Could Judge Eric Profancik kill a child? Depends. Is the kid in question a comic relief sidekick from any '80s film? If so, the answer is probably yes.
"Nobody on the island did a damn thing because who can kill a child?"
It's about the discovery. I'll admit that my reviewing tendencies here at The Verdict skew towards movies I'm already familiar with, but I do try to dabble in stuff that I have never heard of. Unfortunately, most of that stuff ends up not appealing to me. Finally after a great pause, there's one to add to my list of newfound gems, Who Can Kill a Child? (¿Quién Puede Matar a un Niño?). And that's what it's really about: the joy of finding a great new movie.
Facts of the Case
Tom (Lewis Fiander, Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde) and his pregnant wife Evelyn (Prunella Ransome, Far From the Madding Crowd) are feeling stressed out at home, in England, from this third pregnancy so they agree to take a quick vacation down to Spain. About twelve years ago Tom had visited the quaint and quiet island of Almanzora, and he thinks this is the perfect place for them to unwind. After a quick stop in Benivas to rent a boat, the two pull up to the island and are greeted by a group of local boys, swimming in the water. But as they set off to explore the town, they find themselves unnerved for they can't find anyone else around. They poke around shops, homes, and the one hotel but nobody is around. Confused, they sit for a moment and Evelyn sees an old man crossing the street. They are about to go up to him when a young girl appears, goes to the man, takes his cane, and, without hesitation, bashes him to death. Tom and Evelyn soon discover that all of the children on the island have gone mad and have killed the adults. They are next.
If you're like me then any movie showcasing kids gone crazy is about as exciting as those videos depicting girls gone wild: They aren't. As many movies as there are with the premise of children causing wholesale mayhem on a community, Hollywood should have learned how to do it right; but it hasn't. That's why I've never been interested in any movie with an evil child in it, especially today's releases. So why would I have wanted to review a film with that premise, thinking as I do? Excellent question. I'm not entirely certain, but I think it was this line that did it: "…[the] children emerge from the shadows with the blood of their parents on the hands…and hatred in their hearts for every adult." Sounds pretty creepy to me, and, luckily, it actually is quite creepy. Who Can Kill a Child? (also known as Island of the Damned during its original release) is an honestly creepy and tense movie. Perhaps this is the one movie that worked that thus prompted all those awful variations on a theme over the past three decades.
According to the packaging, this movie was heavily censored for its American release back in 1976, but this DVD contains every second of original film. I cannot attest as to what was chopped back then, but I can make a few deductions. Our sensibilities—or tolerance—have certainly shifted over the years. It's interesting to think what we will view these days without even blinking. But that is neither here nor there, for its more important for you to know that Island of the Damned is now the full-fledged Who Can Kill a Child?, a more provocative title. This original title plays better for when the line, quoted in "The Charge," comes across, it perfectly summarizes what is going on. It makes you think of the veracity of the statement: Could you kill a child? Could you hurt someone so young to save yourself? You know something is amiss and it isn't their fault, but what would you do? What could you do? The parents of the island obviously couldn't do anything to their own children, but what might Tom and Evelyn, strangers to this place, do? It's wonderfully disturbing.
The odd part about this movie is that I was ready to give up on it. It starts out with archival footage from past wars (Korean War, World War II, etc.) showing how innocent children are caught in the crossfire, and that it's children who pay the most heavily in any war. They sustain the most injuries and deaths. This goes on for what feels a good ten minutes (probably closer to five in reality) and even my numb, callous brain was soon overwhelmed and depressed by this gruesome footage of maimed and dead children. Then we suddenly shift into the story with Tom and Evelyn in Benivas, which a bit jerky. In setting down their backstory, the movie isn't quite gelling yet. It's a nasty one-two start for the film, and it almost compelled me to put it off for another day. But I'm glad I kept going, for once they hit Almanzora the movie works. Moment by moment the tension mounts, watching and waiting to see what was going to happen. It all felt so surreally real with smiling, happy young children under a bright, beautiful blue sky in a quaint whitewashed village go on a killing spree. The setting for this macabre tale with the innocence of these children—which are depicted anywhere from six to thirteen—clicks to make a provocative and compelling horror movie.
Persevere and keep on watching. That beginning segment does take a bit of stamina to get through, but it is worth it. What's also far more rewarding is the payoff for Tom and Evelyn. The resolution to their story doesn't ruin the buildup, and it's a nice little surprise.
As we now wander over to the specs for the DVD, let me say that this is an occasion where the "joy" of this movie outweighs the downside to the disc itself. I cannot say that the transfers on Who Can Kill a Child? are very good. Perhaps considering their age, they're not bad; but we've seen better with similar material. The upside is that there's a 1.85:1 anamorphic video print. The downside is that it is a transfer filled with all manner of shimmer, aliasing, wavering (sorry, can't think of a better, more accurate term), and dirt flecks. On top of that, the colors are washed out and details are quite soft. It's a mediocre print. Things don't fare too much better for the audio track. As this is a foreign film from Spain, one might infer the original track would be Spanish. Surprisingly, that is not the case. The choice was made that our English vacationers would still speak English while everyone else would speak Spanish. So the default track is that way, with a full Spanish dub available. While the dialogue is understandable, everything sounds terribly thin and hollow. The track is inconsistent with the music and sound effects being too loud, which seems to enhance the numerous pops and click in the track.
The DVD comes with just a few bonus items. "Who Could Shoot a Child?" (15 minutes) is a featurette about cinematographer José Luis Alcaine. It does provide some interesting details about how he filmed the movie, working to maintain consistency across locations. "Child Director" (9 minutes) is about director Narciso Ibáñez Serrador, but it doesn't provide much detail about him or the movie. There's also a photo gallery.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Well, you can't win them all.
Quite simply, despite any flaws or weaknesses in the DVD, Who Can Kill a Child? is a wonderfully disturbing and horrible horror film. It's perhaps the only film that gets the idea of kids on a killing spree right. And it's not about the murder and gore, but it about the psychological terror of these kids and what one is going to do about it. Perhaps this doesn't get a buy recommendation, but I strongly recommend this one for a rental. You won't be disappointed.
Who Can Kill a Child? is hereby found guilty of making not liking kids just a little bit more accceptable.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dark Sky Films
• "Who Could Shoot a Child?"
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