is that there’s no trailer included. I’d love to have seen the original UK or US trailer feature on the DVD, just to see how it was packaged-and-sold to cinemas, almost 40 years ago. How on earth you “sell” a film that deals with kids killing adults, without offending people, back in the day, would have been a nightmare of even bigger proportions than the film!
Currently available on Amazon UK, for under £6 (excluding postage, of course), this is a real cinematic gem, that any intelligent horror fan should have in their collections! A fantastically creepy flick, that will shred your nerves apart, and leave you completely shell-shocked! Buy this film, freak yourself out, and discover a film like no other! Highly Recommended!